Herbicides in Municipal Watersheds? May 5 is Comment Deadline on USFS Invasive Weeds Proposal

By KAY MATTHEWS

The Carson and Santa Fe National Forests released their Draft Supplemental Impact Statement for the Invasive Plant Control Project in March of this year; the comment period ends on May 5. This is a supplement to the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) that was released in 2005. (Contact information for submitting comments is at the end of the article.)

Eight appeals of the 2005 FEIS were filed. Of particular concern to the appellants was the decision to eliminate the 20-year old ban on any kind of chemical treatments in municipal watersheds and areas of human habitation on the Santa Fe National Forest. They claimed the project proposed no “site-specific mitigation measures to protect vital drinking water supplies in municipal watersheds and no monitoring of harmful effects.” The Deputy Regional Forester reversed the decision in 2006, in part because, as her letter stated, “evaluation and documentation of environmental cumulative effects…with specific attention to wildlife species…” was incomplete. She went on to say that “the concern from the New Mexico Environment Department…regarding the use of picloram in the municipal watersheds needs to be addressed.”

This begs the question under what guidelines has the USFS been managing invasive weeds between then and now? Back in 2006, the Las Vegas Peace & Justice Center submitted to Santa Fe National Forest District Ranger Joe Reddana list of 20 volunteers, as well as a field biologist and plant specialist, who would team up with the USFS to manually remove the invasive plants. The agency acknowledged receipt of the letter but never took the volunteers up on the offer. Pat Leahan of the Peace & Justice Center said, “We’d like to know what their invasive plant control plan has been for the past 10 years. They were adamant about noxious weeds being a problem back in 2004, so how have they been addressing the problem over the last decade? Did they ignore the problem? Did they implement a non-chemical approach, and if so, why not continue? Did they lift the herbicide ban without due process by the public and against the official on-the-record wishes of such municipalities as the City of Las Vegas?”

She continues: “And this excerpt from the Las Vegas Optic, 19 January 2006, under the headline ‘Council rejects herbicide plan – Forest Service says weeds not a problem now’ [documented in a letter from the acting Santa Fe NF supervisor] only adds to the confusion for our communities. Why was our watershed in the crosshairs of the herbicide applications if, as they later admitted, they found no invasive plants up there?” Here is the excerpt: “The Las Vegas City Council on Wednesday rejected the use of herbicides to control invasive plants in the Gallinas River watershed. The council’s 8-0 vote effectively stops the Forest Service from using chemicals for its weed-control efforts. The specter of herbicide use enraged local groups such as the Peace and Justice Center and the Gallinas Watershed Council.”

Now, in the Draft Supplemental, the USFS is proposing to use the herbicide aminopyralid for weed control. The Draft Supplemental EIS also reflects an amendment to the Santa Fe National Forest Plan that allows the use of herbicides in places currently prohibited by forest plan standards and guidelines. These areas are in municipal watersheds and on soils with low revegetation potential. The Draft proposes that chemical treatments may be used “within municipal watersheds only when the municipality concurs with the proposed treatment and design features.” Carson National Forest does not prohibit the use of herbicides in any specific areas, so herbicide use in municipal watersheds cannot be vetoed, as in the Santa Fe.

So it appears the USFS is essentially replacing its proposal in the 2005 FEIS to eliminate the ban on chemical treatments in municipal watersheds on the Santa Fe with the Santa Fe Forest Plan amendment that now lets it do just that.

According to Leahan, “The Las Vegas Peace & Justice Center plans on submitting substantive comments, as we did last time. We hope that others will as well. The 13 herbicides the Forest Service proposes to use in dozens of watersheds throughout both forests (including Mora, Taos, Las Vegas and numerous others) have known health risks. Some of these chemicals have been banned by entire nations, and even in the Pacific Northwest United States. When you overlay that with the confusion caused by the USFS based on their own words about whether noxious weeds are or are not a problem, and how they are or are not dealing with that problem, it’s difficult to know their true motives. And that makes it difficult for the communities they work for to respond effectively.”

Send comments to: Maria T. Garcia, Santa Fe National Forest Supervisor 11 Forest Lane Santa Fe, NM 87508,   Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Invasive Plant Control Project mailto:comments-southwestern-santafe@fs.fed.us. .

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