Reed's Pesticide Use Down to One Gallon Per Year

Twenty years ago, Reed, like most places, sprayed pesticides heavily. The front lawn was weed-free, pure grass. The campus aesthetic was manicured. Students swam in an outdoor Canyon pool while salmon populations plummeted. The reign of Bruce Hefner, previous Grounds manager, and Zac Perry, previous Canyon manager and current Grounds manager, saw a return to the unruled. Steelhead reclaimed their water. Reed embraced weed as fellow plant. Cultivation at Reed slowly become an act of living with, not against. Although the college has a long way to go before claiming any harmony with nature — I’d consider entertaining that notion when Reed is renewable and plant powered and plastic is a distant memory — Reed has at least transitioned away from pesticides nearly completely.

Rumors about pesticide use were broad-sprayed around campus, so April Sams and Kori Lay of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), Towny Angel and Steve Yeadon, Director and Associate Director of Physical Plant, respectively, and Zac Perry, Head of Grounds, met with Student Body Senator Billy Fish, Student Body Treasurer Dakish Shami, and Student Sustainability Coordinator Hayden Hendersen, to discuss the facts.

Every time a chemical is used on the campus grounds, the quantity, location, and type must legally be documented. Perry, summarizing those documents, revealed that just one gallon or less of pesticides are sprayed on campus in a total year. They are sprayed only direct to specific areas, never broad-sprayed, and in times of very low foot traffic (like over school breaks). Areas where foragable foods grow are never sprayed, according to Perry. Pesticides are mainly used in overgrown pebble-paved walkway cracks to prevent weeds in those areas from becoming a tripping and accessibility hazard. Areas where pesticides have been applied are first hand-weeded, and it is only when the time spent to hand-weeding could be put to more productive use in managing larger areas of campus that pesticides are used.

All staff members attending the pesticide meeting emphasized that focusing on the gallon of chemicals used woefully decontextualized the Integrated Pest Management solutions that Reed practices. Reed grounds crew members actively remove invasive species and replant natives and species more resistant to climate change. Reed prevents the use of control chemicals by designing the landscape to encourage a healthy ecosystem. Shane, campus horticulturist, manages weeds on campus with the “power of selection,” planting crops that will outcompete the weeds naturally. Mulching is done with leaves and wood chips to manage stormwater and provide habitat to much-needed microorganisms. Grounds also monitors and identifies pests and invasive species on campus, and welcomes those that are beneficial, increase biodiversity, and pose no threat. Using these and many other natural practices, pesticide necessity is becoming obsolete.

Perry highlighted that not every pesticide is a horrible product and that levels of environmental damage vary dramatically for each chemical. Reed only uses chemicals that Perry has researched; the ones used decay into an effectively non-harmful form after about three days and they only target the undesired weed. They are not broad-range killers by any means.

EHS seconded Reed’s safe use of chemicals, adding that human exposure to chemicals is effectively zero, as every member of grounds staff must go through chemical use training and wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling the chemicals. Sams dispelled the idea that the tiny amount of pesticides used on campus could cause deleterious effects to anyone on campus, and emphasized that staff appropriately handle the chemicals. The second point is especially important as studies of these chemicals have found them to cause cancer in individuals with repeat, broad-spray exposure using minimal to no PPE.

If you have alternative practices that you would like to see Reed use, please reach out to the author or Zac Perry directly to discuss alternative ground management solutions.