BEND, Ore. – Environmental advocates are calling out the Oregon Department of Transportation and its contractors for applying a weedkiller along a highway in Sisters that unintentionally killed hundreds of ponderosa pine trees.
Environmentalists argued that the various groups involved in the project didn’t abide by instructions on the chosen herbicide from the Environmental Protection Agency, The Bulletin reported Thursday.
In 2012, the Forest Service and Jefferson County Public Works chose to use the weedkiller Perspective to kill flammable roadside plants on a stretch of highway in Sisters, Ian Reid said, the Sisters district ranger for the Deschutes National Forest.
At the time, the EPA’s instructions on the product did not specify it could damage nearby ponderosa pines, Reid said.
“Had a private company done that, every entity in the country would have been on their doorstep,” Dan Harshbarger said, a La Pine, Oregon, resident who lost trees on his property in a similar incident.
The label was amended in 2013, when the project was slated to begin, and listed ponderosa pines as a plant species particularly sensitive to the weedkiller.
Representatives from the transportation department and the Forest Service have said that the agencies didn’t violate instructions on the label, but acknowledged that there had been a serious mistake.
“We just collectively dropped the ball on that, and it’s unfortunate,” Reid said.
The Forest Service noticed the tree damage in the area in 2014, but it was not immediately linked to Perspective.
Lisa Arkin, executive director for Beyond Toxics, which focuses on environmental and human health issues across Oregon, said Jefferson Public Works – which was selected to apply the herbicide – was required by law to check the label.
Central Oregon Landwatch, a Bend-based environmental watchdog group, asked the Forest Service in a letter to consider removing just the tops of trees to keep them from impacting the highway if they fall.
The approach would retain habitats for birds and other animals while maintaining the scenic character of the roadway, Rory Isbell said, staff attorney for Central Oregon Landwatch.
“Our primary concern right now is just to mitigate the situation,” Isbell said.