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Wacking weeds by air

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The Bureau of Land Management is proposing to spray herbicides on nearly 1 million acres across 17 Western states, including Montana, which is about three times the acreage currently marked for such treatment.

The proposal, open for public comment through Jan. 9, lays the groundwork for herbicide projects on all BLM lands, including wilderness and national conservation areas, but does not specify where and when applications might occur. Instead, says the BLM’s Brian Amme, the proposal is aimed at speeding up the process for local BLM offices trying to combat weeds with herbicides in the future. While the regional acreage subject to herbicide treatments would triple, Ammes says the increase in Montana is slighter: Currently, about 50,000 BLM acres are treated in Montana and the proposal, if approved, would increase that to about 53,000 acres. Amme says though the acreage treated with herbicides would increase under the plan, the ratio of herbicide treatment to other treatment types—like prescribed fire and biological control—would remain about the same.

The war on weeds as a whole is spreading as weed-infected areas exponentially increase each year, Amme says.

Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association, says the application of herbicides over broad expanses of land—often done by plane—is bad policy and ineffective.

“Aerial spraying is basically overkill,” Cummins says. “Over 95 percent of the chemicals are blown off target, so you end up using a huge amount and you end up polluting stuff that shouldn’t be polluted.”

Nancy Anderson, field manager in the BLM’s Missoula office, cautioned that local impact would be less than could be felt nationally, since BLM budgets for Montana and the Dakotas are holding steady or decreasing. Though the project may clear the way for increased herbicide usage, she says, the general funding trend in this area means less money is available for existing herbicide treatment of weeds, let alone new projects.

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