Waging a gentler war on weeds along Fryingpan
BASALT – A Basalt-area resident is scrambling for public support to preserve an agreement that prevents chemical spraying for weeds along the lower Fryingpan River.
Jerome Osentowski, a permaculturist and master gardener, said Eagle County’s weed control department sprayed thistle along the river for the first time in about six years last week. The new weed manager wasn’t aware an alleged handshake agreement was in place to avoid spraying there, Osentowski said.
Osentowski is optimistic that a formal, written agreement can be crafted with Tom Girard, Eagle County’s integrated pest manager program manager. Girard was out of his office and couldn’t be reached for comment.
The issue resonates with Osentowski because he said the Fryingpan is the last river or major creek in the entire upper Roaring Fork watershed where the county governments don’t spray. “It’s nice to have one drainage where you’re not breathing in noxious fumes,” Osentowski told the Basalt Town Council in a recent discussion.
The issue goes beyond air quality. Osentowski said spraying weeds in general kills bees and other beneficial insects. Spraying thistle kills weevils that feed on the seeds and reduce the number of the invasive weeds in a natural way.
He is concerned the primary ingredients in the herbicides will eventually run into the Fryingpan River, since the roadway is so close to water for 12 miles below the Ruedi Reservoir Dam. The lower Fryingpan is gold-medal trout fishing water.
No tests are being performed to determine if herbicides are affecting the Roaring Fork River watershed. “I would be concerned about the use of hundreds of thousands of dollars of herbicides,” Osentowski said. “I would have questions about that.”
The Roaring Fork Conservancy, a Basalt-based nonprofit organization with a mission to protect water quality and quantity and preserve riparian areas, tests the river for other types of pollutants. Rick Lofaro, executive director of the Conservancy, said he shares some of Osentowski’s concerns.
“A preferred method is to always go with a non-chemical treatment,” Lofaro said, adding that chemical use might sometimes be necessary when invasive weeds have proliferated.
Lofaro said he would need to study the issue more thoroughly to determine if Osentowski has legitimate concerns about herbicides reaching and harming the river after prolonged use on adjacent land.
The Roaring Fork Conservancy plans to participate in talks about a possible agreement with Eagle County about herbicide use.
Basalt town government was also invited to be part of the talks, and the council seemed sympathetic to Osentowski’s position, although no vote was taken last Tuesday. Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt said she didn’t know if the town had any responsibility to be part a formal part of the discussion, but the issue should concern all citizens.
“I would say spraying should not be happening in the future,” she said, stressing that she based her opinion on what she heard from Osentowski and hadn’t heard both sides of the argument. “That’s good enough for me unless somebody proves otherwise.”
Osentowski teaches gardening using natural systems and cycles at his Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute on the south slopes of Basalt Mountain. He claimed biological controls can effectively control weeds, with some assistance from humans. He essentially contends that nature should be allowed to take its course.
In the case of thistles, weevils will reduce populations. They should be introduced when necessary, not killed by spraying. Low levels of thistles are forage for deer and bighorn sheep in the lower Fryingpan Valley.
Mowing along roadways is effective, as is “weed whacking” and pulling weeds, Osentowski said. “It’s just as much time to spray as it is to cut it,” he said.
Eagle County stopped spraying the lower Fryingpan River earlier this decade after Osentowski confronted the former weed control officer, who he labeled a “nozzlehead.” “He loved to spray everywhere,” he said.
Osentowski has also tried to convince Pitkin County government to rely on alternatives to herbicide use along its waterways. He’s given up that battle.
“You would think in a valley with all these greenies we would take a stand,” he said.
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