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On the Garlon Trail - A Visit to L-P Spray Site Reveals Total Forest Devastation, Ineffective Chemicals, Minimal Watershed Protection

By I.M. Green (Don Lipmanson) - Anderson Valley Advertiser, June 5, 1985

Feeling a sort of morbid fascination, I've been drawn to the L-P spray sites for weeks. What does this Garlon chemical actually do to the forest? What is the appearance and smell of a spray site? How much herbicide gets into the water?

My first attempt to find answers involved an overflight of Juan Creek and the north fork of Big River. Flying northward from Little River airport, I had the chance to compare the thinned out appearance of selectively logged forests with the bald clearcuts so prevalent northeast of Fort Bragg.

The spray sites were unmistakable on account of their striking reddish brown color, dotted with green. In addition to one large, browned out blotch, there are erratic splotches at the periphery of the spray zone, raising unanswered questions about drift. It was also clear from the logging roads that the sites were accessible, although steep. The spray zones have recently been logged for conifers, so company claims that they are too inaccessible for manual hardwood release are nonsense.

From the air it seemed that conifers, madrones and oak were unaffected by the spraying. The required buffering of watersheds was questionable also. To get firmer answers to spray concerns, I decided to take a closer look.

It didn't take much asking around Comptche to find a guide who is familiar with L-P territory. We hadn't gone more than a couple hundred yards past the company gate before we came upon the most ravaged hillsides I have ever seen. On about one hundred acres there is no sign of life, other than some three inch saplings veiled behind black nylon screens. Little red and blue flags stand out here and there, indicating where recent conifer replanting has occurred. Otherwise, the whole hillside is barren, littered with burned out logs and stumps, uprooted oaks, and naked soil. Yarders and flame-throwing helicopters have been through here recently, and the desolation is eerie.

After this taste of normal L-P forest operations, our arrival in Poverty Gulch, ten weeks after herbicide spraying, was almost anticlimactic. Walking down the road, we suddenly saw an entire hillside dominated by the now familiar rust color of herbicide die-off. No particular odor remained. It was clear than the main victim was Ceanothus, or blue blossom. The top half or two-thirds of the sprayed Ceanothus have died out, with the leaves fried but still attached to the withered branches. Seen from up close, many of the dead leaves are spotted with a white fungus. Some madrone in the spray area appear to have died, also with leaves still attached. Other madrones and all the tan oak were green and thriving.

Although we saw several deer and many birds during out two mile hike toward the spray area, the poisoned hillside itself seemed abandoned by fauna. The overall impression is sterile, a place one wouldn't want to linger. Without protective gear, I didn't feel inclined to penetrate far into the spray zone to examine the effect on lichens, insects and worms.

In its ads, L-P claims that herbicides are a "key part" of their effort to increase the volume of timber which can be harvested from its lands. "Sites for new plantings are cleared with herbicides. Weed choked and strangled young trees are freed with herbicides," according to the company. Garlon is supposedly a systematic poison, killing "unwanted woody plants" (including oaks) from within.

The truth about Garlon's workings is very different from L-P and Dow Chemical claims. In fact, Garlon seems to leave at least the bottom portion of the sprayed hardwoods alive and green. Thus the shading or crowding of conifers by hardwoods is not the least bit suppressed by this herbicide.

On the other hand, Ceanothus' ability to fertilize the forest soil is reduced by the partial die-off resulting from spraying. Numerous scientific studies by the USDA have shown that Ceanothus is a primary nutrient source in our local forests. Blue blossom takes nitrogen from the atmosphere and fixes it in the soil, where it becomes available as a nutrient for adjacent conifers. These same studies have shown available nitrogen to be the major determinant, along with moisture, in the growth rate of redwoods and firs. The effect of spraying is to reduce the nutrient supply which the blue blossom normally provides to the redwoods and firs. Biological reality shows spraying to be absurdly counterproductive.

The proximity of spray drift to waterways was another major concern. The Water Quality Control Board (WQCB) requires that a one hundred foot buffer be left unsprayed around streams and rivers, theoretically to prevent herbicide drift or runoff into the water. L-P assures us that Garlon "didn't drift. It didn't get in the water."

At the Poverty Gulch spray site, the Big River itself was buffered according to the rules. However, the feeder streams did not receive such protection. We observed one spot, about 100 yards in length, where Ceanothus was damaged to within 50 feet of the creek. Further up the same canyon, spray either was applied or drifted to within 15 feet of the stream. In both instances, the sprayed hillside rises steeply above the water. The steep slope guarantees that some herbicide will wind up in the watershed, as the rainfall drips off poisoned leaves and runs down the hillside.

Watershed protection is the whole purpose of the buffer zone, and that goal is being compromised by L-P's breaching of already weak rules. The infiltration of Garlon into streams is significant because, in the midst of uncertainty about its effect on human health, it is acknowledged by the manufacturer to be lethal to fish. Those of us who fish in Big River aren't fooled by L-P propaganda in the herbicide debate.

The WQCB was planning to visit the spray site on foot within the past few days. It will be revealing to see whether they expose or whitewash the violations. If they need a guide, there's a Green in the neighborhood.

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