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In From The Cold

November 7, 2009

We arrived back at the estancia yesterday afternoon, a day before scheduled as we finished all the work we were suppopsed to do. Or, I should say, my fellow volunteers finished the work as I huddled in my sleeping bag fighting of something that seemed a lot like food poisoning – unsuprising, considering we ate meat that had been out for over a day.

There were two jobs to be done. The first was repairing a fence line that runs along a piece of private property in the middle of the park (which Conservation Patagonica hopes to acquire, once the current owners reduce what is apparently a ridiculous asking price) so that the cows from that property don´t come into the park. We put in new posts and replanted old ones so that the fence was taught and straight again. I asked Pablo why the owners of the cows didn´t keep up the fence themselves and suggested that we should be allowed to eat those that trespassed on park property but that isn´t the way things work around here.

The second job to be done was eraticating poison hemlock, a highly invasive species that is quite prevalent in certain disturbed areas of the park. To do this, we used a combination of pesticides diluted with water which we sprayed out of backpack tanks. We had to wear plastic gloves, goggles and gas masks reminiscent of World War I that made my breathing sound like either Darth Vader´s or a scuba diver´s. 

To me, I must say, there´s something backwards about this and it raises a lot of questions. Why are we spraying pesticides in a natural park? What happens to the plants that are inadvertently sprayed or plants that are so intermixed with the hemlock that it´s impossible to spray only the hemlock? What happens to the birds and bugs in the area that come into contact with the chemicals? Assuming the sprayed hemlock dies, will native plants take their place or will the area just be repopulated by non-native species? Most broadly, what is the ultimate strategy to eradicate hemlock and does it involve the open-ended use of chemicals?

There are a certain scenarios where I think it would make sense to use pesticides, if there was no other feasible option for the eradication of the hemlock: first as part of a one-time effort combined with other strategies to help native plants repopulate the disturbed areas and thereby make the pesticides unnecessary; or, second, if the hemlock was so widespread that it posed an existential threat to the park´s ecosystem that outweighed the potential negative effects of using the pesticides. The second scenario seems unlikely as the area in which we were working is the only area which I have seen the hemlock. We haven´t done anything to support the repopulation of native plants so I´m not sure whether the first scenario fits. Other considerations would also factor in, especially the pesticides´effect on plants and animals aside from the hemlock. If the pesticides only affect the hemlock, unlikely but possible, that would make their usage much more reasonable.According to a certain Pennsylvania state agency, however, there are other methods of controling hemlock, including pulling and mowing. I would much rather be weed-whacking then spraying chemicals and it seems to me that this method would be much more in line with Conservacion Patagonica´s values.

This is, to a certain extent, all speculative, as I haven´t actually dug deeper and asked the questions that I should but that´s my take on the situation as of now.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa Franke permalink
    November 26, 2009 10:13 pm

    Somerset, how tall is the poison hemlock? I also raised the question about why you would be spraying pesticides in a natural park. You posed a lot of good questions many of which I would not have asked myself. It seems to me it would be something that needs a lot of constant attention, time, and effort. Pulling and mowing seems to be a good coarse to follow, yet, it’s a process that needs repeating often. A question I would pose is does the park have the resources, manpower and money to continue in this endeavor when it is so vast and it may be one of many more problematic situations they have yet to encounter. Just a thought. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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