By Nathalie Hardy • Columnist • 

County to examine its vegetation program

A group of citizens raised concerns about the Public Works Department’s use of herbicides to control roadside vegetation that otherwise might pose a safety hazard for motorists. The county agreed to put the program on hold temporarily, but not without reservations.

“The county has suspended its spraying practice voluntarily but reserves the right to resume the practice if it’s necessary to protect public safety,” said Commissioner Allen Springer, who serves as board liaison to the department.

“If we aren’t prudent about taking care of these corridors, it’s a matter of time before someone dies,” he said. “That’s a pretty sobering deal.

“Our primary purpose is public safety. Plus, we have to maintain the integrity of local crops.”

Springer said he had toured target roads with Public Works Director John Phelan. He said he had studied current practices and visited sprayed areas cited by concerned citizens.

He said he was confident in the program, but was working with Phelan to create a Technical Advisory Committee and have it conduct an independent  review. He said it would provide advice on best practices moving forward, adding, “And move forward is what we’re planning to do.”

The issue was first raised by rural Yamhill County resident and wildflower enthusiast Dave Hanson. He said he felt unfocused spraying was affecting native species.

One of the people Hanson reached out to was Amie Loop-Frison of the Yamhill Soil & Water Conservation District.

She said she didn’t have a problem with the county spraying invasive Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry. “If that’s all they’re spraying, that’s fantastic,” she said.

But she said, “Some of the native plants that have been there year after year aren’t there anymore, and there has to be a reason for that.”

When the county suspended spraying, another point of view quickly emerged. Among those contacting the county to express concern were Dale Thornton and his wife, Jenni, who raise cattle, hay and timber on a spread near Yamhill.

Thornton said county maintenance of his road is critical to his farming operation. He said his family already has to hand-pull invasive weeds from three miles of roadway due to its proximity to stands of threatened Kincaid lupine, favored habitat of the endangered Fenders blue butterfly.

“We’ve put so much time, money and effort into controlling the weeds on our property, we can’t afford to let them go,” Thornton said in an interview with the News-Register. “We feel like it’s everybody’s responsibility to deal with invasive plants and noxious weeds. We appreciate that the county has been trying to control them as much as it can, because if it doesn’t, they all grow back and become an even bigger problem.”

He also noted, “Puddy Gulch Road is a very narrow road anyway. If they don’t come through periodically in the spring, by fall it turns into a one-lane road.”

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