Before leaving the Canyon to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family, I had the pleasure of touring some of the arundo removal sites in Lower Topanga with project director Jon Earl and new Watershed Committee chair Matt Horns. I use the word ‘pleasure’ very purposefully. Although I have missed only a few of the monthly projects held over the last two-and-a-half years when work took me out of town, my efforts have been limited to the lower Rodeo Grounds sites we were allowed to work on by State Parks. With the exception of the first few sessions, I have not visited the upper Brookside sites where I knew others were continuing to work. The successes in those areas are nothing short of spectacular, especially given the ‘accepted wisdom’ of ‘experts’ who continually said it couldn’t happen.
Our success further downstream has been a bit more limited, for reasons ranging from what I see as near-overt sabotage by State Parks, to unavoidable setbacks due to weather. But even within those limits, and the admitted disappointment of early regrowth through the first growing season, the progress is very promising.
And the project gained even more meaning and importance when, upon returning from vacation, I read the front page feature story in the Sunday Los Angeles Times (available online) reporting that “[s]cientists have amassed evidence that long-term exposure to toxic agents, especially pesticides” can be a “trigger for Parkinson’s,” a debilitating neurological disease in humans. It is true that paraquat—the one toxin specifically identified in the story—is a different class than the glyphosate proposed to be used on the arundo here. But it is important to note that it is “a combination of many environmental chemicals” that seems to have the greatest negative neurological impact. And it is also important to remember that at the time—the 1960s—the chemical industry was offering up the same ‘safe’ evaluations of paraquat that we now hear about glyphosate.
Imagine my disappointment when I learned in the Messenger (“Fate of Arundo Project in Doubt,” Vol. 29 No. 24, December 1-14, 2005) that Suzanne Goode, identified as “Senior Ecologist for State Parks,” was quoted as saying about the project technically under her supervision “…I don’t think it can succeed, and I don’t think it’s succeeded to this point” in spite of the fact that “she confessed she hadn’t visited the arundo sites for six months.”
Especially in light of the Times story identifying weedkillers as a trigger to neurological disease, it would be irresponsible for State Parks to let the efforts of so many volunteers involved in the experimental non-toxic arundo removal project go for naught at exactly the time when it is starting to really pay off. And it would be unconscionable to fail to find ongoing ways to support and expand the promise of success by non-toxic means being won by that same unpaid volunteer labor pool. We simply cannot afford to keep dumping more of this stuff into our environment, especially when alternatives are now proving their effectiveness.