Falmouth panel hears about South Portland experience with pesticide ban

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FALMOUTH — The Conservation Commission is continuing to work on a possible pesticide ban, while also ramping up its public education efforts on the harmful impacts of pesticide use in landscaping.

At a meeting last week the commission heard from Julie Rosenbach, the sustainability director for South Portland. Rosenbach shared how the city created and passed its own pesticide ban in the fall of 2016.

That ban essentially prohibits the application of synthetic pesticides on all city-owned land, private property and golf courses.

However, South Portland took a phased approach, with the ban on pesticide use on private property not taking effect until May 1, 2018, and golf courses not having to comply until May 1, 2019.

There are also several exemptions in South Portland’s ordinance, which is being looked at as a model by the city of Portland.

Those exemptions include attempts to “control plants that are poisonous to the touch, pests of significant health importance such as ticks and mosquitoes, and animals or insects that may cause damage to a structure.”

The ban also doesn’t apply to pesticide application “to control the Emerald Ash Borer, Asian Longhorned Beetle, Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, Browntail Moth and other insects identified as invasive by the Maine Forest Service.”

Rosenbach said in developing and passing its pesticide ban, South Portland came to the conclusion that “you don’t need pesticides to create a healthy, green and vibrant landscape.”

She also said the city wanted to take a proactive approach because a variety of scientific studies are making a connection between the use of pesticides and harmful impacts to human health.

Those impacts include reproductive disorders, neurological diseases and delayed development, Rosenbach said.

“We felt there was enough of a risk,” to take action. And, even though there is no specific data available, “there’s limited, but compelling evidence.”

Rosenbach also said South Portland decided outreach and education alone weren’t making enough of an impact on behavior.

“The Friends of Casco Bay have been doing outreach and education for more than a decade to no effect,” she said. In fact, during that same period, “there’s been a significant increase in the use of pesticides.”

Rosenbach said South Portland came to the conclusion that coupling outreach and education with “an ordinance that sets standards would be much more effective.”

She said the city also wanted its pesticide ordinance to “be practical and usable” and be a method that would “move the (landscaping) market and the industry” away from pesticide use.

Rosenbach was also clear that although South Portland’s ordinance allows the use of organic pesticides, “we’re not saying that organics are safe. A 20 percent vinegar solution,” for example, “still burns the skin like acid.”

“I think we can make a big difference with the ordinance we have,” she added. “(We’re trying to show) there’s a lot of steps between fighting an invasive species and the use of pesticides.”

Rosenbach said another important aspect of South Portland’s approach to the pesticide ban is that “it’s not an either-or solution.”

Nancy Lightbody, chairwoman of Falmouth’s Conservation Commission, said her board invited Rosenbach to speak because “we need to get educated ourselves,” before making the case for limited pesticide use to residents.

She said the commission was initially focused on writing an ordinance, but after consulting with the Town Council this past summer, the focus shifted more toward “the importance of outreach and education for the public.”

That’s why the commission is planning a special day-long workshop in March focused on environmentally safe lawn care.

However, Lightbody also said the Conservation Commission is still intent on coming up with a recommended ordinance regarding pesticide use in Falmouth.

She said the commission has already held several public sessions that included business owners, the schools, the town’s parks program and residents.

“We have received a lot of input,” Lightbody said, and all of that will be used “to inform whatever we do here in Falmouth.”

At last week’s workshop, commission member Sarah Boudreau said the board is still very much in the fact-finding stage, but would like to come up with rules that are doable.

The end goal, she said, is to stop “the first reaction to kill everything you see.”

Rosenbach agreed with that, and said the key is teaching people about “building soil health, being proactive and planting the right plants in the right place.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.