Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources sets a bad example

The writer was at Blair County's Canoe Creek State Park last weekend and was disturbed to find most of the park's roadside ditches ugly and brown.

Sometimes I just have to shake my head and wonder why.

I was at Blair County’s Canoe Creek State Park last weekend and was disturbed to find most of the park’s roadside ditches ugly and brown. They had been sprayed with a non-selective herbicide, killing all of the vegetation.

Why on earth would a conservation agency set such a poor example by using such a non-conservation practice? You got me.

I presume that this was someone’s idea of park beautification – you know, getting rid of those “unsightly” weeds that grow in ditches. However, I do not see any beauty in roadside ditches filled with brown, dead plants, which eventually rot away leaving bare soil.

Had I asked, maybe they would tell me that spraying the ditches with weed killer was less expensive than paying someone to mow them. I suspect that it might be a cheaper alternative – and, heck, they only have to do it once a year. However, is it the best option for the park or for anyone?

If it saves money, why not just spray all of the park’s lawns and picnic areas with herbicide – think of the money that they would save by not having to mow at all. And the makers of herbicides could laugh all the way to the bank.

Of course, spraying the park’s lawns with herbicide would be ridiculous. I am here to explain why spraying the ditches is even worse.

If you are wondering, “Is this Nale guy a wacko environmentalist who does not believe in chemicals,” the answer is “no.” I own, and sparingly use, insecticides and herbicides. Some are more environmentally friendly than others. And chemicals should only be used when they are truly the best option. I know that we are told how “safe” they are, but you should read the labels.

So why is spraying the park’s ditches a bad practice? Let me explain.

Beauty: Which looks best – roadside wildflowers, grasses and sedges or dead “weeds?” I overwhelmingly pick natural vegetation – mowed or even unmowed. Aside from the looks, the flowers from some of those plants, such as milkweeds, asters, daisies, and boneset, provide food for butterflies and a wide variety of insects. The insects, in turn, provide food for birds. The seeds produced by those same plants also feed birds and other animals.

Flood Control: Our area has seen more than its share of high water and floods this year. Plant-filled ditches slow the flow of water, helping to prevent flooding. Bare ditches shoot the rainwater off to the receiving streams as fast as it can travel – not a good thing.

Erosion Prevention: Plant-lined ditches hold the soil in place, thereby preventing or lessening erosion and the resulting sedimentation. The faster-moving water in non-vegetated ditches speeds erosion and sends more soil into the receiving waterways. The sediment clogs drain pipes and, once in the receiving stream, harms a wide range of aquatic life from trout to mayflies. In the specific case of Canoe Creek State Park, the sediment helps to fill the lake, shortening its lifespan as a fishery.

Chemicals in the water: Spraying ditches greatly increases the likelihood that the herbicides will find their way into Canoe Lake and Canoe Creek. Somebody drinks this water downstream, and in addition, herbicides disrupt aquatic ecosystems.

I hope that chemical spraying is not commonplace at all parks and I think that it is not. At Bald Eagle State Park last July, I watched a park employee pull up poison ivy that was growing in a picnic area. Sure, he could have zapped it with a chemical, but instead he used manual control — he yanked it out and tossed it in the dumpster. That seemed to me like a much better and safer alternative. I hope that Canoe Creek State Park staffers think before they decide to spray their ditches next summer.

Categories: Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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