Charley Underwood, longtime Southside Pride garden columnist, wrote on the Minneapolis Issues List: I was out foraging this afternoon, scouting out several of my favorite places to gather juneberries (aka serviceberries or saskatoon, etc.). One of those places is along the grassy strip between the parking lot and Minnehaha Falls. To my dismay, I saw a series of signs warning parents to keep their children and pets away, that glyphosate (aka Roundup) had been applied. So much for munching on juneberries. But why would anyone put a toxic spray exactly where children will cut across, on their way to the falls? Why would anyone put poisons in the park at all? And isn’t it a little self-defeating to plant beautiful bushes along the edge of the park, only to spray something nearby that can kill them?
Constance Pepin wrote: The World Health Organization has classified glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, as a probable carcinogen.
John Erwin, citywide park board commissioner: I was surprised to hear of the applications at Minnehaha Park. In 2010, the Board reiterated that we expected our existing policy restricting chemicals in all parks be adhered to. The only allowable use is/was the Lyndale Rose Garden, putting greens in some golf courses, and along Victory Memorial Parkway. All other uses were restricted. We specifically mentioned our concern about use anywhere near any playgrounds. It appears as though that change in 2010 resulted in a dramatic reduction in chemical use based on records that were provided by the assistant superintendent of operations today. Chemical applications decreased from approximately 550 applications in 2010 to about 10 this year.
Charley has a dream: I will tell you very frankly that I have a specific dream of what might happen. I see a long-term plan where dying trees are replaced with a particular species of fruit trees, one to each city park. Powderhorn might have raspberries, Minnehaha Falls, juneberries; Longfellow, pears; Phillips, cherries; Pearl, apples, and so on. No healthy trees would be cut down to accommodate the new fruit arrivals. But imagine that each of those neighborhoods would then have a yearly summer festival with a focus on that particular fruit. Instead of a zillion parks having an August corn feed, it might be a raspberry festival with pies and fruit with yogurt and various cakes with fruits in them. Even fruit smoothies maybe. After eating entirely too much with our friends and neighbors, we all might get together for a community sing with such luminaries as Betty Tisel, Bret Hesla and Joe Hesla, who have been organizing events like this for the past year or so. Can you see how this would add an entire new and wonderful dimension to our city parks? Can you see how this would make our city neighborhoods safer? Can you see how neatly this would fit into the Homegrown Minneapolis healthy food initiatives?
Park Board Commissioner Liz Wielinski found the contractor who did the spraying: “I am the person who sprayed around a portion of the shrub beds in the main lot of Minnehaha Falls (just above the pavilion). The area is in the middle islands between the two paved areas of the lot. I am a licensed pesticide applicator and all protocols, policies, procedures and label directions were followed. Whenever possible non- chemical solutions are used to eliminate weeds/invasive materials, but depending on root structure, seed viability and soil conditions, often other methods need to be used. Pulling of the weeds in this area has been done manually before, but it does not eliminate the problem. An example of one of the weeds that is rampant in the area in which spray was applied is field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis). Bindweed is especially difficult to eradicate because roots can extend for many feet in the soil and the seeds are viable for many years. It is very difficult to dig the root out and if it breaks off in the soil, another plant will develop. The best course of action in this area was to use a chemical. The day/time I sprayed there was NO wind and I sprayed only the intended target weeds. Proper posting was done in the shrub beds in which the chemical spray was used. There are four paved walkways to get from one side of the parking lot to the other and down to the falls. There are a few ‘paths’ that have been created by numerous people walking through and trampling the shrubs. These ‘paths’ were not treated with the chemical. The shrub beds that were treated with glyphosate should not have people walking through them. Walking in the shrub bed compacts the soil around the plant material and compromises soil structure and function, adversely affecting the plant material. People and animals walking in shrub beds could also be transporting weed seeds throughout the shrub bed on their clothing and shoes, creating more of a problem.”
Park Board Commissioner Scott Vreeland wrote: The serviceberries on this strip of land by the parking lot are one of the best collection of edibles in our parks. As part of the urban agriculture policy that will be completed in the next few months, this would be the kind of place that should be identified as one that should exclude pesticide use. It will also be important to review our Integrated Pest Management policy to reduce and eliminate pesticide use for additional areas. I will try to get some more detail about Minnehaha Park. We should revisit our IPM policy and look at our protocols, but I do think there are some instances like buckthorn removal where some pesticide use is warranted.
[Editor’s Note: It is very important to appreciate what has happened here. A citizen raised a legitimate question about government policy in a public forum. Three elected officials from that branch of government responded in that forum. They consulted with staff and outside consultants and presented charts and statements that were not always favorable to the Board. It was an exemplary exercise in direct democracy. It was a New England Town Hall Meeting on the Minneapolis Issues Forum. The participation by the park board commissioners was honest and courageous. They treated everyone at the meeting courteously and fairly and equally. They didn’t have to do it. They didn’t have to participate. Most elected officials read the Forum, or have their press secretary monitor it. Most elected officials can’t resist listening in on what people are saying about them. But they’re lurking. They’re sitting at the back of the room, keeping quiet. They know that to answer a question would be to allow access to anyone, to everyone. They know their power comes from their special access to the levers of power. Lobbyists pay large sums of money to buy access to these elected officials. Why should they just give it away? But wouldn’t it be wonderful if these elected officials would understand and imitate the example of the park board commissioners. Imagine a serious policy discussion done publicly with the City Council, the mayor, our county commissioners, our state representatives and state senators, the governor.