Tightening Up on Pesticide Use

January 3, 2023

The City of Portland recently issued its first fine for violating the city’s pesticide ordinance. Approved in 2018, advocates at the time called it “one of the strongest pesticide ordinances in the country.” The ordinance bans the use of synthetic pesticides, though there are some exceptions, including plant and pest control when they threaten people’s health and safety, such as poison ivy.

One of Portland’s largest landscape companies (the name will not be mentioned in this article)was fined the maximum fine of $500 for the application of glyphosate (Roundup) to control Japanese Knotweed at an apartment complex. The application was seen and reported by a resident with an organic vegetable plot. The owner of this complex owns over 100 properties with 2700 affordable and market rate units primarily in Maine, but also in New Hampshire.

The pesticide law has been difficult to enforce because city officials cannot go on people’s private properties, even then a violation can be difficult to enforce without documentation. The violations have to be similar to this one where people are “caught in the act.”

The city originally made a few exceptions, including Hadlock Field, home of the Portland Seadogs baseball team, and the city owned Riverside golf course. At one time these two areas were planned to eventually be totally pesticide free, but it is my understanding the quality of the turf just couldn’t be kept up to the required level without some treatments. Dutch Elm and browntail moth treatments were also put on the exemption list. Since Emerald Ash Borer had yet to be found in Portland, there was no mention of and exemption for its treatment, but I’m sure it is now allowed.

Since Portland’s new pesticide laws were in the planning stages and then actually went into law, I’ve had mixed opinions about the regulations. Most of the run-off of the entire city ends up in the ocean, therefore I feel careful application practices are needed. On a state level, pesticide regulations have tightened up significantly in the past 10-15 years. Should the City have different laws than the State?

Often people I’ve seen on some of these boards or committees are not those I consider knowledgeable enough about pesticides. Here in the Town of Yarmouth a board was set up to “observe” pesticide use, thinking they may want to tighten or set up regulations in the future. From what I could tell, only one person out of the 6 or 8 board members was a licensed pesticide applicator. Seems to me more board members should be from a type of business that is actually applying pesticides or at least working in the Green Industry. Fortunately this was just a committee that was only observing pesticide use, and as of now they have yet to set any new regulations.

The company in Portland was sloppy by not following the regulations. I’m not sure if they were ignorant about the regulations or felt they could get away without getting caught. The point is, if you don’t like playing by Portland’s rules, don’t apply pesticides there. At the same time, some of the Portland officials may need to have their properties overtaken by bittersweet before they realize a minimal amount of control of some invasives is needed.

Time will tell if the whole pesticide application rule process gets changed in the future.

— by Phil Caldwell, a past president of NHLA (1989) who now lives and works in Maine.  

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