The furor over a proposal to use herbicides to treat invasive Japanese knotweed on the town-owned Austin parcel in Waitsfield is both appropriate and premature.
It’s appropriate that people are paying attention to any plans to use any chemicals anywhere near any water. And it’s premature to condemn this project without giving it a full public vetting and discussion.
The members of the Waitsfield Conservation Commission are respected members of our community whose conservation bona fides are well established. Let’s listen to what they have to say before judging.
Friends of the Mad River is one of the most credible and lauded river advocacy groups in the state. Let’s let the friends weigh in on these as well. These two groups know firsthand the long-term consequences of knotweed infestations.
The dialogue on this can devolve into emotionalism over glyphosate and imazapyr when we should talk about those herbicides with science. We need to talk about the specifics of this parcel and the particulars of the proposed plan before we reject it for other less-effective methods.
Manually weedwacking knotweed five times a year for six years is a fairly daunting task and, according to those that have tried it, it is not effective on larger parcels such as this five-acre parcel. The same goes for smothering.
Many readers will recall in 1985 when Green Mountain Power announced plans to use herbicides on the rights of way in Waitsfield. Waitsfield residents created Waitsfield Citizens Against Toxic Sprays (WCATS) and so successfully objected to the plan that the utility backed down.
Since that time, the science and technology of using herbicides has – by necessity and by law – improved in leaps and bounds in terms of safety.
The use of herbicides as proposed on the Austin parcel is radically different than what WCATS appropriately protested in 1985 because science and regulations have changed, which they needed to do.
There’s a lot at stake here. There’s the imperative to protect and keep our native ecosystem from shifting by dealing with the invasives. There’s the good and logical and sound desire to minimize the chemicals we introduce into our environment. There is a balance here that we need to find and we can do that if we stay calm and listen and learn.