Your reporting on conflicts involving Spartina alternifolia control suffered from inaccuracies by all parties: the protagonists, the antagonists, and the reporter ("Latest spartina-control plans pit Moby Dick against Pacific County," July 18).
First, the reporter: while this is a complicated topic and Amanda Frink generally did a fine job keeping track of its intricacies, she erred in writing that "the county feels that controlling spartina is best done through the spraying of herbicides, such as the herbicide Sevin...". Sevin, of course, is not an herbicide; it is the proprietary name of the insecticide generically known as carbaryl, which has long been used to control ghost shrimp on the oyster beds of Willapa Bay. A small point, but readers are already sufficiently confused by the various ingredients of the chemical soup in which we live.
Second, the antagonist: though I admire her ethic, oystering methods, and perseverance, and share her concern over the widespread application of herbicides in this ecosystem, I believe that Fritzi Cohen hasn't fully grasped the urgency of the threat represented by eastern cordgrass on the West Coast. The view that spartina is a "destructive invasive species" is not merely a "local orthodox view," as the article suggests: it is the consensus of a great many ecologists and biologists who have examined the situation in depth. True, spartina sequesters CO2 (as does any plant, including ivy, gorse, and Japanese knotweed: insufficient grounds for their retention here!). And like most invasive weeds, it does provide some ecological services-Virginia rails, for example, are said to employ it. However, the balance of the facts incontrovertibly indict spartina as it is usually portrayed: a grave threat to the eelgrass, the black brant, and the bay's native ecology. Unfortunately, Ms. Cohen is caught in the middle, and I do believe she and other organic oyster-growers should be allowed to control their spartina stands mechanically. I certainly prefer organic oysters myself over those garnished with spray.
And third, the protagonist: the vigor and apparent success of the spartina control campaign must be congratulated. But I have always been a lukewarm supporter of the chemical approach because I remain unconvinced of its harmlessness to the ecosystem. Here, I take issue with Miranda Wecker's characterization of two aspects of the issue. Ms. Wecker's devotion to Willapa conservation and her hard work as a state Fish and Wildlife Commissioner are not to be questioned. However, some quotations attributed to her in this article strike me as unhelpful. She says, "these chemicals have been tested and researched over and over again to see if it will kill anything that we care about, and the answer is 'no.'" I have tried for years to obtain any data demonstrating that these herbicides have no significant impact on phytoplankton - the tiny plants that furnish much of the food chain's base in the marine and estuarine environment. If such data exist, I am unaware of them. I know Kathleen Sayce worked on the phytoplankton of the bay some years ago, but I have seen no results to ease my concern. If any rigorous, peer-reviewed, and published studies exist to ease my mind about the impact of herbicides on phytoplankton, I would be grateful to see them. In fact, this paper would do a service to readers by publishing a brief bibliography of key scientific studies on this entire subject.
Ms. Wecker also states: "Things that kill animals, such as insecticides and pesticides, are different than things that kill plants, like herbicides. The way herbicides work is to interrupt photosynthesis - animals don't go through photosynthesis." This implies that herbicides are harmless to animals. But has Miranda forgotten that Agent Orange is an herbicide? So is the related 2,4,5-T, banned thanks to lawsuits by women in Alsea, Ore., who lost pregnancies or suffered birth defects due to that herbicide sprayed on their water supply by timber companies. With these chemicals, it was dioxin impurities that caused the damage. But all herbicide preparations contain impurities or include surfactants and so-called "inert ingredients" that are often much more dangerous to animal tissues and organs than the active ingredients on their own. Herbicides most certainly can kill animals: an extensive literature documents severe harm to amphibians, fish, birds, pets, and people by roadside and other herbicide exposure. Recent studies, mostly in Sweden, have implicated glyphosate (the active agent in many common yard and garden herbicides) in a variety of reproductive ills, birth defects and lymphomas. Allergies to these substances are also increasing in severity and frequency.
I don't know whether imazapyr, Sevin, cranberry chemical runoff, and other biocides used in and around the bay are hurting you, me, the oysters, the birds or the phytoplankton. At the very least, they raise my eyebrows every time I hear Willapa Bay described as "pristine." Herbicides may indeed provide the best option for controlling spartina on our bay but this should be supported (or contested) by cautious fact, rather than by fuzzy overstatement on either side. Such reductionist rhetoric does little to illuminate the citizenry. Simplistic, unnuanced, or just plain inaccurate generalities not only patronize readers, but also serve to further incite enmity among the parties. The reporter cannot control her sources, but a more vigorous, informed line of questioning might have helped them to frame their responses more thoughtfully. On such a vital and complex issue as this, we deserve the greatest care and precision from all involved.
Robert Michael Pyle is an award-winning author and naturalist who lives in Grays River.