Community Rights Lane County and the Freedom From Aerial Herbicide Alliance handed over about 15,000 signatures calling for the ban of aerial herbicide spraying by timber corporations to the Lane County Clerk’s Office on Friday, Sept. 29.
Timber companies apply aerial herbicides to eliminate brush and any tree growth other than groves of single-species, cash-producing trees — primarily Douglas fir. Opponents argue that aerial spray can contaminate the air and water, harming human health.
If the office verifies at least 11,000 of the signatures, then voters in Lane County’s May 15 primary election ballot will decide whether to impose the spraying ban. Proponents expect significant opposition from the timber industry. While advocates say the majority of Oregonians support such a ban, the timber industry has a powerful lobby in the state Legislature.
In 2015, for example, the industry blocked SB 613, a bill that would have required formal proposals with the state Forestry Department before the application of aerial pesticide and controlled burns on private lands. Stymied at the state level, environmental groups such as Community Rights Lane County have turned to voter initiatives.
“We the people, when the government and the corporations don’t listen to us, we quit talking to them and start to talking to one another,” Community Rights organizer Michelle Holman said. “[This law] says that we have a right to clean water, clean air, we have that right and we are going to defend it,”
The timber industry’s stance against regulation represents a reluctance to risk a steady revenue stream. A ban on pesticide spray would require major change — abandoning herbicide application on Lane County lands as well as shifting production and harvest strategies.
Successful business models in neighboring states, however, suggest that private firms can maintain profitable operations even with more-stringent regulations.
For Community Rights Lane County (CLRC), delivery of these signatures represents a larger push asserting “the right to protect our communities,” according to committee member Rob Dickinson.
A separate ballot proposal, the Lane County Self-Government Charter Amendment, would grant citizens the power to write and pass laws. In order to qualify for the May 15 election, CLRC still needs to collect about another 3,000 signatures by March to qualify for ballot inclusion.
Soggy participants stepped in from the rain and crowded into the small waiting room at the Lane County Clerk’s Elections Office as Dickinson delivered the three stacks of signature lists. To follow, the activists joined arms and voices and sang a rendition of “America the Beautiful” to clerk administrators.