Moscow's Lillian Woodworth Otness Park on North Asbury Street is pesticide-free - for now. The Moscow Sustainable Environment Commission has discussed its desire to reduce and eventually eliminate pesticide use in Moscow's parks for at least the past year, and this is its first major step toward that goal.

Moscow Parks and Recreation Director Dwight Curtis said he is using the park as somewhat of a test subject as park crews are not spraying usual pesticides to manage weeds and pests within 25 feet of the park's playground.

"Otness is kind of that perfect park to start this on," Curtis said. "It's small, so it's manageable."

He said the park includes several characteristics found in other Moscow parks, such as a creek, hillside, playground, benches, sidewalks and trees, making it the perfect park to test out and apply what is learned to other city-owned properties.

SEC Vice Chair Scott Fedale said the commission's first goal is to work with the city to stop using the most harmful chemicals on city properties. The end goal is to move to a pesticide-free way of managing city parks, Fedale said. He said applying a concept called organic land management is one of the strategies proven to be successful in other Northwest parks.

"We're not trying to re-invent the wheel here," Fedale said. "This is something that's been done successfully in a number of places around the Pacific Northwest."

Curtis said while some cities claim to be pesticide-free, they typically still use some chemicals at a reduced level.

Curtis said he is not sure how long Otness Park will remain pesticide-free. He said pesticide discussions with city staff and commissions and experts will be had this fall and winter. When a plan is developed, Curtis said the city will document the successes and failures at Otness Park, make adjustments and then develop a long-range implementation plan for city-owned properties.

Fedale said harmful pesticides can spread quickly and to many people and places. He used the example of a dog rolling around at a dog park, coming home to lay on a couch and then his owners petting him.

Hundreds of lawsuits have alleged Roundup, a popular weed killer Curtis said is used by his department and almost any other parks department, causes cancer.

Fedale said studies have shown a higher likelihood of birth defects in children whose parent regularly works with pesticides, such as a parks or landscape employee.

Curtis said he is unaware of any Moscow employees or park users exhibiting negative health effects from pesticide exposure.

Fedale said the Moscow Tree Commission told the SEC that pollinators, such as bees, can also be harmed by pesticides. Fedale said the pesticides can enter the root system, spread throughout the tree and then be ingested by bees.

Since Moscow parks vary in characteristics and use, Fedale said there will not be a one-size fits all approach to pesticide use in city parks.

Curtis said one of the difficult parts of the process is city code requires certain plants to be eliminated, which would be hard do without regularly used pesticides by the city.

"We realize this is going to be quite a challenge for the Parks Department," Fedale said.

He said the pesticide plan will be a long-term process.

"We know that," Fedale said. "It's not an instant fix."

Curtis said he ultimately wants to do what is right.

"It's complicated, so it should be really interesting, and I hope that we're really successful," Curtis said. "I don't have a lot of hope that we're going to eliminate pesticides altogether, but that's certainly where we want to be, and we'll try to get there as best we can and compromise where we have to."

Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to

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