The Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) is reviewing its policy on using pesticides and herbicides in light of new threats posed by invasive plants.
In a presentation to the SCRD’s community services committee on March 14, parks planning coordinator Susan Mason said the board’s current policy has not changed in 30 years and was adopted when herbicides “were highly toxic, persistent and had properties resulting in bio-accumulation.”
Since then, Mason said, “the proliferation of aggressive invasive plant species, increased availability of peer-reviewed toxicology studies, introduction of different classes of herbicides and a better understanding of environmental impacts warrants re-examination of the policy.”
Mason also noted the 1983 policy — driven by concerns over forestry practices, BC Hydro rights of way maintenance and cosmetic applications — merely “discourages” the use of chemicals in favour of alternate methods of control.
“It is often stated that the SCRD has a ‘no use of pesticides or herbicides’ policy, which is not the case,” she said.
Since the 1980s, new application methods, such as stem injection, have been developed and “many newer herbicides are short-lived and can be applied with much lower risk to humans, other animals and the environment,” Mason said.
As an example, she said herbicides are the best option for treating knotweed in some situations.
Directors agreed it was time to adopt a new policy.
“We didn’t have giant hogweed and Japanese knotweed 30 years ago. The opportunity is now to control it,” Gibsons alternate director Lee Ann Johnson said.
Elphinstone director Lorne Lewis said giant hogweed — a major health hazard that can cause severe blisters, scarring and blindness — is of particular concern.
“We need to consider what plants we do see as causing more harm to the environment than the treatment will do harm to the environment,” Lewis said.
Roberts Creek director Donna Shugar said she strongly opposes pesticide use for cosmetic purposes.
“I would not want a policy that’s broad enough that it takes us away from a last-resort approach,” Shugar said.
She added that application methods prescribed in the policy had to be some form of injection, as “spraying is not where we want to go.”
Halfmoon Bay director Garry Nohr said the policy should not penalize groups that are currently “trying to do the right thing” by tackling invasive species in their neighbourhoods.
“We have some very keen people in the community who are dedicated to getting rid of invasive plants,” Nohr said.
In her report, Mason listed some B.C. municipalities that have allowed the limited use of herbicides to control and eradicate invasive plants:
• The Resort Municipality of Whistler will issue a pesticide permit for any pest that is harmful to human health.
• The cities of Victoria and Nanaimo exempt the use of herbicides for invasive plant control.
• The District of Saanich will issue a permit for herbicides to control invasive plants or noxious weeds, subject to provincial pest management regulations.
The updated policy will be brought back to the committee in draft form for review.