Citizen groups propose spray ban

The fight to ban aerial herbicide spraying in Lane County continued at the Board of County Commissioners meeting on Jan. 9. Dozens of impassioned citizens turned out to express support for the long-contested bill and condemn the board for their inaction on the issue.

The initiative, known as the “Lane County Freedom from Aerial Spraying of Herbicides Bill of Rights,” would ban all spraying of aerial herbicides on timber forests within Lane County. Despite public support for the initiative, it has faced several challenges on its path to the ballot.

The initiative was drafted by the Freedom from Aerial Herbicides Alliance, and gathered the required petition signatures in Oct. 2017. However, it was quickly blocked by the county because of a separate vote requirement, which demands that all initiatives focus on one issue.

“That requirement is one that’s only before been applied to state constitutional amendments.  Never in my knowledge been applied to a local, county initiative,” Rob Dickinson, a member of FAHA who helped draft the initiative said, “and we think they’re wrong.”

Another challenge the initiative faces is the pushback from timber companies in Lane County that use aerial herbicides to control unwanted plant growth on forest clearcuts. Timber companies can spray their vast tracts of land in a fraction of the time using helicopters and planes, keeping costs down.

“It’s one thing to spray herbicides on flat farmland, where you can fly low, spray, and have relatively little drift, but another to spray on rugged terrain like the Coast Range,” says a forestry expert at Oregon State University, on condition of anonymity. “When you spray from 1000, 2000 feet, however, most of those herbicides aren’t going where you want them to, and that’s how contamination occurs.”

It’s this contamination that most Lane County citizens are concerned about. Carol Scheer, who attended the Jan. 9 meeting, called aerial herbicide spraying “Eugene’s Flint, Michigan.”

Representatives from Weyerhaeuser and Seneca Jones Timber Company did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

If the board agrees to refer this initiative to the ballot, Lane County residents will have the opportunity to vote on the ban in the May special election.