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Weed control in Missoula County should take advantage of all available tools, including herbicides as a last resort, says a report put together by a subcommittee of the Missoula City-County Board of Health.

Prevention has the top priority, the herbicide subcommittee said, along with education, prevention of new invasions and other techniques such as grazing, hand pulling, mowing, tilling and re-vegetation. The best approach is an integrated approach, the board said.

The report gives general guidelines for herbicide use and detailed suggestions for the judicious use of the herbicide picloram, used on Missoula Open Space lands in the form of the brand Tordon 22K.

"Basically, what it does is recognize that there are risks, and that there's disagreement over those risks," said Peter Nielsen, an environmental health supervisor at the Missoula City-County Health Department and the staff representative to the committee. "That should come as no shock."

The public is invited to comment on the report on Thursday at the health board meeting, which begins at 12:15 p.m. in Room 201 of the Missoula County Courthouse.

The subcommittee of the board has been meeting since September 1999. The Missoula City Council asked the board to undertake a thorough review of the health effects of herbicides because of public controversy about their use on Mount Jumbo as part of the mountain's Vegetation Management Plan. The City Council and its Conservation Committee adopted a revised plan in June of 1999. The health board heard from the public later in the month and formed a subcommittee in response to the public's request for a review.

The committee studied a sampling of scientific literature on herbicides, and its members also heard from opponents to herbicide use, Nielsen said. While the report recognizes the need for herbicides in some cases, it recommends minimal use to keep risks as low as possible.

Some people will be unhappy with the report because it is not anti-herbicide and some because it is not aggressive enough, he said.

"I think it's a natural tendency for people to want things to be black and white," Nielsen said. "And they're not. … There's still disagreement. And there always will be."

Public meeting

The Missoula City-County Board of Health will hear public comment on its subcommittee's herbicide report at its regular meeting Thursday at 12:15 p.m. in Room 201 of the Missoula County Courthouse.

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