Living in a city, spraying for bugs and weeds is something many of us just take for granted. Even if we are a little more concerned today than we have been in years past. As Calgarians, we are all used to seeing the sign (pictured above) in some of our parks telling us to expect herbicide spraying in a park, on what day, and at what time. So, colour me surprised when I received an email asking what off-leash areas are being sprayed for weeds, I realized I just had not given the topic much thought!
A dog dad in Calgary named Kevin sent us a message a couple months ago wondering what off-leash parks were NOT being sprayed. Particularly with pesticides. It turns out, Kevin’s doggo was diagnosed with cancer and sadly had to have his leg amputated. Clearly, Kevin has a good reason to be concerned. As many of you know, we lost our dog Dozor to cancer earlier this year, so we took Kevin’s concern seriously enough to call the City of Calgary to ask some questions.
311 is Your Friend
We are big fans of our 311 system. Thankfully, Calgary is not so big that we can’t get our questions answered in a few minutes by an actual person using the 311 information system. This is a great starting point if you have questions about anything from bylaws to landfill hours. This may sound a little bit like a fluff piece gushing over the city’s information system, that’s kind of because it is. Between the app and the phone line itself, you can really get some answers. Oh, and you can let the city know when you have half a dozen or so of those new LED street lights blinking on your road making it look like an alien invasion.
So, we called 311 to ask about spraying in the parks and were informed that Calgary, in fact, has an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) department. These are the folks who sort of oversee the spraying operations that is largely performed by independent contractors. Of course, my operator didn’t have all the answers in front of her so she put my information forward to IPM with a request to get back to me.
The conversation that I had with Calgary’s IPM department was very illuminating.
Meet the IPM, Bane of the Dandelion
As noted above, the city’s Integrated Pest Management department is responsible for executing directives by the city with regards to pest management in Calgary’s parks. On the whole, this means weeds. Our conversation did not mention the use of any complex pesticides to handle aphids, mosquitoes, or biblical locust plagues, so don’t worry. The city deals with the broadleaf weed population (or dandelions) and it’s interesting to note that they only deal with them in certain parks. That’s right. They do not spray EVERY park in town.
Most importantly, do you know which parks are NOT sprayed as a rule?
That’s right. At the beginning of our conversation, the rep at IPM told me as a “blanket statement” that OFF-LEASH AREAS ARE NOT PART OF THE SPRAYING PROGRAM.
This might come as a surprise to some but, either way, it is uplifting to know that our doggos and puppers are not running through grass that’s been sprayed with herbicide.
After giving it some more thought, I do have to say that our off-leash areas probably don’t need herbicides anyway. Sure, we all have to pick up our dog’s poop but, between all the pee and being pounded into the dirt by a constant stampede of puppy paws, what weed would want to grow in an off-leash area?
Caveat: my contact at IPM said that the city would have to discuss weed management in an off-leash area should it ever become the focus of citizen complaints but I was not told that herbicide application would be considered as even an absolute last resort.
Things to Know About the Herbicide Program
Now that we know we have we have nothing to worry about with regards to spraying in our off-leash areas, I am going to go over some brief points about the spraying that does happen; because spraying in our parks does happen.
The City of Calgary has a page on the spraying of herbicides and pesticides in our parks in which they say the program is to “control dandelions and broadleaf weeds”. The regular spraying of sports fields is because of their heavy use and also because too many of these weeds can become a safety hazard while also being a detriment to the health of the turf. This is of particular importance as Calgary’s Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw prohibits pets being in certain areas, particularly sports fields.
DOGS IN PROHIBITED AREAS
- The Owner of a dog shall ensure that such dog does not enter or remain in or on:
- a School Ground, Playground, Sports Field, Golf Course, Cemetery, Wading or Swimming Area, or a Pathway;
- or any other area where dogs are prohibited by posted signs. (48M2008, 2008 November 03)
- The Owner of a dog shall ensure that such dog does not enter or remain in a Park, or any part thereof, where the dog is within five (5) meters of a Play Structure, a Wading Pool or Swimming Area, a Sports Field, a Golf Course or a Cemetery.
- The Owner of a dog shall ensure that such dog does not enter or remain in a Park or any part of a Park or on a Pathway which has been designated by the Director, Calgary Parks as an area where dogs are prohibited. (7M2016, 2016 February 18)
Herbicide spraying in other parks happens at a much lower frequency, the city website says, with the most weed-dense parks being sprayed every four years.
As some of us know, the city has been experimenting with other weed management techniques, including the much-loved weed-munching goats, to handle species like Canada thistle and they have continued this program in 2018.
There are a number of pesticide-free parks as well that you should familiarize yourself with.
What Does the City Spray With?
My conversation with the city’s Integrated Pest Management department, as I said, was very illuminating. I did want to know what exactly we were using for weed control and my contact did not shy away.
The chemical used is called Trillion Turf Herbicide. It is a “reentry interval for turf” and contains a 2, 4-D mix. My contact read out some of the warnings on the label and they included:
“Do not allow people (other than the applicant) or pets on treatment area during application. Do not enter treated area until spray has thoroughly dried.”
For anyone playing the home game, “thoroughly dried” means maybe you should come back tomorrow. The spraying does start as early as they can get out to the site, 5 a.m. is the average, but the notification on the city’s site kind of gives them from 5 a.m. to dusk. The applicants’ ability to treat the parks is dependent on anything from the presence of people and animals to weather conditions like wind or rain. Any of these exceptions can delay treating the park.
The contractors also have a special segment of their training to talk with community members in a professional way if anyone is occupying the park when the spraying is supposed to commence. If they can’t vacate the park, their work will be delayed.
So, again, if you see those yellow signs posted around your local park, or folks walking about in white suits (it isn’t the apocalypse), just check the date and come back tomorrow.
Not personally being a chemist or anything, I did hit the Wikipedia page on 2, 4-D. 2, 4-D is short for 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. It is a selective herbicide that isn’t supposed to affect grass and vegetation while it triggers accelerated growth in broadleaf weeds. It pretty much sounds like the stuff causes them to rush through their life cycle and die off.
This can be nasty stuff and you should definitely heed the warnings placed around your park. Further, it’s just another reason to keep your dog out of the baseball field, soccer pitch, or playground.
What if I Want My City to Stop Spraying My Parks?
As you can see on the list provided on the City’s information page, there were 49 communities with parks that the city treated on the week of August 13, 2018, for broadleaf weeds (weather dependent). This might not be something that Calgarians can appreciate, especially in this day and age where more and more people are becoming increasingly concerned about their footprint on the Earth.
For any Calgarians that are concerned about the spraying in the city, my contact said that it is still very much within our rights as citizens to lobby our government to either use even less herbicide or cancel the program altogether. My contact at the IPM said that the most effective way to handle weeds in a yard or park, without chemicals, is a thick lush lawn that is well watered. Compared to herbicide application, is this something we want to pay for? There are always alternatives and it really is up to us to be active in our communities and to be the ones saying “Okay, we want the spraying of herbicides to stop here. What are our alternatives?”
Ultimately, the use of herbicides in our parks is kind of the best of a bad situation. We have seen parks and yards after dandelions or other noxious weeds settle in. For the most part, we don’t have too much trouble navigating around it and maybe that’s good enough.
What we do know today is that Kevin and his dog, as well as you and your dog, are safe to go running around your local designated off-leash area without worry that either of you are soaking up anything but the rays…
… well, maybe some mud, too.