Are Herbicides the Right Way to Remove Non-Native Plants? Letter Writer Argues Against Park Service Plan

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The National Park Service wants to use herbicides to destroy non-native plants. Uri Driscoll, who wrote the following letter, wants those against the use of poisons should go to a public comment meeting hosted by the Park Service and express their opposition.

Here’s his letter:

Uri Driscoll

Uri Driscoll

The National Park Service has come out with a draft plan in an attempt to address non-native invasive plant species. The proposal largely stems around the intention to add 10 new herbicides to its chemical arsenal in its war against established forest, beach and wetland plants. What is most disturbing is this proposal is trying to fly under the banner of “restoration”. Before we even try to understand what “native” actually is, lets first look at why plants and animals thrive or invade where they had not previously.

Plants and animals have migrated into and out of geographic locations since the earth was made. They must move to find the climate conditions to which they are adapted.  Habitats once suitable to individual and co-existent species become less so after relevant resources are used up or climate conditions change. Species either die off, evolve, or migrate into new areas once vital nutrients diminish. Until rather recently, there really was no distinction between a non-native or native species. The exact definition of “native“ to this day remains rather elusive in regard to the actual time required for that distinction in a particular geographic location.

Take the horse for instance. Fossil records indicate that the horse’s initial evolution occurred in what is now North America. Then there became an unexplained gap of fossil records before the Spanish people reintroduced them. Once they re-arrived the horse once again thrived on the open plains. As we know the horse became a critical part of Native American culture.

If we believe the common understanding that Native Americans had crossed over the Bering straight into lands once unknown to human beings, are they indeed more native than those that came in ships a few thousand years later? Are they more native than the horse that by all accounts had been here first? I don’t have an answer to those questions.

Back to National Parks proposal to up the chemical ante to rid our public lands of non-native plants. When and where exactly does a plant become “native”? There is not an answer to that question in this document. Are we supposed to give our blessing to assault those tagged with that label (as well as the surrounding plants and animals) with indiscriminate poisons before that question is answered? Often targeted species are tougher and more resistant to herbicides and require higher concentrations to kill. In other words, there is usually a lot of collateral damage.

Species of all types can hitchhike not only on wind and ocean currents but also on hiking boots and airplanes. Are we naive enough to think we can stop the tides or the winds or the migrations of birds, animals and humans with toxic cocktails? Have we reached a point where we actually believe naturalized plants and animals are more harmful to habitats than poisons?

Monsanto seems to think so. At least that is what they are banking on with this proposal. Make no mistake, they have worked very hard to develop this market. It is unfortunate they seem to have already convinced our public land managers we once thought and hoped, were more environmentally aware.

A public meeting will be held at the Humboldt Area Foundation 363 Indianola Rd, Bayside on Wednesday, November 8 at 6:30- 8:30 pm. You can also call Stassia Samuels, (707) 465-7784.

Uri Driscoll

[See more about the meeting hosted by the National Park Service here.]



  • Well they better hurry up and get it on the ground before all the black market canibus is gone , else wise they will not have a scape goat for what it does to the fish creatures and ground water.

  • I’m not sure what this letter means. Mr. Driscoll doesn’t know how to define native plants so we do nothing?
    Is he offering an alternative method or is he just saying “let it be” and leave the supposed non-native plants alone?

    • I believe he is saying leave them alone which is a seldom talked of and which goes against the grain of the ‘non-native plant ‘nazis’. Some speculate that what’s here now (native) could die off due to an ever changing environment. So leave well enough alone, that’s what they mean by ‘let nature take it’s course ‘.

    • What I am trying to get across is that there is no real definition of what is “native” or “Non-native”. So why should we support spraying poisons if that definition remains unclear. If anyone can come up with a defensible definition please post it.

      • This is a disingenuous argument and you are smart enough to know it. Creating a straw man argument when the real issue is you don’t want to see the stabilized dunes return to their natural unstable state because you like riding your horse on the same trails you’ve been riding for years and you don’t like the transformation back to what it was like before European beach grass and Hottentot fig stablized large sections.

        • Cy, it is you who is disingenuous.
          Anyone paying attention understands that we are losing habitat
          due to illegitimate removal of vegetation. Enlighten us as to why,

      • Uri….. lets just say if the plant wasnt here 250 years ago.. its not native… including apples… dont waste your time over moot points… your far too helpful for that… Herbacide are pandoras box.

  • Roundup doesn’t work for invasives they advertise. I have bad knapweed and on the pleading of various groups spot spayed the whole place before logging trucks and equipment rolled through. It stopped seed production for that year so the seed spread concerns were mitigated but every root came back and probably with resistance…and that is another problem they find where the chems have been used for years, now they have a bunch of resistant invasives and native weeds. The solution is always the same…more chemicals! Tasty water! Invest in cancer treatments, that is where the smart money is.

  • Reflecting back over the years I have allowed both the state and the county to spray my knapweed with various cocktails that I know included at least 2-4D, none of them killed the root. I have plants that I have tracked for 15 years through 5 spraying regimes. As a single person I have not had luck with hand pulling on 250 acres (it took 12 full days to spot spray) but the forest service has had great success on the knapweed with an annual army of CCC kids and volunteers with the watershed center. Unfortunately all it takes is 1 year of missed funding and 5 years of work is wiped out and that seems to be the norm with the politicos. Have welfare recipients do this 1 day a month and you will make a huge dent.

  • Thank you for bringing this to the public’s attention. This was tried once before by California State Parks, but they lost in court. It seems humans always think they can control mother nature, i.e. floods and the Colorado, Klamath, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Eel River. So once again, humans think “Non-Native Plants” are the problem and they want to destroy everything in its path? It reminds me of what they did at Lake Davis and they still have not learned anything. The state tried for 7 years to kill an invasive fish species in Lake Davis and all they accomplished was to kill everything else in the lake, just not the invasive one…

  • Uri, bless your heart a million times over. Thank you for this.

  • Native and non native definitions are like the quote by Justice Stewart- I know it when I see it. The idea of trying to prevent or promote the use of herbicides by creating a rigid definition definition of a plant’s origin is subscribing to the idea that there is a valid if emotionally based cachet for native plants.

    The real issue is that somehow there is some moral virtue being made that doing something unthinkable – spraying herbicides forever- is acceptable in the service of protecting chosen plants- however they are defined- when it’s not. It’s not even sensible. It’s just easier and cheaper. It’s virtue is simplicity- nuke ’em all.

    The alternative is nuanced use of all tools known including my favorite- mobile goat herds timed to target specific plants- native or not- that have taken advantage of human interference to crowd out everything else.

  • tired of all this

    Russet mites were introduced to control star thistle.
    European humans were introduced to control the indigenous.
    Poison is not good for children & other living things.

  • Herbicides are perfectly appropriate tools to use in the right place at the right time for the right reasons. In many cases they are either the only practical tool or the only cost effective one available to control unwanted plants. Like any tool they can be misused and can have unintended consequence if used carelessly. But to demonize all herbicides is simply naive nonsense.

    Non-native species are species that did not evolve in local/regional ecosystems but instead evolved elsewhere and were transported intentionally or inadvertently by humans to a particular region and became established. Invasives are those species that reproduce or spread vigorously into previously not occupied by that species because of a lack of co-evolved predators/parasites/diseases in the current habitat. While they never become native, they do become naturalized in some areas.

    Horses are an example of having native ancestors in North America but the current NA horses are all the products of domestication, hence non-native.

    • Are you implying that species introduced by humans are not native but species introduced by say a bird or animal or tides or wind would be native?
      With all due respect I think your argument falls apart once species become naturalized and hybridize with species already in that area. That may not happen immediately but usually does eventually.
      Regarding the horse there were reports of small bands of horses already here when the Spanish brought theirs which would have interbred with them.
      I still would like to have you give a set standard of when a species becomes native. Humans and other species have been “introducing” plants and animals intentionally or not since forever.
      I think you probably understand that plants and animals and humans have to move around as climate and other conditions change. My contention is that unless we are going to build a wall that is going to continue. Trying to stop it with herbicides is both fruitless and dangerous.

      • The reports of small bands of horses when the Spanish arrived are simply not supportable by any available ecological evidence. Horses reproduce at fairly high rates (populations double every 5 years) so any small bands would’ve either been pushed to extinction millenia prior to the Spanish arrival or the herds would’ve multiplied to where there would’ve been millions of them.

        I’m simply saying that a species is native if it evolved in a particular region or ecosystem and it is non-native if humans were the primary motive force or enabler of the species existence in a particular ecosystem. There are gray areas, such as the barred owls which moved on their own from the eastern US to the west but which was facilitated by human modification of the intervening habitats.

        Give it 10,000 or 100,000 years and evolutionary pressures combined with climate and ecological change will muddy the argument of what we currently discern as native and non-native. But given current human time scales of years, decades, and even centuries, we certainly can make distinctions. I fall into the school of thought that native ecosystems are worth trying to protect and we can try to restore ecosystem resilience to native systems that have been severely altered by non-native invasive species.

        • In essence- no we can’t restore resilience by eliminating competition. If a plant has lost its place due to a more vigorous competitor, then all humans can do is conduct a relentless war on the competition. In other words, herbacides forever. Restrictions on movement. Restrictions on surrounding land use. Humans would have to create an outdoor museum, managed in detail. And good luck on that. It is a never ending battle where the government imposed tactics get more and more aggressive as what is defined as success gets harder and harder to achieve.

          Such ideas are part of the hubris of the government/university complex that makes the decisions as to what is good then uses its ability to regulate to push people around because the plant life is not anywhere so susceptible to regulation.

          I see most of wildland management as unrealistic. It seeks to recreate a world that stopped existing as soon as man started traveling at speed. It would be better to try to direct change than try to prevent it.

        • Still trying to get some time frame as to how long it takes for a plant or animal to become native.
          Sorry but I am not buying that if humans introduce something than it can’t be native but if winds, waves or animals do than it might be. Unless it is the barred owl.
          Lets just call the horse issue a mystery. They had evolved and multiplied here in North America and then either all or most died off or migrated to Eurasia (perhaps over the Bering Straight) where they evolved some more.
          Cy, using that example which stage of evolution would be native to which continent?
          My point being all things evolve. Part of that evolution involves migrating. The intent to prevent migration is an attempt to prevent evolution. Case in point the Barred owls mating with Spotted owls. Using poisons and bullets to try to stop evolution seems pretty absurd and reckless to me.
          What is missing from this argument for eradicating species that don’t have the right passport is whether they are beneficial or not.

          • The term beneficial is relative in the context of desired ecosystem function. You may view European beach grass as beneficial because it stabilizes dunes and allows for human constructs to persist in an environment where they might not otherwise be tenable. I view the non-native beach grass as detrimental because it crowds out native plant and insect species, alters the dynamics of the dune system, and changes the entire suite of wildlife that utilize the dunes (e.g. we lose snowy plover nesting habitat and gain black-tailed jackrabbits). What I would view as beneficial is a restoration of a rapidly disappearing natural dune ecosystem and a place for plants, insects, and wildlife that rely on that dune ecosystem a place to live. We have enough other places for our activities that we can afford to set some aside and focus the management on maintaining ecosystem function and resilience.

            I read somewhere (don’t have a citation for it, sorry) that humans and their domesticated animals now constitute 97% of all the vertebrate life on the planet. When is enough, enough? When do we decide to try and keep some native ecosystems intact? Most of the arguments against the use of tools such as herbicides are hyperbolic overreactions driven by either fear or hatred of the companies that produce the products. Used correctly for the right reasons they can be effective tools that are far less disruptive of the system than either manual techniques or simply ignoring the problem and letting the invasives continue to displace native species. Of course if they are overused (like in some ag applications) or abused (like many homeowners do) they can have serious repercussions. But that’s like saying you’ve got an axe, a pocket knife, and a scalpel as cutting tools and you need to cut down a tree and do an appendectomy but you can only choose 1 tool to use.

            • You are right beneficial is relevant.
              What I am still trying to get from you Cy is how are you deciding when a plant is native.
              We know herbicides are not native and it is pretty well known that they cause a lot of collateral damage. Not just to other plants but to microbes and animals.
              If there is an unanswered question as to what is native, maybe we need to rethink this assault with dangerous chemicals.
              If there are benefits to plants like European Beachgrass those benefits should be considered as well. That plant happens to be one of those very resilient to herbicides and needs a 10X concentration. That doesn’t make the other more fragile dune plants very happy.
              By the way in the 1999 snowy plover report there is a photo of a nest in the E beachgrass. Mr. Lavalley mislabeled it but it is EBG. Removing it has not increased plover numbers. As is reported in the 06 report “eggs often fail to hatch in restored areas”. Even knowing that some managers are still proposing exterminating crows and ravens and now poisoning the grass.
              As Mary M points out below Land Managers are picking this up largely because it is cheaper not because it is effective.

    • So, in order to ‘control’ non native plants we are going to destroy the soil micro biome? Is that a good plan? Why not just mow before they go to seed instead, then the soil remains healthy for all the natives.

  • Herbicides and pesticides are poison.

  • Uri Driscoll, thank you for calling a meeting where community can merge to engage with life friendly options with permaculture sustainable methods and materials.

    Well with all of that, the truth is POISON PETRO chemicals herbicides, fungicides, pesticides and fertilizers are NOT Native. Not natural. Not healthy. Not healthy for air, water, lands/soils, plants, people, animals, ANYwhere.

    To me Native plants and Heirloom Organic plants are all part of our real heritage plant genetics seeds strains been around long before snake oil PETRO and Big AG Biz
    Poison synthetic chemicals.

  • Non-natives are a problem when insects and animals do not use them impacting local ecosystems. Eradicating them all is impossible (plus they will keep coming). Best approach is to ID the areas important for our local ecosystems and use herbicides in tandem with other management techniques.

    • no, this isn’t the best plant for the whole ecosystem at all. It poisons the soil, destroys the good bacteria and fungi that produce nutrients for all the plants. Cutting down non natives before they go to seed is the best plan. Most chemicals don’t kill the roots anyway, so they have to spray chemicals annually.

  • I think the issue isn’t whether a plant is considered native or non-native, but the extent to which it creates a monoculture and eliminates habitat for animals and other plant species. A lot of times it is these non-native plants that will completely take over an area. By no means do I think herbicides are the only option, but I do think these non-native plants need to be managed somehow or much diversity will be lost.

  • I ran into a ranger at a state park who was telling me how he stuffed so much
    rat poison in rodent holes that they had to eat their way out! Yes, it fixed the rat
    problem but at what cost. The parks dept is responsible for the canoe fire that
    they let burn despite the warning from Cal Fire . And “tired of all this has a point”
    The release of russet mites was not approved ….so where did they come from.
    I am all for pest control and controlled burns but many governmental groups
    do not do the peer reviewed science or have a functional public review process.

    • Except Tom, you publicly endorsed and supported the Southern Humboldt Community Park development plan for 10 acres of turf-grass sports fields; smack dab in the middle of a freshwater wetland and hydrologically connected to the South Fork Eel. This project did have a “functional public review process” under CEQA and you spoke at one of the public hearings.

      Our “public” argument was that they would have non-native grasses (10 acres) used in an established natural wetland and habitat to make-up the sports and playing fields; which would include various degrees of annual fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides to protect their investment. And at the same time become a point-source and direct drainage into the wetland, groundwater and South Fork Eel. Which supports many threatened and endangered species, e.g. ESA, EFH and ESU; both state and federally listed. BTW, the drainage would not only come from precipitation and winter storms events, but also weekly irrigation that would be diverted from the South Fork Eel River (approx 2-3 millions gallons per month May to October).

      These facts were all submitted to and publicly debated with the Humboldt County Planning Department, Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors as lead agency under CEQA (Environmental Impact Report).

      And as you know Tom, they got everything approved and then some. You and the Park Board used the “Greater Good” fallacy and analogy in your “public testimony”; to paraphrase, human needs outweigh the wildlife habitat.

      IMHO, you are being as hypocritical as it gets Tom…

  • Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have over 20 years of experience with the attempts to eradicate plants considered non-native by public land managers. Herbicides are the favored tool to kill the plants because it is the cheapest method. The public is predictably not pleased with having their parks and open spaces sprayed with herbicides and their opposition gets louder as more is learned about the toxicity of herbicides.

    But there are other reasons why this strategy is doomed. The herbicides are killing beneficial microbes and fungi in the soil. They are effectively sterilizing the soil, which is one of many reasons why the projects are not successfully “restoring” native plants to these areas. If there are already some native plants in the areas where the herbicides are used to kill their non-native neighbors, the herbicides migrate in the soil and damage or kill the native plants.

    Meanwhile, the climate continues to change, making the fantasy of a pre-settlement landscape that existed over 250 years ago ever more unrealistic. These projects are delusional, they damage the environment, and they are harmful to animals, including humans.

  • As a professional scientist who works on invasive species issues in California I’m disturbed by all the hyperbole, exaggeration and non-science rhetoric I’ve read in the comments. My guess is that most of the commenters have no scientific training, no experience working on invasive species control projects or assessing the impacts of invader species. Further I’d be willing to wager that most of these self-professed experts have no no knowledge of herbicide impact risk assessment and have never read a single, peer-reviewed scientific paper on any of the topics they pontificate on so freely. I’ve worked on several of the projects mentioned in the comments and I can assure you that most comments bear no resemblance to reality. SMH.

    • JDT – I’m with you – hyperbole and cherrypicking. (I got more than a few degrees in biology and ecology – no I’m not giving my name to open my employer to harassment – I’ll leave it as an university academic). This argument is similar to “Cancer is part of my natural body now, treatment will damage me.” Dunning Krueger folks will spout all the out-of-context fragments of ecology they read about in EcoNews, and lose both the larger function of ecosystems and any sort of pragmatism beyond their narrow dogma. I’ve tried to discuss this topic before with others, using peer-reviewed scientific journal and their synthesis papers as evidence, they blow it off and start piecemealing strange theories of how it’s going to destroy the entire ocean ecosystem, combining with Fukushima to make the anchovies go extinct. It’s like telling a Trump supporter that Trump golfs more than Obama, or a cat person that it’s best to keep their cat indoors. To me, it looks like the science supporting beach grass removal is sound, the methods have been vetted through science – albeit lack of funding and human error always plays a role. Many places dominated by non-native/alien species, especially if they used to be a more dynamic ecosystem, already have severely damaged ecosystems and soil biota, and pesticides are one tool to sparingly and responsibly use in an integrated plan – if you can get away from them great, they do have many downsides (which can be minimized), but sometimes they are the best tool for the job. If not, get used to iceplant; iceplant is good at hiding dog turds, needles and other trash.

      • I would like to have a conversation with you about the beach grass “science” you think is sound. Since I have no idea who you are you will have to get a hold of me.
        Do you have a definition of “native”? So far no one has offered one up that holds any water.

        • I find it odd that it is assumed that anything humans do is unnatural. As with any species, we are part of the ecosystem in which we live.

          I just learned that any junk older than 40 years is considered an artifact by archeologists. Maybe the same standard can be applied to “non-native” species. Random thresholds used as baselines for guesswork.

  • Mr. Anonymous, JDT
    Claiming you are a scientist without identifying who you are simply says you are unwilling to really stand by your claims that herbicides do not have negative impacts. For all we know you could be anyone or no one. Without identification you have zero credibility.
    It is insulting to the conversation to suggest others that are expressing legitimate concern are somehow inferior to you as an anonymous poster.
    Perhaps you are the one who can tell us how long it takes for a plant or animal to be “native”.

    • Everyone knows chemicals and herbicides damage the soil micro biome, sometimes permanently. These microorganisms make it possible for all plants to be heathy, they decompose organic matter and turn it into nutrients plants can absorb. We now have Round Up ™ in our soil and waterways and in rainfall in the Mississippi Delta- this ‘herbicide’ is actually classified as an antibiotic- which is why Americans are getting so sick now, and why our food plants are lacking nutrients.

  • Peer review? Scientists and technicians are as humanly resistant to having their ideas contradicted as anyone else. They are also influenced by grant money, social milieu, badly designed doctoral theses, employer pressure, etc. And, heaven forbid, even simply arithmetic errors. Not mention simple arrogance.

    And, even if they get it right, it is released to imperfect understanding and implementation. Everything from DDT to Africanized bees to nuclear weapons are gifts of science too.

    One of the most irritating phrases in the world is “I have a degree. You don’t. So shut up.” You’d think that someone, who supposedly understands so much, would be aware of the lack utility and basic destructiveness of that line.

    • What we found in the Manila Dunes was that European Beach Grass created a fore dune which created a deflation plane which created a fresh-water wetland which created wildlife habitat and stability.
      Well meaning folks removed our Euro Grass because it was not native.
      The net result?
      Our fore dune has disappeared, taking with it four federally delineated ponds, acres of fresh-water constructed marsh, habitat and stability.

      If you are on a west-coast (northern hemisphere) plant European Beach Grass, it will gather sand and out compete Relative Sea-Level rise
      Plan for habitats that are scheduled to be under saltwater.

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