Marin County Open Space District
After spending 7 years developing the Marin County Open Space District (MCOSD) Vegetation & Biodiversity Management Plan (the Plan) and its Tiered Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (EIR) at a cost of more than $779,000, the Supervisors, acting as the MCOSD Board of Directors, voted on November 8th to accept the Plan as a “reference document” and not certify the EIR, essentially discarding the environmental review document.
The Vegetation and Biodiversity Management Plan was developed to provide an approach to vegetation management on the District’s 16,000 acres that fulfills the goals of environmental stewardship (including reducing wildfire risks and saving indigenous wildlife from invasive species) and protection of public safety. According to the District's Staff, the Plan achieves these goals and also provides greater clarity and transparency of the department’s decision criteria to the public and community partners such as other regional land management agencies and local fire departments.
Opponents of the Plan argue that its indefinite use of toxic pesticides, particularly Glyphosate (the main ingredient of the herbicide Roundup), and related analysis, mitigations, and Best Management Practices that are inadequate pose a tremendous risk of harm to habitats, wildlife, the public and pets. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization (WHO), determined that Glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. Numerous other respected scientific studies and reports have also documented the adverse human health and environmental impacts of Glyphosate and Glyphosate-based herbicides.
**Please click here to read "The Glyphosate Monograph", which is the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) International's comprehensive review of the science documenting the adverse impacts of Glyphosate and Glyphosate-based herbicides.
In the Staff Report prepared for the November 8th hearing, Staff presented the below three options for the Supervisors’ consideration regarding the Vegetation and Biodiversity Management Plan (the Plan) and its Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and recommended that they follow Option #2.
- Option #1 - Adopting the Plan and certifying the EIR;
- Option #2 - Accepting the Plan as a "reference document", rather than as a plan, without certifying the EIR (Staff's recommended option); or
- Option #3 - Amending the EIR to include a No-Herbicide Alternative.
Staff asserted that by not adopting the Plan but rather just accepting it as a “reference document”, they avoided the need for a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process because CEQA exempts “resource evaluation activities”. Staff added that each future individual vegetation management project would comply with the requirements of CEQA, which may include a future Project Environmental Impact Report.
Environmental Attorney Michael Graff disagreed with Staff’s analysis and wrote in his comment letter; “The Board’s acceptance of the Plan would constitute a CEQA project and this may not be accomplished without CEQA compliance, in this case the completion and certification of an EIR.”
Graff continued; “The reason that CEQA review is required in this instance is that the Plan is not simply a collection of background information and study, but instead sets the future direction for the District’s vegetative management strategy.”
**Please click here to read Environmental Attorney Michael Graff’s comment letter.
Both Pro-Pesticide and Pesticide-Free advocates were opposed to Staff’s preferred Option #2 for different reasons. Pro-Pesticide folks wanted the Supervisors to choose Option #1: Adopt the Plan and certify the EIR. Pesticide-Free Supporters wanted the Supervisors to choose a variation of Option #3: Amend the Plan and the EIR to include either a “No-Herbicide Alternative” or else a “Plan-To-Get-To-Zero-Use-Of-Pesticide Alternative”.
The "No-Herbicide Alternative" would eliminate the use of pesticides for vegetation management as soon as possible. The "Plan-To-Get-To-Zero-Use-Of-Pesticides Alternative" (with a schedule, bench marks, and a due date for zero use) would lower the use of pesticides each year until, within a certain number of years, the use of pesticides would be eliminated as a method for vegetation management in the Marin County Open Space District preserves.
Pesticide-Free Supporters also advocated for amending the Plan and the EIR to incorporate adequate analysis, mitigations, and Best Management Practices to protect non-target vegetation, wildlife, humans and pets from herbicides. In addition, they recommended that the Plan’s Purposes and Goals reflect the objective of doing no harm and preserving the health of the environment, wildlife, humans and pets by eliminating the use of pesticides.
**For a better understanding of Pesticide-Free Supporters’ viewpoints, please click here to read Sustainable TamAlmonte’s letter.
Ultimately, the Supervisors unanimously voted for Staff’s recommendation to accept the Plan as a reference document without certifying the EIR.
The Board’s decision is perplexing to Pesticide-Free Supporters because it conflicts with the Supervisors’ prior verbal commitments of eliminating the use of pesticides.
Time and time again, over the past year or two, the Supervisors have stated that they want to bring the County’s use of pesticides down to zero. Yet, they just accepted a Plan, all be it as a possible reference document, that continues the status quo and allows for the indefinite use of pesticides in the Marin County Open Space District lands. Moreover, the Plan finds that herbicides should be a core component of the District’s future vegetation management, including such determinations as; “When herbicides are carefully selected, appropriately applied, and used in moderation, they can significantly increase worker safety, reduce invasive plant infestations and related program costs, and reduce the need for long-term follow-up because the invasive plant infestations will be controlled or eliminated."
Pesticide-Free Supporters remain hopeful that the Supervisors will reconsider their decision and amend the Plan and the EIR or else create another written and binding document to mandate the elimination of pesticide use in the Marin County Open Space Preserves within a specific and short time frame.
In the mean time, with a status quo conclusion that allows for indefinite use of pesticides, Pesticide-Free Supporters will need to remain vigilant as future vegetation management projects are proposed.