Editorial: With weeds, Douglas County commissioners have a chance to show rural residents they understand
photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration
Weeds are a real hassle everywhere, but they have the chance to turn into a true problem at the Douglas County Commission.
County commissioners last week agreed to delay adoption of the county’s annual noxious weed plan for at least two weeks after environmentalists expressed concern about the use of chemicals in the weed control plan.
A delay of a few weeks in approving the plan is not particularly problematic. County commissioners certainly should hear from environmentalists on issues such as this. Rather, the extent of this problem will be determined by what happens next.
County commissioners need to realize they are dealing with an issue that goes beyond weeds. This is one of the first tests for a new commission that has relatively little experience in the rural environment. As the Journal-World has reported, this county commission is the first in memory where all three county commissioners live inside the city limits of Lawrence.
That’s fine. The vast majority of residents in Douglas County also live inside the city limits of Lawrence.
However, it is worth remembering that the vast majority of land in Douglas County is still outside the Lawrence city limits. While the number of people who live on that rural land isn’t great, their importance to the Douglas County community certainly is. Farms in Douglas County — there are about 1,000 of them at last count — still easily produce $50 million to $70 million worth of crops and livestock per year.
County commissioners hopefully will realize that issues like this weed plan aren’t just words on paper to people who are trying to make a living in this industry. If you have a pasture with Johnson grass and no feasible way of treating hundreds of acres of it at a time, you very well could lose one of the assets that help you put food on your table.
Hopefully, commissioners also will bring proper perspective to this issue. One member of the local Sierra Club and other environmental organizations, told county commissioners that chemicals are “indiscriminate killers.” She noted chemicals “kill birds, bugs, fish and people.” Not to be too facetious, but you can also say the same about water. (Yes, even a saltwater fish will die in freshwater.) The point being, the issue isn’t that clear cut.
Certainly, though, county commissioners would be within their rights to make changes to the county’s noxious weed plan. After all, that’s why the plan is presented for their approval. Hopefully, though, they will be moderate in their approach.
If the county wants to launch an education campaign with rural residents about not using certain types of chemicals that are otherwise legal in the U.S., it should do so. Likely, though, it will be beneficial if county commissioners first do a deep dive into how the agricultural community uses those chemicals today, or else the commission probably is doomed to get little to no buy-in.
County commissioners should resist any thought of banning the use on private property of otherwise legal chemicals. In other words, don’t tell local farmers that they can’t spray a legal chemical on their own land. If commissioners go that route, they will have really stepped in it, as they say on the farm. Kansas legislators — many who already don’t like Douglas County — will attach a target to that action.
Worse, though, it will create an unnecessary divide between the urban and rural populations of the county. The country already suffers from such a divide. Douglas County doesn’t need to emulate those problems.