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BayScaping Takes Root in the Community

 

We first met Jesse O’Brien of Down East Turf Farms when South Portland was considering passing an ordinance to limit the use of pesticides. Jesse is a practicing agronomist, who says, “If you want to get good turf, you need to start with good soil.”

Initially, Jesse expressed concern about how businesses would be able to meet (some) customers’ demands for perfect lawns or athletic fields if pesticides were banned.

Jesse attended innumerable public meetings. We were at those meetings as well, sharing our data on pesticides in stormwater and our BayScaping outreach, to encourage town officials to limit the use of lawn chemicals. Jesse served for nine months on Portland’s Pesticides and Fertilizers Task Force, alongside Friends of Casco Bay Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell. They found agreement in the philosophy, “Don’t treat your soil like dirt!”

In January 2018, Portland passed a ban on synthetic pesticides similar to one adopted by neighboring South Portland in 2016. The City of Portland Pesticide Use Ordinance went into effect for city property on July 1, 2018, and will extend to private property on January 1, 2019.

Although Jesse worries about the unintended consequences of the ordinances, “We are in agreement that there is an overuse and misuse of lawn chemicals. I want to focus on culture practices that reduce the need for inputs.”

He has put those words into action. Today, Jesse serves on South Portland’s seven-member Pest Management Advisory Committee. In September, he recruited a dozen yard care professionals to demonstrate best practices for organic lawn care at South Portland’s Bug Light Park—teaching about overseeding, watering, aeration, soil testing, and dealing with pests. We applaud Jesse and other landscapers for helping our communities grow green lawns that keep Casco Bay blue.

Autumn BayScaping tips you can take this fall that will pay off next spring:
Let your soil breathe. Aeration allows water and nutrients to reach the grass’s roots. Seeding and composting on top of freshly-aerated soil can be done until the end of the growing season. Take away leaves soon after they fall.
Lower lawn mower height. Gradually reduce your mowing height to 2 to 2.5 inches before the first frost to help prevent snow mold.

Tending Portland’s public spaces without pesticides

On July 1, Portland’s Pesticide Use Ordinance goes into effect for public properties. (In January, 2019, restrictions on applying synthetic pesticides on private property will go into effect.)

We asked City Arborist Jeff Tarling how the Parks Department may manage the City’s 721 acres of parks, playgrounds, trails, fields, and cemeteries differently. “This ordinance gives our staff opportunities to manage nature respectfully, to preserve and adapt to nature, rather than trying to control it.” Mowing high, replacing lawn with meadow, and planting native shrubs and trees are actions Jeff recommends for public and private properties.


Removing invasive plants mechanically, not chemically, is a hands-on approach Jeff endorses. Jeff showed Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell a long row of native trees and shrubs that students from King Middle School had just planted as a coastal buffer along the Back Cove parking lot. As he talked, he couldn’t resist pulling out invasive bittersweet that was overtaking other vegetation along the path.

Jeff explained that the Parks Department has assembled a “watch list” of invasive plants in their parks, which they plan to remove by hand over time, not by spraying with pesticides.

Cathy was a member of the task force that helped to shape the pesticide ordinance. She says, “As the whole community becomes more aware of the need to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers, it will reduce the likelihood that lawn chemicals will move off the landscape and into the Bay.”

Casco Bay begins in your backyard

Friends of Casco Bay has been a strong advocate for municipal ordinances to reduce the use of lawn care chemicals.

As the grass turns green, we are celebrating a series of milestones in our effort to protect the Bay from pesticides and fertilizers:

  • The City of South Portland Pesticide Use Ordinance goes into effect for private properties on May 1, 2018. As a resource for its residents, the City of South Portland launched an informative website and education plan on how to grow a healthy yard–even if you do not live in South Portland, you may find this resource useful: http://www.southportland.org/departments/sustainability-office/grow-healthy-south-portland/

  • The City of Portland Pesticide Use Ordinance goes into effect on July 1, 2018 for city property and January 1, 2019 for private property.

  • With the help of Friends like you, we helped defeat bad bill in the state legislature that would have taken away the power of towns to pass ordinances to restrict the use of pesticides.

  • The Town of Falmouth is in the process of developing a pesticide and fertilizer ordinance.

We applaud the steps these communities are taking in order to protect public health and the health of the Bay! With the return of spring, be sure to use the BayScaping tips above to help grow green yards that keep Casco Bay blue. You can read more about BayScaping here.

Friends of Casco Bay Testimony in Opposition to LD 1853: An Act To Ensure the Safe and Consistent Regulation of Pesticides throughout the State by Providing Exemptions to Municipal Ordinances That Regulate Pesticides

March 21, 2018

Senator Paul Davis
Representative Danny Martin
State and Local Government Committee
c/o Legislative Information Office 100 State House Station Augusta, ME 04333

Re: Friends of Casco Bay Testimony in Opposition to LD 1853: An Act To Ensure the Safe and Consistent Regulation of Pesticides throughout the State by Providing Exemptions to Municipal Ordinances That Regulate Pesticides

Dear Senator Davis, Representative Martin, and Distinguished Members of the State and Local Government Committee:

Please accept this letter as the testimony of Friends of Casco Bay in opposition to LD 1853: An Act To Ensure the Safe and Consistent Regulation of Pesticides throughout the State by Providing Exemptions to Municipal Ordinances That Regulate Pesticides. Friends of Casco Bay is a marine stewardship organization formed over a quarter century ago to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay. Our work involves education, advocacy, water quality monitoring, and collaborative partnerships.

A year ago we submitted testimony similar to today’s testimony, opposing LD 1505: An Act To Create Consistency in the Regulation of Pesticides[1], a bill that would have eliminated municipal Home Rule to pass or implement pesticide-related ordinances. Although LD 1853 differs from LD 1505 by not explicitly referring to Home Rule, it implicitly guts it. LD 1853 provides that municipal pesticide ordinances cannot apply: (1) to commercial applicators and spray contracting firms or (2) to private applicators when the private applicators are producing agricultural or horticultural commodities. Horticulture means “the science and art of growing fruits, vegetables, flowers, or ornamental plants.”[2] Horticulture is: “[t]hat branch of agriculture concerned with growing plants that are used by people for food, for medicinal purposes, and for aesthetic gratification.”[3]

LD 1853 in essence removes the right of municipalities to pass pesticide ordinances for virtually any purpose. No ordinance can apply to commercial applicators. Nor can an ordinance apply to home applicators for basically any conceivable purpose, including weed-free lawns maintained for “aesthetic gratification.” For this reason, we respectfully request that this Committee unanimously recommend that LD 1853 ought not to pass, the same recommendation that it made for LD 1505.

PESTICIDES IN CASCO BAY

Our previous testimony, attached as Exhibit A, details the sampling Friends of Casco Bay conducted to detect the presence or absence of pesticides in stormwater that flows into Casco Bay. In summary, over 8 years, our research identified 10 different pesticides at 14 locations around the Bay. None of the pesticides are listed as safe for use in marine environments. For example, these six toxic pesticides were detected:

2, 4-D: banned in five countries, this herbicide is toxic to aquatic invertebrates and may be linked to non-Hodgkins lymphoma in humans.

Clopyralid: this herbicide has been linked to birth defects in animals.

Diazinon: banned from being sold to U.S. consumers but still legal for use, this insecticide has a high aquatic toxicity and is linked to reproductive problems.

Dicamba: found in groundwater throughout the U.S., this herbicide is toxic to fish and zooplankton.

MCPP: along with 2, 4-D, this herbicide is in the same family of chemicals as Agent Orange and is highly toxic to bay shrimp.

Propiconazole: this fungicide is a possible carcinogen.

Consistent with our mission to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay, we strongly believe these substances should not be discharged into our marine waters.

MAINE MUNCIPAL PESTICIDES ORDINANCES

The Maine Constitution grants Home Rule to municipalities.[4] Home Rule allows municipalities to exercise any power or function that the Legislature confers upon them, and that is not denied expressly or by clear implication.[5] With respect to pesticide ordinances, the Legislature requires a municipality to notify the Maine Board of Pesticide Control (BPC) when it intends to adopt an ordinance. In turn, the BPC must maintain a list of all municipal ordinances that specifically apply to pesticide storage, distribution or use.[6] Municipalities adopt ordinances through considerable public process.[7] For example, Friends of Casco Bay’s Executive Director, Cathy Ramsdell, served for nearly a year on a task force that helped Portland shape its recently enacted pesticide ordinance.[8]

As a result of this very thoughtful process, 29 of Maine’s nearly 500 municipalities have enacted ordinances that narrowly restrict pesticide use to meet local needs.[9] It should be noted that none of these municipal ordinances out-right ban the use of pesticides. Here are some examples relevant to Casco Bay:

Brunswick prohibits use or storage of most pesticides other than for households and agriculture within the aquifer protection zone. The town also prohibits aerial applications other than public health applications performed under the auspices of the Town or State.  Exceptions may be approved by Codes Enforcement Officer.

Harpswell prohibits the use of the insect growth regulators (IGRs) diflubenzuron and tebufenozide and the aerial application of all IGRs and any insecticide whose product label indicates that it is harmful to aquatic invertebrates. The town also restricts the use of neonicotinoid insecticides.

New Gloucester requires application to be consistent with DCAF standards.

Portland’s recently enacted ordinance will restrict the use of synthetic pesticides for all public and private turf, landscape, and outdoor pest management activities. The ordinance takes effect for City property on July 1, 2018 and for private property on January 1, 2019. There are provisions for emergency exemptions.

South Portland curtails the use of pesticides for turf, landscape and outdoor pest management.[10]

Research revealed no legal challenges to these ordinances. They stand as a proper application of Home Rule and as excellent examples of municipalities crafting more protective regulation than federal and state law to protect the health of local residents, natural resources, and environmental concerns. LD 1853 should not be allowed to eviscerate this proper and necessary exercise of Home Rule.

For the reasons set forth above and in our prior testimony, we reiterate our request that this Committee unanimously recommend that LD 1853 ought not to pass.

Respectfully,

Ivy L. Frignoca
Casco Baykeeper
Friends of Casco Bay

CC: Jennifer Hall, Clerk

 

[1] See Friends of Casco Bay Testimony Oppose LD 1505, https://www.cascobay.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/05012017-FOCB-Testimony-Oppose-LD-1505-Final.pdf

[2] Merriam Webster Dictionary, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/horticulture.

[3] https://nifa.usda.gov/sites/default/files/resources/definition_of_specialty_crops.pdf.

[4] Maine Constitution, Art. VIII, pt. 2, § 1.

[5] CMP v. Town of Lebanon, 571 A.2d 1189, 1192 (ME 1990); 30-A MRSA § 3001.

[6] 22 MRSA § 1471-U.

[7] See e.g. 30-A MRSA §§ 3001 et seq.

[8] https://www.cascobay.org/2018/02/06/protecting-bay-pesticides/.

[9] http://www.maine.gov/dacf/php/pesticides/public/municipal_ordinances.shtml.

[10] Id.

Working With . . . the Portland Pesticides Task Force

“The draft ordinance is a good start. It doesn’t solve every problem, but I think this is a compromise that pesticide applicators, scientists, and concerned citizens can live with. Its goal is to encourage people to build up the quality of their soil for natural resiliency against pests,” says Executive Director Cathy Ramsdell, a member of the Portland Pesticides Task Force.

In 2001, Research Associate Mike Doan stood in the pouring rain to capture stormwater as it gushed into Back Cove. He repeated this soggy task dozens of times all around the rim of Casco Bay. Lab analyses of those jars of water he collected identified 9 different pesticides in 14 locations. With this information, we were able to state definitively that rainwater picks up pesticides as it flows toward the Bay.

The data Mike collected became the foundation of our BayScaping Program, which has educated thousands of residents and landscapers on how to use ecological lawn care practices, instead of pesticides and fertilizers, to ensure a green yard and a blue Bay. Yet, years later, we find that the ornamental use of lawn chemicals is still extensive in Maine. That is why we became involved in “grassroots” efforts to restrict the use of pesticides and fertilizers.

Last summer, Cathy Ramsdell, Executive Director of Friends of Casco Bay and a Portland resident, was asked to join the 12-member Portland Pesticides Task Force. It was a diverse group of stakeholders, including concerned citizens, lawn care professionals, and scientists.

Cathy found herself a fulcrum for the group, as she sought to find common ground among disparate interests. She was so frequently the voice of reason that other task force members started quoting Cathy’s remarks to move the group toward a centrist position.

After eight months of meetings, the Pesticides Task Force voted 11 to 1 on February 27 to submit a draft ordinance to the Sustainability and a draft ordinance to the Sustainability and Transportation Committee for further action. Cathy is hopeful that Maine’s largest city will ultimately adopt an ordinance that:

  • Bans the use of pesticides by professionals and residents on lawns,
    patios, and driveways
  • Bans pesticides within 75 feet of the water
  • Creates an advisory committee to develop data on pesticide use
Friends of Casco Bay's BayScaper Sign

Putting Your Lawn to Bed: Autumn BayScaping Tips

Following these easy steps will ensure you have a healthy lawn without using toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

  • Friends of Casco Bay's BayScaper Sign
    Pick up a BayScaper sign and you can be ready for the growing season! We have these signs at our office, 43 Slocum Drive in South Portland.

    Lower lawn mower height: Your normal grass height of 3½ to 4 inches needs to be reduced gradually to 1½ to 2 inches. Reduce the height by ½-inch every two weeks. Lowering grass height takes some of the effort out of leaf raking and makes the grass more resistant to snow mold disease.

  • Rake leaves, leave grass clippings: Most lawns over ten years old do not need fertilizers, if you leave the clippings. The clippings provide a source of slow-release nitrogen and adequate phosphorus for your lawn. However, once the leaves fall, mulch or rake leaves from the lawn as soon as possible.
  • Aerate: Aeration involves perforating the soil with small holes so that air, water, and nutrients can penetrate the grass roots. Ask at your garden center or hardware store about renting an aerator or hiring a service.
  • Overseed: Seeding over freshly-aerated turf is feasible right up to the end of the growing season. Just be sure to water thoroughly.
BayScaper Sign in Garden

Lawn Enforcement

BayScaper Sign in Garden
If you use lawn care practices that eliminate the need for pesticides and fertilizers, please come by our office on the Southern Maine Community College Campus to get our new BayScaper sign.

Last week we received an email from a summer resident on Little Diamond Island who asked, “Is there any information Friends of Casco Bay can provide that I could share with islanders about the potential harm from using the weed killer Round Up?” This may seem like strange question to ask a marine conservation organization. But for the past 15 years we have been advocating for lawn care practices that reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides and fertilizers.

Our water quality sampling shows that heavy rains can flush pesticides into Casco Bay. Even more concerning is the impact of nitrogen – from fertilizers, as well as from sewage and air pollution. Too much nitrogen leads to more acidic water, lower oxygen levels, and slime-covered coves, all threats to marine life such as clams and mussels. Weed and feed products, some of the most widely-used lawn chemicals, are a combination of pesticides (“weed”) and fertilizers (“feed”).

Several communities are considering a range of actions to get residents to reduce their use of lawn chemicals. What is the best approach?  Education? Enforcement? Or both?

Ogunquit was the first town in the nation where voters banned pesticides on private property, as well as public. Other communities are considering similar restraints. Fortunately for Maine, we are one of nine states and the District of Columbia that still allows municipal voters to decide this issue. Elsewhere, chemical company lobbyists have convinced legislatures to take away local control.

In South Portland, a citizens’ group called Bees, Bays, and Backyards has lobbied for an ordinance to ban the use of pesticides. On July 13, City Manager Jim Gailey presented South Portland City Councilors with several examples of pesticide ordinances to solicit feedback. More than 70 concerned citizens spoke both for and against strict regulations.

Friends’ Associate Director Mary Cerullo urged the City Council to broaden the ordinance to include restricting the use of another lawn chemical – fertilizer. After nearly three hours of discussion, the City Council directed City Staff to draft language that would restrict pesticides on both public property and private residences. A draft ordinance will be presented in November.

The Town of Harpswell, at the other end of Casco Bay, is comprised of narrow peninsulas with over 200 miles of coastline. Every part of town is close to the water. Rather than implementing an outright ban on pesticides, in 2004, the town banned Insect Growth Regulators (diflubenzuron and tebufenozide), insecticides that adversely affect aquatic invertebrates, especially molting lobsters and crabs. This ban was in response to spraying to eradicate the browntail moth caterpillar, whose toxic hairs can cause blistery rashes and respiratory distress.

In the summer, the focus is on “green garden practices” such as BayScaping, which teaches natural yard care practices that don’t rely on the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They are educating residents about Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and their right to be notified before a pesticide is applied in the neighborhood.

Whatever approach communities choose, it is part of a trend to find local solutions to global challenges.

FOCB bayscaper_print

Lawns Are to Blame for Much of the Nitrogen and Toxic Chemicals in the Bay

Joe’s footprints in green slime at a cove in Falmouth

Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne received a panicked call from a member of Friends of Casco Bay who lived on a cove in Falmouth. He asked Joe to discover the polluter whose actions had turned his scenic inlet bright green. When Joe walked out onto the flat to investigate, his boots sank four inches into green slime. He observed that the member had recently installed a culvert under the driveway that channelled rainwater runoff directly into the cove. He turned to his worried friend and said, “You did this.” The culvert was collecting runoff from fertilized yards in the neighborhood, stimulating a lush growth of green algae across the entire cove.

Friends of Casco Bay’s stormwater monitoring reveals that this neighborhood is not the only one over-fertilizing the Bay. We have found nitrogen and lawn care pesticides in waters around Casco Bay.

Because our advocacy is grounded in science, we worked in conjunction with the Maine Board of Pesticides Control to collected water samples around Casco Bay. Chemicals we found are shown on this map.

When Friends of Casco Bay tested stormwater for pesticides in a South Portland waterfront neighborhood, we found Diazinon and 2,4D, a component of weed and feed products. This prompted further testing at every coastal community around Casco Bay. We detected more pesticides flowing into the Bay in stormwater. Our findings inspired our BayScaping program, which teaches residents how to reduce their use of lawn chemicals.

Pesticides and fertilizers can harm marine life, as well as children and pets. But the good news is there are simple ways you can grow a green lawn that keeps Casco Bay blue.

BayScaping will save you time, save you money, save your lawn, and save the Bay! Join your neighbors, and learn more at cascobay.org/bayscaping.

Read the next section of the report What Is Our Coastal Future?