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Organic Land Management Ordinance Proposed in Durango, Colorado

(Beyond Pesticides, August 21, 2012) A proposed ordinance that eschews chemical fertilizers and pesticides in favor of an organically maintained system on public land in Durango, CO will be up for debate tonight, and, if denied, will wind up on the city’s November ballot. The ordinance was put together by a group of local advocates, Organically Managed Parks Durango. The group utilized a petition process defined in the City Charter, which gives voters the power to propose ordinances to the City Council which must either approve the ordinance or send it back to residents for a vote. The ordinance, based on Beyond Pesticides’ model policy, focuses on developing healthy soil and would appoint an organic land management coordinator to oversee the program. The ordinance also allows for pesticides to be used in the case of a public health emergency only after all other options have been exhausted. A summary of the ordinance, according to the group:

An ordinance mandating the implementation of an organic land management program for all city parks, open space, trails, lawns, playgrounds, sports fields, rights-of-way and other real property owned or leased by the City; using organic fertilizers and eliminating the use of synthetic fertilizers on City property; promoting tolerance of a diversity of plants growing symbiotically with the grasses; employing non-synthetic chemical means for removal of weeds and pests; allowing the use of minimum risk pesticides after non-synthetic chemical means have been reasonably exhausted; resorting to higher risk pesticides only in the event of a public health emergency; designating an organic land management coordinator; and providing for the recovery of costs and attorney’s fees by citizens who are wholly or partially successful in bringing a civil action to enforce any provision of the ordinance.

There are currently two parks that are maintained without chemicals in the City of Durango, Brookside Park and Pioneer Park. According to a narrative report prepared by Organically Managed Parks Durango, the use of both of these parks has increased in popularity since the parks have become chemical-free, particularly among families with small children. The City of Durango’s Parks Master Plan, states that Brookside Park is in “excellent condition,” and the turf in both of the chemical-free Parks is a highly functional, beautiful green lawn and beckons to children of all ages for a pleasing roll about in the completely chemical-free grass.

The call for this ordinance adds to the growing movement across the country calling for increased restrictions on the use of dangerous chemicals in the public sphere. In addition to Durango, CO, Beyond Pesticides has worked with localities throughout the U.S. in an effort to promote organic land care systems and restrict the hazardous use of chemicals. Most recently, Richmond, CA approved a pesticide reform ordinance targeting the use of toxic chemical pesticides within city boundaries. Washington D.C. also recently passed legislation which restricts the use of pesticides on District property, near waterways, and in schools and day care centers. Ohio’s Cuyoga County successfully banned a majority of toxic pesticide uses on county property, prioritizing the use of natural, organic, horticultural and maintenance practices with an Organic Pest Management (OPM) program. The City of Greenbelt, Maryland also has a law that completely eliminates the use of cosmetic pesticides through a phase out period, and includes a requirement that all city contractors follow OPM and organic land care management. The village of New Paltz, New York has a “Healthy Turf and Landscape Policy,” which emphasizes the precautionary principle, and only allows the use of pesticides if a pest problem poses a threat to public health. While stopping short of an all-out ban, Connecticut currently has a statewide prohibition on the use of toxic pesticides on school grounds. The state of New York also acted to protect children by passing the “Child Safe Playing Field Act” in 2010, which requires that all schools, preschools, and day care centers stop using pesticides on any playgrounds or playing field. Additionally, several communities in Cape Cod, Massachusetts are currently in the process of moving towards organic land care as a norm in their public spaces.

Organic land management is practical and economical. Opponents may claim that organic management will cost more money, or put the fields at risk for disease and weed infestation; however, in a Cornell University study of turf, chemically maintained turf is more susceptible to disease. Another report prepared by Grassroots Environmental Education and Beyond Pesticides’ Board Member Chip Osborne for the New York State legislature concludes that organic approaches can save money. The report compares the relative costs of maintaining a typical high school football field using a chemical-intensive program and an organic program over a five-year period and finds that the annual cost of maintaining an organic field can be as much as 25% lower than the cost of chemical-based programs. The Parks and Recreation Department in Branford, Connecticut has a successful organic land care program resulting in more attractive playing fields at a decreased cost to taxpayers. Furthermore, Harvard University saved two million gallons of water a year by managing the grounds organically, as irrigation needs have been reduced by 30 percent. Previously, it cost Harvard $35,000 a year to get rid of “landscape waste” from its campus grounds. Now that cost is gone because the school keeps all grass clippings, leaves and branches for composting and making compost teas. This in turn saves the university an additional $10,000 from having to purchase fertilizers elsewhere.

For more information on organic-based, pesticide-free lawn and landscape management, see Beyond Pesticides Lawns and Landscapes program page. Beyond Pesticides encourages concerned citizens to stand up and make their voices heard in their community. If you’d like to join Richmond, California and help ban pesticide use in your community’s public spaces, contact Beyond Pesticides at 202-543-5450 or at [email protected].

Source: The Durango Telegraph

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.


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