Fearful of possible cancers and a poisoned environment, some Californians are alarmed at a proposal that could triple the use of herbicides on western federal lands.
But a Bureau of Land Management official said this week there is a lot of misinformation and wild rhetoric spreading about the broad-based proposal that is hardly in stone.
According to Brian Amme at the BLM office in Reno, the proposal is to treat 932,000 acres in 17 western states every year with herbicides. The idea is reduce wildfire risks and get rid of non-native, noxious weeds.
The BLM has lands along the South Yuba River and Bear River watersheds in Nevada County, but Amme said the proposal is so preliminary, it has not targeted those or any other specific areas.
Amme also said any California area selected for the program would undergo environmental analysis and be put before the public for comment prior to spraying.
"This doesn't mean we'll go out and spray 932,000 acres over the next few years willy-nilly," Amme said. "We're only treating 300,000 acres a year with herbicides nationally now."
The three-fold proposed increase probably will not be budgeted for anyway, Amme said, "but we'll have the analysis done for the future," to use 20 approved and four newly proposed herbicides in the west.
The proposal has a number of alternatives, one of which is already preferred by the BLM and includes aerial spraying. That alternative uses herbicides the BLM says are not of significant risk to humans but could pose risks to plants and animals not targeted by the spraying.
It is those herbicides, new and old, that have some Nevada County residents concerned.
Virginia Moran is afraid the proposal could amount to, "a Vietnam-style defoliation program on our public land."
Moran has formed a group seeking alternatives to herbicides for clearing around Nevada County rural residences called Citizens For Fire Safety Sanity. The group was formed after last year's county fire plan was developed.
"There's only so much resilience that an ecosystem has," Moran said. "These chemicals can cause cancer and hurt the environment. We don't need to use chemicals."
"We could lose an awful lot of wildlife," said concerned citizen Jean Gerard. "Organic farms could be threatened if they do as much aerial spraying as they say they are."
Vivian Parker is with the California Indian Basket Association, a statewide inner-tribal group that was in Nevada City for years before moving its headquarters to Woodland just this week.
Parker finds the proposal ironic because the BLM wants to spray for invasive species that took over when the agency killed native plants on the same land after World War II.
"The chemicals are similar to Agent Orange like they used in Vietnam," Parker said. "They're trying to turn the inner mountains into one big pasture," to please cattle and chemical company interests.
Amme said any spraying near watersheds would include buffer zones of at least 100 feet. He also said the plan calls for clearing 5 million more acres by mechanical, manual, fire and other biological methods.
To contact senior staff writer Dave Moller, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4237.