Connecting the dots:

How Bonner County is spraying toxic chemicals on your property

By Jonnie Bradley
Reader Contributor

We all know that the county sprays the roads for weeds because Idaho law says that noxious weeds must be controlled. Bonner County has divided the county into three regions, rotating each year between them and spraying a different “cocktail” each time. They first sprayed in 2012 with “Milestone” a formula used on highways 2, 200 and 57. A more toxic combination is being used on Hwy 95; E-2 which is 2,4-D and dicamba and fluroxyper with a mix containing glyphosate, a main ingredient in Round-Up. Although people put out “no spray” signs, figuring out the rules and when the county is spraying your neighborhood has become almost impossible.

A handmade "NO SPRAY" sign outside an organic farm.

A handmade “NO SPRAY” sign outside an organic farm.

Although noxious weeds are a problem, is spraying the best option? What you don’t know may be hurting you, the environment, our food supply, and even the local economy.

Spraying and your environment

The county’s stated goal is to clear back vegetation 60 feet from the center of the road. That means spray ends up in your yard, in your pasture and in the ditches that drain into the creeks/streams/rivers/lakes. Chemicals get into the soil, into the water, into the crops and into the ground water. It does not stay confined to the weeds.

Systemic herbicides travel throughout all parts of that lovely blue spruce you planted in your front yard all the way into the roots, which reach down to the water table that your well draws from too. The herbicides also end up in fields where hay is grown, and where horses and cattle graze. The hay is baled, livestock eats the hay, and even though their manure is thoroughly composted, it takes upwards of three years for the herbicide to leach out. We eat the meat from livestock who are consuming herbicides that are known carcinogens.

Spraying and your food 

If you’re a gardener and use composted manure from local livestock, you’re probably killing your plants. I bought very healthy tomato plants and used well-composted horse manure as a top dressing on two I planted in the ground. The others of the same varieties I planted in pots in rich soil without the manure addition. Within a few weeks, the ones in the ground started to develop what I thought was some sort of soil borne virus. I went online, found a picture of my plant, and learned that its problem is from residual herbicide in the manure. If you’re wondering why your green beans “didn’t produce very well” or why you don’t have any bees pollinating your plants anymore, consider that it might be those toxic chemicals from road spraying.

The plants outside your garden are affected too. I attended a “forest edibles” presentation which dealt mostly with native berries. The presenter noted that we should be careful picking fruit (service berries, elder berries) that grow near roadways due to spraying for weeds. He suggested avoiding plants 150 feet from the road.

Spraying and your property values

As you drive around Bonner County, note the curling tops of the dying pine trees alongside all the back country roads. They aren’t dying from drought or beetle kill. If you look at the next layer of trees beyond those immediately along the road, you’ll see they aren’t curling at the tops and dying.  Trees that die from beetle infestation do not curl at the branch tips and tops. Those trees retain their shape and simply turn brown.  Round-Up and its relatives are systemic herbicides that work on green parts of plants. All it takes is a tiny bit on one branch tip or leaf. It is then absorbed into the entire tree and kills it from the inside out. Remember that our evergreen pine, cedar and fir trees are green all year, so even if spraying was done in the winter, they die.

Losing trees devalues the look of your home, makes our area less attractive to new residents or people who might buy your house, and turns our tourist-dependent area ugly and brown. Weeds need sunlight to germinate. When you remove the trees and shrubs from the roadside, you create a  “happy weed environment,” perpetuating the growth of weeds. Dead trees are also a fire and liability hazard.

What can we do instead?

Many environmentally safe ways to control weeds exist. Mowing is more effective, costs less than spraying, and has no health consequences. Instead of spraying, what if the county allowed loggers or independent contractors to harvest the trees and require them to clear the edge of the roadside? This option would help the local economy by providing jobs. It also would eliminate the expense of equipment, chemicals, and manpower required for spraying. Best of all it would involve no poison.

How can we stop the poisoning of our food supply and destruction of our local economy and environment? Bonner County claims it has no control over spraying because it’s a statewide mandate. They say, “it’s something you have to take up with your legislator.”

Our local officials dropped the ball on this issue in 2012. It’s time for them to hear about it again!

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