A New Tactic for Attacking Lawn Chemicals

Posted on May 9, 2016

Education alone has not succeeded in significantly reducing the amount of pesticides intended for home use.

Education alone has not succeeded in significantly reducing
the amount of pesticides intended for home use.

In 1998, then Casco Baykeeper Joe Payne was featured in a newspaper ad with the message, “Weed‘n’feed isn’t fish food.”

This was the precursor to BayScaping, an outreach campaign that Friends of Casco Bay has conducted since 2000, to encourage homeowners to reduce their use of pesticides and fertilizers. We have partnered with the Maine Board of Pesticides Control on ads, publications, workshops, and Flower Show exhibits, to show homeowners how—and why—to grow lawns without using chemicals that harm our coastal waters. Yet, after nearly two decades of outreach, it is evident that education alone has not significantly reduced the amount of pesticides and fertilizers purchased for Maine lawns.

Citizens are becoming increasingly concerned about the impacts of pesticides and weed-and feed products (a mix of pesticides and fertilizers) on children, pets, pollinators, and the rest of us. Residents are taking matters into their own hands to ban lawn chemicals.

In 2015, Ogunquit became the first town in Maine to enact an ordinance banning the use of outdoor pesticides on both public and private land. South Portland is poised to do the same. South Portland’s approach focuses on education—for consumers, retailers, and town employees—before it phases in a prohibition on pesticide use on public properties, including athletic fields. A ban on pesticide use on private property will follow a year later. In a nod to Friends of Casco Bay’s concerns about nitrogen pollution in Casco Bay, the committee that drafted the South Portland ordinance has stated that an ordinance on fertilizers will be enacted separately.

At the other end of Casco Bay, the coastal town of Harpswell passed a pesticide ordinance on March 12th. Its ordinance clearly seeks to protect the fishing community, where lobstering is a way of life.

According to Mary Ann Nahf, Chair of Harpswell’s Conservation Commission, “The ordinance bans neonictinoids and insect growth regulators because of their toxicity to pollinators and lobsters. To further protect marine createures, it prohibits spraying of any pesticide or fertilizer within 25 feet of the shoreline.”

These ordinances may serve as models for Portland and other municipalities. Could a trend in community bans portend a downward turn in the use of pesticides and fertilizers? Time will tell.