I love the outdoors and spend several hours outside every day. If I weren’t such a winter weenie, the Eastern Shore would be my permanent home.
Living in a less populated area allows me to wander through nature. There is plenty of cycling and the Eastern Shore hosts walking paths to showcase its beautiful natural world.
Because I love nature so much, I am very protective of it. Recently, the St. Michaels “nature” trail appears more like a battle zone than a nature trail. Brown leaves and desiccated stalks make it clear that herbicides have been used recently; a few within the 25’ limit of the creek and on wetlands.
I wondered how this happened.
That was the beginning of my education.
I reached out to the St. Michaels public works department. Rob Straebel immediately got back to me. He wasn’t aware of the spraying. His department has oversight of the local watershed, and mowing and garbage pickup on the trail, but his department did not apply herbicides. He suggested that there were two companies that had permission to work in this area, Environmental Concern, and Delmarva Power.
First lesson: If you see something, say something. Our local government cannot be everywhere at once. Once the St. Michaels Department of Public Works was alerted, Straebel visited the sight and contacted Environmental Concern, and Delmarva Power & Light; and requested that the unsightly carnage near the creek be removed. (It was.)
Environmental Concern (EC) is responsible for the 100’ living shoreline and has been bushwhacking along the waterline to remove invasive species. In July, they cut down a large swath of invasive bamboo. In lieu of herbicides, they are cutting down invasive species in the San Domingo Creek buffer zone, including Phragmites (perennial reed grasses), Porcelain berry (sadly, a favorite of mine, it yields beautiful pink, blue and purple berries in the fall), and bamboo.
Lesson 2: Approved Herbicides.
Approved herbicides can be used in the watershed. Most are made of Glyphosate, a synthetic herbicide that dissipates in the water rapidly. Glyphosate kills weeds and a wide range of aquatic plants.
While glyphosate has been deemed “safe” (more about that later), many of the surfactants have not. Surfactants are chemicals added to herbicides to improve adherence of the herbicide to the leaves. Roundup® is a glyphosate based herbicide that uses a surfactant that is NOT approved for shoreline applications.
Approved glyphosate sprays that use a “safe” surfactant can be sprayed on plants only (not the soil) and do not contain pre-emergent herbicides. (Pre-emergent herbicides are herbicides that prevent germination.)
Given that Glyphosate is deemed “safe,” I did a limited review of research available on the Internet. I am not a chemist, and my analysis is probably naïve, but after reviewing a few independent studies; it appears that Glyphosate does dilute quickly, but it still has a half life of 3 to 100 days. Unfortunately, the surfactants do not dilute so readily.
According to the Cambridge University Press, synthetic herbicides administered near water and the surrounding soil in high volumes, can cause deadly effects to aquatic organisms. In the soil it decomposes into two main compounds, one is mildly toxic to marine life. In addition, Glyphosate is an antibiotic that kills beneficial bacteria and microorganisms in the soil. It has apparently not been studied on birds or aquatic mammals.
Despite EPA approval, the European Union has designated it as “dangerous for the environment and toxic for aquatic organisms” and is banning it as of December 15, 2022, due to concern that it is carcinogenic.
Lesson 3: Who is messing with the St Michaels Nature Trail?
Environmental Concern is removing invasive species within 100’ to maintain the living shoreline. They have been bushwhacking and have not used herbicides; however, they may occasionally use a Glyphosate with a surfactant that is EPA approved.
Most of the damage in the photograph was done by spot herbicide applications by Delmarva Power. But before we go pointing the finger. Remember, that the St. Michaels Nature Trail was built because Delmarva Power donated the land on which it was built.
Lesson 4: There are rules.
Every town has rules for use of herbicides. St. Michaels requires water safe herbicides and does not allow the application of an herbicide within 25’ of water unless it is approved and used to kill invasive species. When I surveyed the trail, it was clear that one treated tree was inside the 25’ application range and spray had drifted to neighboring Scotch Pines.
Lesson 5: Do your research.
The herbicide carnage is viewable throughout our county and on parts of the nature trail. Along the easement on Route 33, you can see the impact of herbicides. Brown Scotch Pines and small trees resemble poisoned dead soldiers. It is unsightly, at best, but is it necessary? Are there alternatives?
I reached out to Delmarva Power, and they responded quickly, asking me to provide them with specific of questions. I spent the next week researching and preparing a list of detailed questions for Delmarva Power about their use of herbicides. I wanted to give them the opportunity to help us understand their policies and the tradeoffs that they need to make.
First question, which brand of herbicide do they use? I had an unconfirmed report that they use Garlon®, an herbicide for trees and bark that is not approved around waterways or wetlands. The foliage sprayed at the St. Michaels Nature Trail and in some areas along the easement is in close proximity to the creek and wetlands.
Could it be more cost effective to cut the saplings down instead of using herbicide and then removing them? Would they be willing to eliminate the use of herbicide on walkways, especially “nature” trails.
Are there advantages to using herbicides over bushwhacking? Do they plan to reduce their use of herbicides? And replace it with cutting saplings and bushwhacking instead? Are there increased costs associated with a non-herbicidal approach? What are their plans for other easements (e.g., along MD 33) and wetlands?
I spent time on these questions, because I believed it wouldn’t be fair to show these photographs without an explanation. Sadly, instead of answering these questions, I received the following response from Delmarva Power:
“An Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) approach is employed at Delmarva Power. IVM offers a systematic way of planning and implementing a vegetation management program, and includes utilizing mechanical, chemical, biological and cultural control methods. IVM is a system of managing plant communities in which the company’s transmission vegetation management (TVM) personnel sets objectives, identifies compatible and incompatible vegetation, considers action thresholds; and evaluates, selects and implements the most appropriate control method or methods to meet those objectives.
Delmarva Power’s approach requires qualified and trained personnel. In addition to meeting the requirements for system reliability, we manage the circuits on the right of way (ROW) with concerns for the environment. This is achieved through promoting the growth of favorable, low-growing, non-woody native vegetation. This, in turn, serves as food sources and shelter for various animals and pollinating insects. Working with Local, State and Federal natural resource agencies allows us to identify, maintain and protect sensitive wetlands, and areas containing rare and/or threatened and endangered flora and fauna along the circuits on the ROW.”
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.