Opinion Editorial: Cutting off your limbs to spite your trunk

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 Laura Rearwin Ward, publisher

Without environmental or financial sanity, Ventura County government has cut off limbs to spite the trunks of an unprecedented 82 Soule Park trees.

A poison cocktail was sprayed around the bases of the 64-year-old trees for weed control, which is contraindicated on the label. 

But, according to a Jan. 25 report by the Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office, the trees died “accidentally.” 

Though the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office found “no violation,” it is expected that most of the trees will need to be removed for safety reasons.

The destruction of our best-loved park’s trees by the county’s incompetence is heart-wrenching for our community. Most of the current Ojai population will not live to see replacement trees restore the park to what it was. Sadly, continuing down the same management path will likely produce a similar result.

After the Ventura County Parks Department originally blamed the drought and cited its Casitas Municipal Water District allotment as reasons for the die-off, it turns out a main reason the trees died was from the poison cocktail. 

The report supports the absolution of County Parks’ responsibility for using state-approved herbicides — Polaris, Cheetah Pro and Brandt Magnify. 

The report, authored by county employee John Mikesell, states: “All pesticides were applied within their respective label limitations. Any damage that may have occurred to the trees is accidental and no violations were found.”

The chemical mixture was used to deliver imazapyr and glufosinate to the trees.

From the Polaris label included in the report:

“This pesticide is toxic to plants….
Untreated desirable plants can be affected by root uptake of this product from treated soil. Injury or loss of desirable plants may result if this product is applied on or near desirable plants, on areas where their roots extend, or in locations whether the treated soil may be washed or moved into contact with their roots. ...”

“It is a violation of Federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling.”

The county report also included text from “The Weed Control Methods Handbook,” published by the Nature Conservancy at UC Davis, which states: “To avoid injury to desirable trees, do not apply imazapyr within twice either drip line (tree canopy). In drought
conditions, imazapyr can persist in soils for up to one year.”

If it is true that there has been no violation of use of herbicides at Soule Park, the governor should be contacted and an emergency order drawn up to stop the certain “accidental” destruction of trees in parks throughout the state. The state could be unwittingly killing off California's trees as fast as they can be planted.

County Parks officials explain they used the herbicides as a cost-saving measure for weed control near tree trunks. However, they failed to explain any actual need for weed removal around these mature trees. Sixty-year-old trees do not require a circle devoid of life around them to thrive. It is the county’s choice to make work out of polluting the earth where children play and near a waterway. Aesthetic vanity does not equate to a "need" for toxic chemicals; the practice has no basis in necessity.

The likely long-forgotten reasons of selecting turf over tree health, and "better living through chemistry," is behind the county's misguided “cost-saving measures.” The result is now the added expense of removing, planting, watering and nurturing scores of new trees into maturity — a mission it appears unlikely to be capable of completing.

The misleading report, written by a county employee, calls the incident an “accident,” without factual basis. At the end of the day, it is clear the county government is not interested, or capable, of taking care of Ojai's Soule Park. Rather than take responsibility or review archaic out-of-touch park designs and management policies, the county has chosen to do business as usual. The report stated: “County parks will cease the use of Polaris around desirable trees, and switch to an alternative product.”

The county needs to:

— Ban the use of herbicides at county parks.

— Create a new strategy of park

— Turn over management of Soule Park to the city of Ojai.

— Hold Ventura County officials
accountable for the death of Ojai’s trees at local and state levels.

The Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner’s report stated, “Before 2020, the County Parks did not spray at Soule Park for about two years due to the public perception of herbicide use in the community of Ojai.” 

It is time for Ojai to rise up again and let the county know it values its parks and our environment.

Below is a link to the state’s report:

Take action and contact:

— County Parks Department:

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— Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner:

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— County Supervisor Matt LaVere:

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— State Assemblymember Steve Bennett:

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