The Sky Valley’s best chance to impact local aerial spraying practices is to direct resources intentionally, according to Washington Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund organizer Kai Huschke.

Do people want to tolerate the pesticide treatments, request advanced notice, or work to make sure applications are banned in the area, he said. The advice was handed over during the first in a three-night series of public meetings hosted by the recently formed Snohomish County Community Rights nonprofit last week in Monroe, Marysville and Lynnwood.

Nearly two dozen residents from Gold Bar to Skagit County turned out last Tuesday to discuss concerns over the pesticide treatment of tree farms around communities along the U.S. Highway 2 corridor. Many said they were disheartened to hear how likely it is they have been unknowingly exposed to harmful chemicals.

One person was concerned the berries they’ve foraged for years aren’t safe. Another was certain spray had drifted into the watershed.

“I think most people would be concerned if they knew,” said Diane Hardee.

The Sky Valley resident is also a member of the Sky Valley Environmental and Economic Alliance. The group petitioned the Washington Department of Natural Resources and a handful of timber companies to end the practice locally last year.

More than 2,600 people have signed the petition so far, including the Pilchuck Audubon Society — on behalf of its 1,400 members — and the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides for its 14,000 members. The petition still hasn’t closed, and will be used as testimonial in the future.

Who sprays tree farms in the Sky Valley varies from year to year. DNR approved applications for Weyerhaeuser and California-based Sierra Pacific Industries last fall. Around 950 acres were scheduled for treatment, according to the applications.

Weyerhaeuser was the only company to respond to the petition, sending a letter to SVENA.

“Herbicides are an important tool in our ability to practice sustainable forestry and we will continue to use them, as appropriate, in a safe and efficient manner,” North Washington Region manager Travis Ridgway wrote.

Treating tree farms reduces competition for company-planted seedlings and helps reestablish healthy forests. The chemicals applied are a diluted version of those commonly used in households, and are approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Agriculture.

Weyerhaeuser states it avoids applications in or near streams and rivers, and staff monitors weather that may create risk of herbicides drifting, and ceases activities during poor conditions. The company’s DNR applications to spray in the Gold Bar and Granite Falls area this autumn included plans to treat land within 100 feet of surface water.

In the petition, SVENA requested alternatives to dropping pesticides. The group suggests timber corporations spot spray smaller amounts of land and plan clear cutting and replanting, so the need to control competing vegetation is minimized, or allow a diversity of vegetation to grow instead of using chemicals.

Hardee said the applications are usually scheduled in spring and fall. She's worked with public employees to find out when spraying will occur in advance, but currently monitors on her own what permits have been approved.

The Washington Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is joining with SCCR as a legal partner, said Sky Valley resident Inessa Pearce, who is also involved in SVENA. Huschke said he sees the community needing to gain its voice back in the process of deciding what is best for the area. Political work, such as lobbying, can be done, or taking legal action may be impactful.

Do concerned residents want to get local government involved, he asked. Options are limited, and change is slow, so commitment to a goal is most effective.

“Our big point is to empower the community, the people of the community in decision making,” Pearce said. “That is where democracy comes from — communities.”