City launches chemical-free park

The City of Durango has taken a first step toward a chemical-free future. Following a plea from a group of local residents, the city will spray no herbicide, pesticide or chemical fertilizers at Brookside Park this summer. The trial project could mean more chemical-free public parks in coming years.

Early this spring, a group of concerned mothers, spearheaded by Mikel Love and Sheryl McGourty, approached the Durango City Council. The group shared its concern that the use of herbicides and fertilizers in the city’s parks could pose health threats to children. Chemical runoff into the watershed, the health of wildlife and the integrity of the soil were also concerns that were raised.

“We do feel like the herbicides and sprays the city chooses are some of the least worrisome,” Love said. “But new information is always coming out, and who knows what we’ll discover to be harmful in the future.”

Members of the council immediately honored the request and agreed to set aside Brookside Park, located at 24th Street and Main, as a trial project.

“The mothers made the case that they want to have their kids play and roll in the grass without fear of any toxic exposure, and it’s scientific fact that children are most vulnerable to toxins,” said Mayor Renee Parsons. “We haven’t had a spray-free park yet, so this will be a trial-run and experiment for the city.”

Love explained that the group’s short-term goal is to show that a chemical free park can stay healthy and continue to serve as a community amenity. The city is planning on using an organic compost tea from Turtle Lake Refuge to enrich the soil and promote healthy grass this summer. In addition, the community group has planned several weeding parties for coming months.

The group’s long-term goal is a successful demonstration project at Brookside Park and to eventually have the city stop using chemicals to control weeds and pests in public areas. Love pointed to Arcata, Calif., and Portland, Ore., as examples of cities that have eliminated or drastically cut back their use of chemicals.

“We would love to see Durango become a chemical-free city,” Love said. “Several other municipalities have done it successfully.”

The next several months will determine whether the chemical-free push extends beyond Brookside Park, Parsons said. The city will be keeping an eye on the small park to determine if natural weed and pest control is in Durango’s future.

“We’ll be looking at what kind of invasive weeds we might see by the end of the summer,” Parsons said. “Another issue is whether or not we have complaints from other people who don’t want to see dandelions. But I personally think dandelions are the least of our problems.”

A community celebration of a chemical-free Brookside Park is scheduled for this Sun., June 8, at the park. The 4 p.m. event will include music from the Kitchen Jam Band and a community potluck. Attendees are asked to bring their own utensils, plates and cups to the trash-free event. Call 247-8395 for more information.

Agency predicts Southwest drought

A dry and smoky future has been forecast for the Southwest. In one of the U.S. government’s first, real admissions of global warming, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program released a scientific assessment that predicts serious negative consequences on the nation’s forests, water resources, farmland and wildlife. The West will be especially hard hit, according to the study.

Thirty-eight scientists compiled the report, which was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, on how climate change is reshaping the American landscape. The 193-page document highlights how human-generated carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels have already translated into more frequent forest fires, reduced snowpack and increased drought, especially in the West.

“The report issued today provides practical information that will help land owners and resource managers make better decisions to address the risks of climate change,” said Joe Glauber, the USDA’s Chief Economist.

Regarding the Southwest, the scientists arrived at several disturbing conclusions. They found that forests in the interior West and Southwest are already being negatively affected by climate change. They noted increases in the size and frequency of forest fires, insect outbreaks and tree mortality, and predicted much more in the future. While the report shows higher precipitation and streamflow in much of the United States, the West and Southwest again buck the trend and increased drought conditions are expected. The scientists also highlighted a trend toward reduced mountain snowpack and earlier spring runoff in the Western United States, among other troubling conclusions.

However, the reality may be even grimmer than the USDA study suggests. On the one hand, conservation groups are hailing the administration for finally admitting that humans bear responsibility for global warming. On the other, they are blasting the USDA’s report for failing to meet the needs of decision-makers to help turn back climate change.

“We are pleased to see that the Administration is publishing this information and that it is consistent with other major scientific assessments,” said Richard Moss, World Wildlife Fund vice-president for climate change. “The Administration is acknowledging that most of observed climate change is a result of human activities, and that the impacts will be serious.”

However, Moss went on to criticize the USDA for making a token effort, noting that the report was required by law in 2004. When the agency failed to comply, several conservation organizations took it to court. In late 2007, the court ordered the administration to produce the report no later than May 31 of this year. 

“While this report may satisfy the requirements of the court, it fails to meet the spirit of the law and the needs of the public,” said Moss. He added that the inadequacy of the report highlights the need to revamp the government’s climate research efforts. 


Local tribes receive reburial approval

Southwest Colorado’s two Indian tribes received a long-awaited approval from the State of Colorado this week. The Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs and the Colorado Historical Society can now rebury “culturally unidentifiable” Native American remains discovered on non-federal public and private lands in Colorado. This will allow the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Indian tribes to rebury 37 culturally unidentified Native American remains currently housed at the Colorado History Museum in Denver.

“This is a national model,” said Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien, who chairs the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs. “It is a carefully developed process to ensure the dignity of the remains and respect Native American culture.”

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), a federal law enacted in 1990, provides a legal process for Native American human remains to be returned. However, NAGPRA regulations were not developed for repatriating American Indian human remains that cannot be affiliated with a particular tribe.

In response to requests from Colorado’s Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute Indian tribes, the Colorado Historical Society and the Colorado Commission on Indian Affairs partnered with 45 regional tribes to develop the process. Southwest Colorado’s two tribes will now be able to take responsibility for the culturally unidentifiable remains and rebury them. Developing the process took more than three years, and implementation is likely to begin in a few weeks.

– Will Sands