Residents up in arms over State Parks use of Round-Up pesticide at Point Dume headlands

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This is the sign local resident Geoff Walsh saw while walking across the Point Dume headlands, disclosing the fact that pesticides are being used along the walking trail. Photo Courtesy of Geoff Walsh.

Poison Free Malibu and at least two City Councilmembers are on it

It all started when local resident Geoff Walsh was walking across the Point Dume headlands, a designated nature preserve operated by California State Parks, and saw this sign posted:  “Pesticide application in progress. Stay on trail.” He proceeded to speak to a maintenance person that was on site and got a confirmation that the state was spraying the area with the pesticide Round-Up.

Walsh, who lives across the street on Cliffside Drive and enjoys diving off the pristine Point Dume headlands teeming with ocean life, was appalled. He explained in a phone interview that once the poison was applied, which was bad enough, it would then end up getting washed into the State Marine Reserve directly below the cliff the next time it rained.

He wrote on social media (which he gave us permission to use), “A State Marine Reserve is the most protected type of marine area in California. Besides abundant sea life, a healthy marine ecosystem, Point Dume is also home to a sea lion rookery and used as a navigation landmark for migrating whales. What are these people thinking?”

His post resonated with residents, who were angered by State Parks’ continued use of a confirmed carcinogen and toxic substance in a nature preserve within city limits. Walsh’s post got 53 emoji reactions and 109 comments. People were outraged, and many contacted a City Council member.

At the April 10 City Council meeting, Councilmember Steve Uhring reported that he’d received complaints from so many residents who read about the use of Round-Up on social media, that he emailed State Parks. He stated that they had responded, but the response didn’t make any sense, so he would follow up with a phone call. Councilmember Marianne Riggins also received numerous complaints and took a cue from some residents to suggest gathering local volunteers to manually pull the invasive weeds at Point Dume rather than use poison controls.

Poison Free Malibu Co-founders Kian and Joel Schulman said in a phone interview that they were grateful to Walsh for bringing the matter to the public’s attention. They explained that there’s a fairly new crew at State Parks, and they hope to educate them about alternative choices to poison. However, they say State Parks receives a lot of funding and pressure from chemical manufacturers to maintain the status quo.

Poison Free sent the following letter to Lori Harrod, Administrative Chief, Angeles District, California State Parks:

This email concerns the use of the herbicide glyphosate at the Point Dume Nature Preserve.

You may recall that we discussed this with you by email last October. 

“There is now quite a passionate discussion on NextDoor due to Malibu residents discovering that glyphosate is being used for habitat restoration. We understand that a coastal development permit (CDP) that includes the use of herbicides was obtained and is in effect.

Subsequent to this approval, the Coastal Commission certified an amendment to Malibu’s Local Coastal Program in September 2021 adding restrictive conditions to such use of herbicides.

“The amendment language was carefully crafted to mandate other ways of landscape restoration without the use of harsh chemicals, specifically non-chemical methods for prevention and management.

“The methods are restricted to the least toxic products which are biodegradable and derived from natural sources.

Here is the relevant sentence from the LCP amendment:

‘Herbicides may be used for the eradication of invasive plant species or habitat restoration, but only if the use of non-chemical methods for prevention and management such as physical, mechanical, cultural, and biological controls are infeasible. Herbicides shall be restricted to the least toxic product and method, and to the maximum extent feasible shall be biodegradable, derived from natural sources, and used for a limited time.’

“Although we recognize the prior approval in the CDP, we request that you please consider refraining from continuing the use of glyphosate in this area. 

“As an example, the National Park Service has stopped using glyphosate to control weeds in its Malibu properties.  Instead, they use hand pulling and weed whacking, partially achieved through recruiting volunteers from concerned members of the public. This approach should be very feasible for the Point Dume Nature Preserve effort.

“It is a relatively small area that can easily be controlled with the help of a few dedicated volunteers. The City of Malibu has been pesticide free on city properties including parks since 2016.

“Other localities that have stopped using glyphosate and other chemical pesticides include Pepperdine University, the City of Irvine, Malibu schools, the Oak Park School District with six schools, the Las Virgenes School District, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the Goleta Union School District. LA County banned the use of glyphosate on all County properties in March 2019!

“Many citizens of Malibu are concerned that reliance on pesticides causes cumulative ecological and public health impacts including contaminated water, pollinator declines, cancer clusters, and a variety of other well-documented health and environmental impacts.”

(Several website links were given that describe alternatives for weed control.)