Howard County pesticide bill gets hearing
ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — As Howard County officials during a public hearing repeatedly confirmed a proposed bill restricting pesticide use on county-owned and managed property would not apply to private property, representatives of county citizen groups urged expanding the scope of the bill.
Introduced by Howard County Council Chairwoman Christiana Mercer Rigby at the request of County Executive Calvin Ball, the bill defines pesticides to include herbicides and fungicides and would limit its use on county owned, managed or controlled property through Integrated Pest Management strategies and prohibit specific products, unless the use complies with county policy.
“This applies to county-owned and managed property,” said Josh Feldmark, Howard County director of sustainability, at the Oct. 21 public hearing. “It does not apply to private property. Full stop.”
In the bill’s accompanying policy, the measure lists by name chlorpyrifos, glyphosate and neonicotinoids in its prohibition with chlorpyrifos fully prohibited and glyphosate and neonicotinoids permitted under agricultural lease and to control and eradicate noxious weeds.
Farmers leasing county land for agriculture must have and follow a conservation plan, carry a valid state pesticide applicator’s license, consider alternatives to the named pesticides when available and report annual pesticide use on the land to the county.
Farmers who testified at the hearing said the county’s ag community was caught off guard by the proposal, having not been included in its development.
Woodbine, Md., farmer Keith Ohlinger said the county’s farming community has worked hard to engage with county leaders to make them aware of agricultural issues and how farmers manage land but was “dumbstruck” when he found out about the proposed legislation and struggled to find any other farmers who knew it was coming.
“We had no idea,” Ohlinger told the council on Oct. 21. “It was a bit of a slap not to have any input whatsoever.”
County council member Deb Jung said during a recent legislative tour of county farms, many farmers shared concerns that the restrictions would apply to farmland and “they were assured throughout the day that that is not the case.” Councilwoman Jung said.
“There’s confusion because we were never aware of it,” Ohlinger said. “When farmers don’t know anything, the first thing they think is the worst.”
After the hearing, Ohlinger said while he doesn’t use synthetic herbicides and pesticides on his farm, many of the farmers he works with does and if it becomes too restrictive to lease county land and farm it at a profit, it would impact farmers’ viability.
Speaking for the Howard County Farm Bureau, president Howie Feaga commended the county for being willing to protect, enhance and restore the natural environment of the county owned properties but said farmers have used IPM practices on their farms “for quite some time” and get training and licensed at least every two years to apply pesticides and herbicides in accordance with manufacturer directions.
“With this being said, we hope in the future that unnecessary restrictions to the ag community will not be necessary, since we have already met the requirements in the county’s policy,” Feaga said.
Feaga said after talking with county officials, he’s not heard of any intention from them to expand restrictions beyond the proposed legislation.
“That’s a good thing that I see,” Feaga said.
But some county citizens groups said the proposal isn’t strong enough.
Alan Schneider, speaking for the Howard County Citizens Association, called the proposal a “good beginning” but said there are a lot of loopholes that should be removed.
It should apply to school properties and daycare centers, land controlled by homeowners associations and 55-plus communities.
“Limiting this to county property is not going to solve the problem,” Schneider said.
Meagan Braganca, speaking for Our Revolution Howard County, said the group supports the bill but would like more definitions including a toxic pesticide to be defined as “any product with a warning or hazard label on the bottle.”
The group also requested county employee training and education on pesticide alternatives be required rather than strongly encouraged and give the county-appointed Pollinator Committee power to grant exemptions for using prohibited pesticides, instead of the Director of Recreation and Parks or the Director of Public Works.
The bill is expected to get more discussion by County Council members at an Oct. 28 work session before final consideration at the council’s Nov. 4 meeting.
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