The New Threat: Aerial Herbicide Spraying

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By Bradley Tschirgi and Emily Sessoms

There in the sky—it’s a bird!  It’s a plane! No, it’s death….

Turning, turning, turning.  Spinning, spinning, spinning.  The blades of the helicopter whirled around, a site I used to become entranced with as a child.  But this time, I heard “Flight of the Valkyrie” playing in the background as helicopters came over the horizon.  The situation was so helpless: we knew we were going to be poisoned.

This last summer at Aprovecho, the local logging company, which is our neighbor, aerially sprayed near our area.  After thirty years of working fervently on Aprovecho’s mission to restore the watershed and fertility, a new obstacle was placed before us: potential contamination of the water that runs through our property with harmful and toxic chemicals.  This was the first time this logging company has aerially sprayed within institutional memory. Prior to this, it was always done on foot with localized, calculated, and targeted manual spraying.  Mass aerial spraying is the technique promoted by its new forestry manager who took over this year.

We had heard previously that the aerial spraying would occur (at some point over the course of the next six months) and upon notification of this, the community immediately began to call and write to the company, pleading to find alternative tactics.  Some parents even offered their own free physical labor of spraying by hand as a way to fulfill the goal of the aerial sprays in order to protect their small children from the toxic chemicals.  Others made a simple request that the notification be with a week’s notice window instead of the six months.  The latter request was agreed upon, and the only option we were given was to evacuate the area upon receiving the news.  But the notice never came. 

You would think this would be a very rare occurrence, but here in the rural areas of Oregon, it is quite a common phenomenon.  We rural farmers have to plead with logging neighbors to not poison us, as it is not a human right to protect our health: legally, logging companies are permitted to aerially spray despite the presence of families along their borders.  In fact, they are not even obligated to disclose what chemicals they are spraying, many of which are thought to be carcinogenic, as recently announced by the World Health Organization.

I heard wind of a local movement growing within the community of Lane county in response to the sprays. During a meeting at the Healing Matrix for the Community Rights Movement, we heard a woman tell the story of watching the helicopters dumping chemicals from the window inside her children’s room.  Despite years of efforts to stop this practice, she revealed a cold reality: it is illegal to sue a timber company in Oregon unless you have organ failure or death, or are a farmer that can prove agricultural loss.  The laws were written by the timber companies themselves, in the Oregonians for Food and Shelter: Right to Forest Act. 

To put it simply: this is unacceptable.

Our local community is trying to pass an ordinance to ban aerial herbicide spraying.  This is an uphill battle, but we have no choice but to take this stand to protect ourselves.  The goal is to put this on the November 2016 ballot, giving all of us ample notice to take a stand for what we believe in: the right to health, the protection of our environment, and the future of our children.

Lastly, I would like to emphasize that this movement is not about taking away jobs.  We support local jobs, and we support loggers, but perhaps the words of James Aldridge, who himself was a logger, testifies to the dangers we all are facing with this violent and outdated practice.  He wrote the following when the streams behind his house were sprayed:

“I went from being a strong and robust guy to barely weighing 153 pounds and needing to hold onto a handrail to go down my four front steps.  My health is ruined, and I can’t work anymore.   I get all my drinking water from the stream behind our home, just like a lot of other rural Oregonians.  After the hillside and my stream were sprayed.  I became so seriously ill that I’m completely unable to work at my job.  Three of my dogs have mysteriously died.  The doctors tell me I’ve been poisoned but they can’t figure out what it is.

I believe that the herbicides and the petroleum oil that timber companies spray by helicopter in my community leached into my drinking water intake.  When I cleaned out my holding tank, the water was oily and had a chemical smell.  That isn’t normal.  Take it from a logger, we need the timber jobs, but we don’t need aerial sprays!  I want something done in Oregon to make sure no one suffers like I have from herbicide poisoning.”

Please help us.  If you are interested in being a part of this growing movement, please find more information at www.communityrightlanecounty.org or contact me at bradleytschirgi@gmail.com to learn how to get your name on this petition and help defend rural families and farmers. 

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