Conservation Update, 2018 Mar | Herbicides and Non-Toxic Movement

From the Desk of Celia Kutcher, Conservation Chair



OCCNPS POSITION ON HERBICIDE USE: OCCNPS has no opinion on which, or whether, herbicides may or may not be used in manicured parks, medians, school grounds or similar sites. Our concern is that synthetic herbicides (e.g. glyphosate, aka Roundup) remain available as a necessary option, a part of the Integrated Weed Management (IWM) tool kit for management of invasive plants in natural open spaces. (Both CNPS and Cal-IPC have relevant policies—see their websites.)

Use of herbicides on non-native plants growing in natural-habitat open spaces has a fundamentally different purpose from cosmetic use of herbicides in urban/suburban settings. In natural areas, the purpose is to remove invasives so that the native ecosystem can fully function, with the full range of native plants and the animals that feed on and live in them.

In particular, non-native plants do not provide the food needed by most native insects. The absence of these insects in turn lessens the ability of native birds, reptiles, and small mammals to eat and reproduce, which in turn affects the rest of the ecosystem. An area grown with mostly non-native plants is often MUCH less biodiverse than a similar-sized area of native plants.

THE NON-TOXIC MOVEMENT:  In the past few years a grass-roots movement, “Non-Toxic cityname,” in OC and elsewhere, has been urging jurisdictions to pass ordinances against the use of herbicides (and pesticides in general) in places accessible to and used by the public, especially by children.

To date, in OC, Irvine, San Juan Capistrano, Tustin, and Dana Point are known to have passed such ordinances. San Clemente, Huntington Beach, and Mission Viejo are known to be in process of studying the institution of such ordinances. This has had the general effect of tightening and clarifying the jurisdictions’ Integrated Pest Management (IPM) protocols, and greatly lessened cosmetic use of herbicides in publicly accessible areas.

In some cases (e.g., Irvine) the ordinance has been interpreted to prohibit the use of synthetic herbicides on ALL city-owned property, including for invasives control/eradication in natural areas undergoing restoration/management.

Non-synthetic (= organic) herbicides (i.e. those derived from organic materials) and other control methods (e.g. mechanical/hand methods) are much less effective than synthetic herbicides, especially against vigorous invasives (e.g. Arundo, Castor Bean, Artichoke Thistle, Pampas Grass). And are significantly more expensive, and difficult to use. This puts those charged with maintaining city lands into a no-win situation: using more manpower and more funds while doing much less effective maintenance of community standards and/or mandated restoration and management.


  1. Comment letters and/or testimony to Irvine, San Clemente, Mission Viejo, and Huntington Beach City Councils stating our position on use of synthetic herbicides, and asking to be included in future deliberations on city IWM policies. So far, no response from the cities.
  2. Shared these actions with the regional Weed Management Area group and with the CNPS Conservation Committee. At both, there was good discussion about how all can deal with threats of loss of this important part of the IWM tool box.



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