Herbicide moratorium for cities not so wise

Environmental groups of various stripes have for many years trumpeted their success in getting big cities to ban the use of herbicides to control weeds. Cities not following the trend were berated and chastised for being party to destroying the environment. If that guilt trip wasn’t enough, they called in groups like the Canadian Cancer Society to make spurious allegations of the link between pesticides and cancer. So, to be politically-correct and politically-expedient, big city councils would ban pesticides and herbicides just to get the issues off their backs.

One of the holdouts on banning herbicides was Calgary. City councillors were not all convinced that banning was based on any sound science. Some even suggested that the whole campaign was nothing more than a publicity and fund-raising scam by green groups (that is closer to the real story). Calgary city council delayed any action by commissioning further studies, a typical move by politicians when they don’t want to make a decision.

Calgary city bureaucrats, who may have been more susceptible to political correctness pressure, had already reduced the use of chemical herbicides for a number of years. That may have satisfied the councillors, but not zealous green groups. But there was an inevitable consequence of not using herbicides to control weeds, particularly noxious ones, on city property. According to a report just released, Calgary last year had to increase herbicide use by 60 per cent, because of an explosion in the spread of noxious weeds. Well, gee, what a surprise.

Green critics claim the province is responsible for the increased herbicide use because it increased the list of noxious and prohibited weeds from seven to 46. That’s probably true to an extent, but when you basically stop controlling weeds, there is a ramification. Farmers have known this for years and take appropriate and responsible action to deal with the problem.

Green groups don’t really care about the ramifications, they have a political motive, and facts, science and the truth don’t matter. Most city folks also don’t care if herbicides are banned. Most live in condos, rental housing or have homes with minimal greenspace. Add into that folks that are just oblivious to the issue and don’t know a noxious weed from a door knob, and you can see why herbicides don’t have a lot of support.

Also most city folks don’t get out much where noxious weeds are visibly widespread. Politicians know all that, so banning herbicides is easy. Besides, it makes city councillors look like they are environmentally responsible – always a positive vote getter.

But noxious weeds, invasive brush and other unwanted vegetation are a big issue in the countryside, especially for those growing crops and pastures. Banning the use of herbicides to control noxious weeds in urban centres is a big problem for agriculture, especially anyone farming close by. That’s because city property becomes a reservoir and a refuge for noxious weeds if they are not destroyed.

Nowadays big cities cover hundreds of square miles and continually expand their borders. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out how quickly seeds can spread from uncontrolled noxious weeds in the city to the countryside in windy Alberta. But most city folks haven’t the faintest understanding of the harm noxious weeds can cause to agricultural production. That’s the main reason it’s easy to ban herbicide use in cities. City folks don’t see weeds as dangerous so why kill them with what they are told cancer-causing chemicals.

One of saddest examples of the loss of native ecology is Nose Hill park in Calgary. This is the largest open urban park in North America. It contains some of the last remnants of native rough fescue grass. Those plants have been there since they were first grazed millennia ago by buffalo.

That park is rapidly being taken over by invasive brush and noxious weeds. There is some sporadic weed control, but it is half-hearted and experts agree that most of the park will be covered with brush in 20 years. Yet most park users are oblivious to what is happening.

That attitude by itself is dangerous because sooner or later it will infect governments who will want to appease city voters’ anxiety over chemicals. That will see them forcing unwarranted restriction on the agricultural use of chemicals. It’s happening slowly but surely in other jurisdictions, it’s bound to happen here. And it all started with banning herbicides to control dandelions.

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