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Dear Answer Man,
During a recent council discussion about pesticide use by the City of Kamloops, Director of Parks and Recreation Byron McCorkell said the City uses only 5 to 15 litres of the herbicide Roundup annually. I'm skeptical.
McCorkell later explained that he was referring to park-specific use rather than total use. In total, the City uses about 70 litres of Roundup annually. That’s still a small amount for a municipality well endowed with parks and public greenery — 86 park spaces, 80 km of trail, 80 km of roadside and medians, as well as 70 sports fields — and it’s going down year after year.
Through integrated pest management (IPM) and resources set aside under the Tournament Capital Fund, the City of Kamloops has been able to significantly lower its use of RoundUp in recent years. While spraying pesticides (herbicides and insecticides are collectively referred to as pesticides) is more economical, the earmarked funds cover the increased cost of alternatives.
“Weeding, fertilizing and mowing so we don’t have to spray,” explained Shawn Cook, parks operations supervisor. “But there is a time when we still have to spray. It is a very minor part of our operations.”
Pesticide opponents, concerned about health and environmental impacts, contend that any use of pesticides is too much. Pesticide proponents, chiefly the commercial applicators who lobbied against the ban that was eventually passed by council July 14, have argued that they use pesticides safely.
In keeping with its IPM strategy, Roundup is applied as a last resort in specific areas where those alternatives don’t work — on running tracks and on “massive” shrub beds, for example. Some of those areas are sprayed annually, some only once every 10 years, Cook said.
“We sprayed three soccer fields last year and that’s it for 10 years.” Aeration, mowing and careful watering should be sufficient in the interim.
“Council and staff have been really progressive in doing things so that we don’t have to spray. We have some of the best parks and sports fields found in the country. That’s branded under the Tournament Capital program.”
As long as a field has less than 10 per cent weed cover, it meets the threshold for acceptability. Maintaining the City’s reputation will be a challenge if City council opts to adopt the cosmetic ban for its own operations.
“It’s going to affect us, affect our standards,” Cook said.
Cook says the City has an organic alternative to Roundup, horticultural vinegar, but it must be sprayed more often to be effective against weeds.
“We are trying to use more alternatives, it’s just that the results haven’t been as good. There is nothing as good as Roundup right now.”
A.D.I.O.S., considered an eco-friendly alternative to Killex, is showing promise, however. Research offers greater promise.
“I think that over the next few years, we’ll see some really good ones developed.
“We’ve really mastered this (minimal use approach). But as a last resort, it’s there to use. If you’re trained properly, it’s safer to use.”
The City’s Roundup use has steadily declined over the last three years from 115 litres in 2012.
"To use only 70 litres for all of that is in itself a statement of our desire to use Pesticides as a last resort and only if no other cost effective means is available," McCorkell said after the City imposed the cosmetic pesticide ban on July 14.