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Colorado Pesticide War

A battle over landscape pesticides is heating up in Colorado. The fight is so intense that landscape professionals fear that a Canadian-style ban on chemical pesticides and herbicides is possible.

"It's one of the most contentious issues you can ever imagine," said Paul Tukey, founder of SafeLawns, an advocacy organization for natural lawn care.

In Colorado, cities like Boulder and Durango have (or are considering) policies that focus on eliminating chemical controls of weeds and insects in public parks and playgrounds. Boulder launched a program that will designate some city-owned parks and open space as pesticide-free. "We've learned that turf is manageable without pesticides, but it does take time and effort," said Rella Abernathy, the city's integrated-pest-management coordinator.

In Durango, the council voted unanimously against a total ban of synthetic pesticides but then reached a compromise that created the Organically Managed Lands Program. Nine city parks fall under the program.

Parks managers estimated going organic on the green space would cost two or three times more than using chemicals pesticides. According to Jim Paine, Parks, Recreation, Open Space and Trails Advisory Committee chairman, "Organics are tricky to use and not as reliable. You have to know what you're doing and make a long-term commitment. If the quality of the parkland lawns and natural open space begins to deteriorate, you've got a problem, and it's very expensive to rectify once you start down that road."

Anti-chemical pesticide advocates point to Ontario, Canada, which banned the use of synthetic chemicals in 2009 for cosmetic weed and pest control in landscaping.

But Chris Lemcke, technical coordinator at Weed Man USA, reported that hundreds of Ontario trees have died from blight because of the ban. "Our parks are disgusting. There are a few areas where they spend more money on organics, and they're trying to keep the playing fields pretty decent. But other parks, like where you take dogs for a walk, are all weeds. There is no grass left. It's a sea of yellow in the springtime."

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November 19, 2019, 11:27 pm PDT

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