Letters to the Editor

Public Works raises weeds

When Jim Larsen wrote about the county needing more toxic spray for tansy ragwort he was very receptive to Public Works’ and a few farmers’ implying that no-spray encourages uncontrollable weeds. But fingers are pointing the wrong way.

The real weed culprit? Public Works’ piecemeal and ragtag implementation of the commissioners’ 2002 no-spray declaration. That declaration, it should be noted, has widespread popular support and was a good decision for Island County’s health and environment. Needed now is some pointed effort to make this smart decision into a smart working program.

Public Works’ lack of long range roadside planning, lack of training on integrated Vegetation Management (IVM), lack of detailed records of treatment, and lack of written criteria for what is “practical,” “economical,” or “effective” turn its no-spray actions into throws of the dice followed by a wish for luck.

Take tansy for example: Did road crews mow tansy patches in late summer during the flowering stage? If so, cut flowers went to seed and insured a bumper crop. (The county’s current record-keeping will probably never flag this blunder.)

Is there an intent to explore spreading the very effective larvae of the cinnabar moth, Longitarsus jacobaeae? (It eats tansy flowers and leaves to prevent the spread of seed. It was encouraged by former noxious weed coordinator Gloria Wahlin.) Sketchy records of areas of use and lack of monitoring for effectiveness leaves all guessing about how this has worked. And Bill Oakes, head of Public Works, didn’t even offer this hopeful possibility in the article.

Successful no-spray counties like Thurston, San Juan, and Jefferson know that it takes more than a simple no-spray declaration and firing up the weed-mowers to make the policy work. Whidbey/Camano No Spray Coalition (WINS) has encouraged Mr. Oakes (and offered resources) to flesh out a real policy (beyond his current one-sentence one) that spells out a multi-year plan for IVM leading to sustainable roadsides. It must give details and training on such integrated approaches as encouraging beneficial plants, adapting treatments to the life cycle of harmful plants, encouraging helpful insects, and carefully targeting mowings that encourage beneficials and discourage invaders.

Right now we just get the old “we have no funds” excuse about expanding IVM, yet funds are not lacking for this month’s expensive but questionable post-season mowing program. Will, not funds, is the bottleneck.

Mark Wahl

President of WINS


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