Denia Park mowing

A city worker mows the fields Tuesday at Denia Park. Denton is piloting a new organic pest management program at Denia Park that ends the use of glyphosate, which has been linked to cancer. If the project is successful, it will likely be replicated throughout the city.

Denton will end its use of glyphosate herbicide and is piloting an integrated pest management program that includes some organic methods for city parks, ballfields and playgrounds.

The change follows a yearlong review and rewrite of the city’s 18-year-old integrated pest management program that allowed the herbicide, popularly known as Roundup, in limited applications. A committee made up of experts from the universities, parks maintenance employees and community members Ed and Carol Soph conducted the review. The program resembles a similar program recently adopted in Austin.

The Denton City Council was briefed on the committee’s recommendations during its work session Tuesday. Council members agreed to the changes and to piloting an organic grounds maintenance program at Denia Park.

Assistant Parks Director Laura Behrens said Denia would be the best location for the pilot because the park has open space, a playground, ballfields, a recreation center and landscaping.

“We chose a single site for better control of the site and to set us up for success,” Behrens said. “It gives us the ability to monitor and document results.”

Behrens told city leaders that the first year of the program will boost the health of the soil, which is in poor condition at Denia. She also said the parks department plans to resume “top dressing,” the practice of adding compost to the grounds and landscape beds to improve soil health.

The city has contracted with Howard Garrett for the program at Denia. Garrett has both a degree and employment history in parks administration and landscape architecture, but he is best known for his Dirt Doctor radio talk show, which has educated generations of Texas gardeners in organic practices.

Behrens told council members the parks department plans to pilot the program at Denia for a full year.

“We want to get one full growing season in,” Behrens said.

That should give maintenance employees and supervisors enough experience with the new program before taking it citywide.

The program will ultimately mean more fertilizing, and more mowing, in city parks. Healthier grass will choke out weeds, but also grow more. Athletic fields are already mowed daily. But additional mowing will be required wherever else the city is watering the grass, Behrens said.

Council member Keely Briggs said she heard the proposal the day before when it was presented to the council committee on the environment.

“We have 2,000 acres where it’s getting sprayed,” Briggs said, adding that she’s concerned about the health risks associated with glyphosate. The World Health Organization has classified glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, as a likely carcinogen. A California groundskeeper successfully sued Monsanto, the maker of Roundup, claiming the weedkiller led to his non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Council members agreed weeds aren’t really a problem, although they know some people would complain if stickers, burrs and fire ants emerge in places where soft grass had always been.

Behrens said the new program is both user-friendly and transparent. Residents can use the city’s integrated pest management program at home, too.

“It also provides you with information you could use in your own home use,” Behrens said.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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