If the grass on a boulevard or a ditch is mowed, does that make it a lawn?
Municipalities have been asking the province that question as the ban on cosmetic pesticides for lawns comes into effect, and now they have their answer.
Ditches and boulevards are not lawns, nor are the cracks in the sidewalks where grass and weeds poke through, and that means licensed applicators working for local government public works departments can continue to apply conventional herbicides in these areas.
The exceptions made for these areas is hailed as “a practical first step” by municipal leaders, who’ve long argued the organic weed control products and more frequent mowing won’t work in all areas. They have urged the province to consider their use on a case-by-case basis.
“We’ve just said, ‘let’s use some common sense,’” said Association of Manitoba Municipalities president Doug Dobrowolski.
“This is a practical first step toward addressing municipalities’ concerns.”
AMM began raising fears a ban would be costly and recommended alternative products would be ineffective shortly after the ban was proposed. There are also concerns that reducing weed control in urban areas will lead to spread of invasive species in agro-Manitoba.
Provincial officials confirm they’re making these exceptions in the regulation, but will continue to encourage the use of alternative methods of weed control wherever possible.
The whole intent of the ban is to protect the health of children and lessen their exposure to synthetic herbicides used on lawns. These areas in question are not defined as lawns, said Laurie Streich, director of environmental programs and strategies with Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship.
“Exceptions were written into the regulation. It’s just a matter of interpretation, and it goes back to what is a lawn,” she said.
“Is this (boulevard or ditch) a place where children are playing? Typically those places would not be, and that’s why they’re exempted.”
The City of Steinbach set up test plots last summer to evaluate the cost effectiveness of products and methods the province has recommended municipalities adopt, said the city’s mayor and AMM vice-president Chris Goertzen.
They found that bioproducts like Fiesta stain concrete, so aren’t suitable for sidewalks, and there’s no effective alternative for controlling weeds on boulevards and ditches, where sand and road salt create ideal conditions for weed infestation.
“We looked at alternatives such as composting, and enhancing the health of the grass, in the end there aren’t a lot of alternatives if we want to keep the same level of service and still not have prohibitive cost,” said Goertzen.
“There’s some areas in the city that are very difficult to treat, and that was the argument we put forward.”
These exempted areas comprise only “a very small part” of the overall area that cities, towns and villages must now seek alternatives to keep weeds in check, Goertzen stressed.
“There are many, many acres of green space that urban municipalities maintain… and those still are part of the transition to a non-chemical weed control.”
Only federally approved biopesticides or low-risk products are now allowed on lawns, school grounds, playgrounds and playing fields as well as health-care institutions and child-care centre lawns.
Manitoba Weed Supervisors Association president Kent Shewfelt said the MWSA continues to urge municipalities to adopt IMP techniques wherever possible, such as more frequent mowing and fertilization to enhance grass growth to suppress weeds.
“We’ve always encouraged that anyway but it becomes more critical as a result of the legislation,” he said.
But he anticipates some bumps along the road as municipalities get used to complying with the ban.
“They (municipalities) are probably not fully prepared for this, I’ll admit that,” he said. “It’s going to be a learning curve for municipalities over the next year.”
Shewfelt added there hasn’t been enough extension offered to local government on alternative weed control measures, adding it was unfortunate that a meeting scheduled for late last month for weed supervisors and municipal officials to discuss the new regulations had to be cancelled due to inclement weather.