Pesticides in the parks

We’re writing in response to the story “Activists push for pesticide-free parks,” published on page A13 of the Feb. 6 issue. 

The Minneapolis Park Board must stop using toxic pesticides in parks and lakes. This winter, even as commissioners and the superintendent have made claims about lowered use, the Park Board has been using triclopyr around Bde Maka Ska, the same herbicide discovered in testing at Lake Hiawatha.

Let’s look at common myths used to justify pesticides in parks:

Myth 1: We don’t use a “lot” of pesticides.  

Let’s look at the numbers provided by our park system for 2016-18:

There were 627 documented uses of synthetic pesticides in city parks, not including uses by the Mosquito Control District.

At least 60 different pesticide formulations were used in these treatments.

Herbicides, fungicides and insecticides were used in sports turf, golf, wetlands, gardens and natural areas.

Pesticides were allowed in the majority of Minneapolis’ 6,900 acres of parkland.

Myth 2: We don’t use pesticides where kids play.  

We’re currently using pesticides in baseball and soccer fields, in lakes, in creeks, in golf courses, in woods and natural areas, in gardens, in regional parks and, occasionally, in neighborhood parks.

In premier baseball and soccer fields rented to youth leagues, MPRB uses herbicides and insecticides. MPRB leads youth programs in gardens and natural areas where herbicides are used. Youth golf leagues play where herbicides, insecticides and fungicides are used.

MPRB sometimes even uses pesticides in neighborhood parks. This happened at Loring Park for four years in a row as the Park Board used herbicides to kill wetland habitat.

MPRB allows employees and contractors to use pesticides in the majority of parkland and in or near all park bodies of water. Parks are supposed to be safe spaces for kids.

Myth 3: We use pesticides safely. 

Minneapolis parks were found to have violated federal labeling laws at Minnehaha Falls this summer when they sprayed herbicide into the creek. They are currently under investigation for further instances of pesticide misuse at Lake Harriet reported by a former staff whistleblower.

Pesticides are poisons. There are no safe ways to use poisons in parks. The messaging from those who would have us continue using pesticides in parks is eerily similar the gun lobby’s defense of automatic weapons.

“We’re experts,” “We use these tools carefully,” “We need these tools to protect the community” and, of course, “It is our right to use these tools.” All of these arguments for the use of highly efficient killing products make no sense in light of the fact that they’re using these products in parks, where kids and wildlife roam.

Myth 4: Pesticides are necessary to manage invasive species.

Several local companies practice land management without herbicides to manage invasive species in shorelines, woods and other natural areas.

The best example for natural area management without pesticides is actually in a Minneapolis park, at Roberts Bird Sanctuary. Volunteers walk through and either pull or cut back buckthorn. Then they plant native seeds to replace the buckthorn. No herbicides, no buckthorn, no problem.

Over the last six years residents have been calling for the end of pesticide use in parks. Standing up for kids, pollinators, soil health, climate action and water quality, hundreds of people have testified and contacted officials.

Experts are eager and ready to help us transition. There is no reason to continue putting kids and pollinators at risk in parks. It is time for commissioners to protect people and the environment in policy and develop a timeline for transitioning to organic park management.


Russ Henry and Chesney Engquist

Russ Henry and Chesney Engquist are members of the Park Board’s Pesticide Advisory Committee.