The Ashland Parks and Recreation Department cut its use of synthetic pesticides almost in half from 2009 to 2010, and now plans to use only organic pesticides on most park property starting this spring.

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Department cut its use of synthetic pesticides almost in half from 2009 to 2010, and now plans to use only organic pesticides on most park property starting this spring.

The department's most commonly used synthetic pesticide has been glyphosate, an herbicide found in such products as Roundup weed killer. Use declined from 22 gallons in 2009 to 13 gallons last year.

The use of glufosinate-ammonium, found in products such as Finale herbicide, dropped from about 4 gallons in 2009 to about a half gallon in 2010. The department used about a quarter-gallon of triclopyr herbicide in 2009, and used none of the herbicide found in products such as Clear Pasture in 2010, according to charts provided by the department.

Also last year, eight developed parks and four open space properties achieved synthetic pesticide-free status.

In May 2010, the Parks Commission adopted a policy to reduce but not eliminate the use of synthetic pesticides, which include herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.

In February, the Parks Commission authorized parks staff to replace synthetic pesticides with organic versions for use on parkland. Commissioners said staff could still use synthetic pesticides at the Oak Knoll Golf Course and to control poison oak that grows along miles of trails.

Parks workers will use organic pesticides on poison oak, Parks Superintendent Steve Gies said.

They will still use synthetic pesticides at the golf course, mainly because the department has yet to find an effective organic fungicide for golf course greens, Parks Director Don Robertson said.

The department traditionally used little to no pesticide during winter, then use would shoot up during March or April, according to charts from 2008, 2009 and 2010.

The department hasn't begun using pesticides yet this spring because of recent wet weather, but will use organic pesticides once spraying starts, Robertson said earlier this week.

Most of the organic pesticides that the department will use are citrus or vinegar-based, Gies said.

"We believe they will be as safe or safer than traditional products we've used," Robertson said.

The organic pesticides do come with a higher price tag.

Glyphosate cost the department $307.12 in 2010. An organic alternative will cost an estimated $9,975 in 2011, according to Parks Horticulturist Anne Thayer.

The cost is higher mainly because synthetic pesticides are more concentrated, Gies said.

Parks workers are taking steps to limit the need for pesticides. They have seeded lawns so that grass crowds out weeds, used more mulch to smother weeds, and installed concrete along hard-to-mow fence lines and under bleachers, among other steps.

"Those are really common-sense alternatives," said Ashland resident Julie Norman, who has concerns about traditional pesticides.

She helped the parks department create improved documentation sheets for pesticide applications, parks managers said.

Norman said she is pleased with all the steps the department has been taking.

"I applaud the parks department and the commissioners for moving in the right direction," she said.

Norman said she has never used synthetic pesticides herself, but she is trying out a citrus-based weed killer on crabgrass on her property.

Parks commissioners have encouraged Ashland residents to reduce their use of synthetic pesticides in yards and gardens.

Commissioners also have asked community members to lend a hand in the parks department's efforts to reduce pesticide use — and local residents have responded.

People contributed 960 hours of labor in 2010, according to Thayer.

Volunteer Coordinator Lori Ainsworth, who was hired by the department late last year, has organized work parties for Scenic Park, Clay Street Park and the Calle Guanajuato area.

Neighbors, students from Ashland schools and Southern Oregon University and Job Council volunteers are among those who have helped out on park property.

There will be a work party from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, April 2, for locals to learn about invasive plants and then help remove them from Lithia Park. The target species for the day will be Scotch broom, an invasive bush that colonizes parks, trail and road sides and logged forests, and the low-growing annual Herb Robert.

Participants should meet at the Butler Band Shell, located midway between the children's playground and the tennis courts.

Tools, gloves and snacks will be provided. For more information, call Ainsworth at 541-552-2264.

If the plants are allowed to go through their flowering stage and produce seeds, one mature Scotch broom bush can drop hundreds of seeds that are viable for 50 years. Herb Robert seeds are viable for five years, and the plant can shoot its seeds up to 20 feet when disturbed, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.