Updated: Nov 4
When PG&E threatened to spray herbicides along its transmission easements without clear landowner permissions, Humboldt County residents rose up and forced the company to retreat. This moment provided an opportunity to set policy that will prevent similar attempts by PG&E, Caltrans, or any player from attempting to come into our community and spray without our consent. Last week, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to set official policy opposing the use of herbicides on county property unless there is no other alternative. Find that policy here.
Humboldt County has long held an unofficial policy against the use of herbicides. This has discouraged but not prevented spraying in our community. Last week’s vote clarifies that herbicides are only a method of last resort for county lands. There are obvious limitations: it applies to county land only and does not regulate the use of herbicides elsewhere, such as by industrial timber companies. But beyond the legal meaning of the resolution, the practical meaning of the resolution is that we have made clear that widespread herbicide application is socially unacceptable in the county.
Why can Humboldt not regulate herbicide application more broadly? In response to local ordinances in the 1970s and early 1980s, state lawmakers removed that power. (Listen to herbicide warriors Patty Clary and Larry Glass discuss the history of local herbicide activism.)
Because state law limits the power of local jurisdictions to regulate pesticide use, other jurisdictions have gotten creative but with limited success. In 2016 Mendocino County voters enacted Measure V, which prohibits the intentional killing and leaving of dead trees in the forest, something typically, although not inherently or exclusively, done by herbicides. Measure V has yet to be enforced. Trinity County has declared the use of herbicides a public nuisance, yet Sierra Pacific Industries and others continue to thumb their noses at that county's policy.