Weyerhaeuser responds to aerial spray concerns

Snohomish County group doesn’t agree with safety assessment for herbicides

Kelly Sullivan

The Snohomish County environmental group that asked the Department of Natural Resources and various timber companies to rethink aerial spraying in the Sky Valley has received a response.

The Seattle-based Weyerhaeuser timber company — one of the world’s largest lumber producers — sent a letter to the Sky Valley Environmental and Economic Alliance in October. SVENA had addressed its petition to Weyerhaeuser president and CEO Doyle Simons. North Washington Region manager Travis Ridgway replied.

“Herbicides are an important tool in our ability to practice sustainable forestry and we will continue to use them, as appropriate, in a safe and efficient manner,” he wrote.

Ridgway wrote the timber company shares the group’s concerns over safe and sustainable land management practices and the protection of public resources. Treating tree farms reduces competition for company-planted seedlings and helps reestablish healthy forests. The chemicals applied are a diluted version of those commonly used in households, he wrote.

Those selected are approved by both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Agriculture, Ridgway wrote. He included that Weyerhaeuser avoids applications in or near streams and rivers, and staff monitors weather, such as wind, that may create risk of drift, and will cease activities if poor conditions occur.

“Most sites require one or two treatments over a 40-to-50-year period,” he wrote.

Who sprays in the Sky Valley varies from year to year. This fall, Weyerhaeuser and California-based Sierra Pacific Industries were approved by the DNR to treat swaths near Monroe, Sultan, Gold Bar and Granite Falls. 

Around 950 acres in the Sky Valley and nearly 910 acres near Granite Falls were scheduled for treatment, according to the applications.

In the petition, SVENA requested alternatives to dropping pesticides on tree farms be used along the U.S. Highway 2 corridor. The group suggests timber corporations spot spray smaller amounts of land and plan clear cutting and replanting, so the need to control competing vegetation is minimized, or allow a diversity of vegetation to grow instead of using chemicals.

As of Thursday, 538 people had put their names on the petition. The Pilchuck Audubon Society also signed on behalf of its 1,400 members and the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides on behalf of its 14,000 members.

“The Weyerhaeuser response to the petition against aerial spraying is pretty much the same corporate rhetoric I’ve been hearing from them for 35 years,” wrote resident and SVENA member Diane Hardee in an email.

She has lived in the Sky Valley for nearly four decades. It stuck out to Hardee that Ridgway’s response included the comment that the company avoids aerial spraying near streams and rivers. She has seen in their applications that is often not the case.

Weyerhaeuser’s DNR applications to spray in the Gold Bar and Granite Falls area this autumn included plans to treat land that was within 100 feet of surface water.

“They also mostly apply pesticides in the Fall when many seasonal streams are dry (so they spray directly over the dry stream bed),” Hardee wrote. “When the rains come, those dry stream beds will re-fill with water and may potentially leach chemicals into groundwater or run-off into downstream rivers.”

Hardee also wrote that the difference between Weyerhaeuser spraying its selected pesticides and the ones found in households is that some homeowners chose what they use. People downwind of the treatments could be exposed without their knowledge or consent.

“Pesticides do move off target,” she wrote.

SVENA has posted a list of the most likely active ingredients used in Weyerhaueser’s 2016 spraying in the Skykomish River Valley.

The chemical glyphosate, used in Roundup, is “linked with increased risks of the cancer non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, miscarriages, and attention deficit disorder,” according to SVENa fact sheet. It “can reduce production of sex hormones,” and “can commonly drift and contaminate water.”

Further, monoculture tree farms do not make for a healthy forest, Hardee writes. Soil health and fertility can be compromised and one species of tree that is the same age is more susceptible to disease than a diverse forest, she wrote.

“It also is not as supportive of birds (which benefit from multi-levels of underbrush and tree heights, for food and habitat) and does not provide as much habitat to support biodiversity of other wildlife,” she wrote.


Photo by Kelly Sullivan: Weyerhaeuser and the Sky Valley Environmental and Economic Alliance remain at odds about whether aerial spraying of herbicides on trees in the area is harmful to people living nearby, as well as water sources.


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