Support rolls in for groundskeepers after dandelion controversy

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Photo: Aivaras Ciurlionis/FlickrPhoto: Aivaras Ciurlionis/Flickr

As we told you last week, during a Senate budget session in Washington state the subject of dandelion appearances around the Capitol’s campus arose, and many were quick to weigh in on the subject.

“I’ve never seen weeds in the Capitol lawns worse, a lack of mowing, I’ve never seen the bulbs planted less properly, mold growing off of our buildings,” Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler told NW News Network. “I’ve never seen this campus look so bad in 25 years.”

Currently, the state’s Department of Enterprise Services handles the landscaping around the legislative building, but many Republican senators are now backing a bill that will transfer that power to a committee that will be made up of senators and representatives.

Over the years, the grounds department has faced budget cuts of 26 percent. The Department of Enterprise Services responded that since its budget was cut a few years back, the agency currently only has 15 people to do grounds work on the 486-acre campus. In 2016, efforts were also made to enact an ecolawn pilot project, which was first tested this time last year. According to the agency, ecolawns require less mowing, fertilizer and pesticides and irrigation than traditional lawns.

After seeing and hearing about the backlash coming from the actions of the groundskeepers, organizations like the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) decided to show their support. NCAP is a nonprofit regional organization that works to reduce the use of chemical pesticides by inspiring ecologically sound solutions. NCAP has worked since 1977 to advance federal pesticide reduction policy and end reliance on pesticides in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, northern California and western Montana.

“I had worked with the grounds crew in 2014, along with several other experts in sustainable and organic landscaping, to implement new landscaping techniques at the Capitol Campus in Olympia,” said Megan Dunn, NCAP health people and communities program director. “I knew the grounds team had been working hard on these new efforts and was surprised to hear the negative feedback from some members of the Senate budget committee.”

Dunn soon after reached out to members of the grounds team to let them know that NCAP had nothing but words of encouragement and support for their groundskeeping choices. NCAP wrote an online thank you letter to members of the grounds team that allows anyone interested in showing support to add their signature to the note. Dunn says they are currently up to 250 signatures. She also notes that two state senators, Senator John McCoy and Senator Maralyn Chase, have signed the card.

“Washingtonians appreciate their forward thinking-implementing new landscaping and turf care that reflects our values to end a reliance on harmful chemical pesticides,” Dunn said.

For the past two years, NCAP has also worked with school systems to encourage the reduction of pesticides in the schools by promoting Integrated Pest Management plans. Dunn says these plans support policies that mitigate environmental hazards in schools.

“The Olympia Capitol grounds have served as a model for healthy landscaping; we appreciate the example this campus is setting for cities, schools and parks across the state,” Dunn said. “Washington State PTA members have also been focused on efforts to fully fund public schools. As a PTA member myself, I had been following efforts in Olympia closely.”

While those in the Senate may be concerned with the aesthetics and health of the lawn, there are many benefits to having dandelions present in the landscape. They serve as a staple to pollinators such as bees, as well as help aerate compacted soil with their root systems to prevent soil erosion. Dandelions can also pull calcium from the soil and make it readily available for other plants.

“The dandelions have a job to do and over time can improve the soil – unless you solve underlying problem – these weeds will keep coming back,” Dunn said. “Aerating lawns, over seeding and maintaining healthy soil will prevent weeds and end the reliance on chemical pesticides.”

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