Mow&Sow - working towards a sustainable future


Thanks to Dave Brast for keeping records and writing this section

Mow&Sow started out as MOW!, as in Mow Our Weeds!


1975-1980:                  Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) routinely sprays chemical pesticides along Highway 1 under permit from the Regional Coastal Commission.

1978:                           The Marin County Board of Supervisors votes to stop using chemical pesticides for roadside vegetation control and to rely solely on mechanical means.

1980:                           The Regional Coastal Commission denies Caltrans' reapplication for a pesticide spraying permit. Caltrans seeks and wins an override from the State Coastal Commission and resumes spraying.

Donna and Goliath

August 1983:              Donna Sheehan blocks a Caltrans truck spraying Roundup near her home in Marshall. As a result of the spraying, a neighbor of Sheehan's becomes violently ill. Caltrans claims excessive sick leave due to poison oak as the reason for spraying.

1984:                           Sheehan hears of Caltrans' plan for imminent spraying on Highway 1 and organizes a phone tree to alert residents along the highway, chemically sensitive people in the area and local newspapers. Sheehan and other concerned local residents photograph the spray operations and attempt to stop the trucks.

1985:                           Sheehan organizes a petition drive in the Tomales Bay community. The result is a 200-signature petition demanding that Caltrans put an end to spraying. Caltrans now claims pampas grass as well as poison oak as reasons for its spraying. Sheehan and other concerned local residents make calls to Caltrans and government officials and meet with County Supervisor Gary Giacomini and with County Agricultural Commissioners. In response to the residents' concerns, Giacomini asks the county road maintenance crew to educate Caltrans on how to do without spraying. Caltrans agrees to reduce spraying by 80%, notify the public before spraying, provide residents with a map of spraying routes and explain Caltrans spraying procedures. Caltrans breaks its promise and sprays without notification. The spraying contaminates blackberry vines that residents and tourists are used to harvesting.

October 1986:             Sheehan organizes a meeting in nearby Olema between concerned citizens and Caltrans officials. The officials, seemingly ill-prepared and defensive, now claim maintenance of adequate sight distance and fire prevention as additional reasons for spraying. They agree to stop spraying in towns and at school bus stops but say that in order to avoid disruption of their operations by protesters they will no longer notify the public in advance. Sheehan asks Caltrans to do an EIR and requests an answer in writing. Caltrans officials refuse to answer in writing and say that an EIR is not required.

                                    Sheehan convenes the first meeting of the grass-roots anti-toxics organization MOW!, as in Mow Our Weeds!

                                    The new organization wins endorsement by the Marin Sierra Club, the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin and the Tomales Bay Association. MOW! organizes a peaceful demonstration of several dozen people at the firehouse in Point Reyes Station. The same day, school children unwittingly wait for school buses at locations sprayed just a few hours earlier by Caltrans. Point Reyes National Seashore Superintendent John Sansing writes a letter to Caltrans expressing concern over spraying near Olema Creek, Tomales Bay and the Bolinas Lagoon.

January 1987:              The Marin Sierra Club sends a letter to Caltrans objecting to spraying. Marin County Parks, Open Space and Cultural Commission asks Caltrans not to use pesticides around the Bolinas Lagoon.

February 1987:            MOW! obtains Marin County Fire Department's 5-year record on fires. The record calls into question Caltrans' use of fire prevention as a rationale for spraying. MOW! obtains a letter from the Marin County Department of Public Works summarizing the costs of its mowing program. The county's figures cast doubt on Caltrans' claim that mowing is far more expensive than spraying.

Spring 1987:               MOW! gathers over 1500 signatures on a petition asking Caltrans for a halt to pesticide spraying.

May 1987:                   MOW! sponsors an educational event featuring toxics expert Dr. Marion Moses. At the event, Caltrans official Jerry Oliver states that Caltrans will go ahead with plans to spray, regardless of any decision to block spray trucks.

Percival Pott Award

                                     The Toxics Coordinating Project awards MOW! the Sir Percivall Pott Award for Significant Achievement by an Activist Organization and “in recognition of significant contributions to controlling toxics in California”.

June 1987:                   Local residents block Caltrans spray trucks as San Francisco Bay Area media cover the event. Prompted by the action, Caltrans official Don Kiser agrees to a public meeting between Caltrans and MOW! and says Caltrans will desist from spraying until the meeting is held. (A crucial point in MOW!'s history because, thanks to MOW!'s continued efforts, Caltrans has not resumed spraying since.) As a result of investigative reporting by Sheehan, the June 15 Sacramento Union carries the following front-page headline story: "Cancer death rate higher at Caltrans." Caltrans workers have cancer rates 50 to 100 percent higher than the national average. The pressure is on Caltrans to do a new EIR.

July 1987:                   A delegation of MOW! members goes to the State Capitol to meet with State Senator Milton Marks, State Assembly Member Bill Filante and with Caltrans officials. The two legislators agree to help MOW! in getting Caltrans to quit spraying. The delegation and aides of Marks and Filante meet with Caltrans Chief of Highway Maintenance Jack Cropper and other Caltrans officials. Caltrans agrees to a moratorium on spraying until late September while alternatives are being considered.

Fall 1987:                    As the moratorium nears an end, Sheehan approaches Bolinas lawyer Jack Siedman with a request for pro bono legal help in dealing with Caltrans. Siedman agrees to provide it saying, "This is a righteous cause!"

Oct.-Nov. 1987:          MOW! member Stewart Bryant writes Cropper requesting information on Caltrans' compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Cropper responds by claiming that a 1976 legal opinion by the then California Attorney General is the current basis for Caltrans' not "obtaining environmental clearance for the routine use of pesticides" on a yearly basis. MOW! member Dave Brast, by chance reading the opinion the day before MOW!'s first meeting with Siedman, concludes the opposite. Siedman agrees and MOW!'s law suit against Caltrans is born.

December 1987:          Siedman files suit against Caltrans on behalf of MOW!. The suit argues that each year of spraying constitutes "a separate project" under CEQA and therefore each year requires a new EIR. The court issues a temporary restraining order halting spraying.

March 1988:                The court grants a preliminary injunction. Paraphrasing the judge's reason for granting the injunction, Siedman writes, "The purpose of regulation would not be served if a single year's approval of chemical use could dictate the actions of the following ten years." The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, taking note of MOW!'s court victory, puts pressure on Caltrans to do a statewide EIR on its spraying practices. Caltrans later announces it will do one but says nothing about being pressured or forced and instead speaks of the timeliness of a new EIR. The Environmental Action Committee of West Marin presents Sheehan with the Stewards of the Land Award in recognition of her work on the toxics issue.

1989:                           Siedman files for a permanent injunction against Caltrans. MOW! member Bert Crews initiates the Golden Highways Project, a project to seed Highway 1 in West Marin with California golden poppies.

EAC Steward of the Land Award

1989:                           Donna Sheehan receives Stewards of the Land Award from Environmental Action Committee.

                                    Award from the Marin Center for Peace and Justice.

1990:                           Caltrans' Draft EIR, initially due November 1990, is repeatedly delayed because environmental studies and risk assessment have taken longer than Caltrans had projected.

July 1991:                   The Draft EIR is issued and draws extensive written criticism from the environmental community.

August 1991:              Delegations from MOW!, NRDC, Greenpeace Action, Pesticide Action Group of Marin, Pesticide Watch, EAC of West Marin, Citizens for a Better Environment, Pesticide Action Network, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics and the Sierra Club hold a press conference in front of Caltrans' San Francisco headquarters to blast the business-as-usual approach of the Draft EIR and to urge Caltrans to turn away from being the state's leader in use of toxic pesticide to being a model for the country in eliminating use.

Aug. 5 1991:               Donna Sheehan receives The Giraffe Project Commendation in honor fof “sticking her neck out for the Common Good”.

Giraffe Award

September 1991:         Caltrans holds public hearings on the Draft EIR pursuant to CEQA. Representatives of environmental groups (including MOW!) deliver strong anti-pesticide testimony.

October 1991:             In an interview on TV Cable News Network (CNN), Donna Sheehan of MOW! pressures Caltrans to stop spraying herbicides.

December 1991:          Members of MOW!, Pesticide Watch, CRLAF and COPE meet with Doug Boyd of Caltrans' state level maintenance and with Caltrans District 4 officials at district headquarters to present their concerns. Boyd announces that Caltrans recognizes it must cut back on pesticide use and says he will recommend Integrated Vegetation Management as the program of choice. Days later, a memo from John Allison, Caltrans Chief of Maintenance, to his department indicates that Caltrans has accepted Boyd's recommendation.

Feb 1992:                    MOW! announces US Supreme Court does permit states and municipalities to impose stricter regulations (licensing of applicators,notification, posting of sprayed area) on commercial pesticide use than those required by the EPA. (The case is called “Wisconsin Public Intervenor,et al. v. Mortier, et al., Supreme Court No. 89-1905, June 21, 1991.”)

Feb. 1992:                   Jean Berensmeier, Marin Conservation League president, writes letter agreeing with MOW!’s concern over the Marconi Conference Center’s Vegetation Management practices.

April 1992:                  MOW! acts as consultant to Vietnam Veterans of America, California State Council, A Special Committee on Agent Orange.

May 1992:                   The FINAL Environmental Impact Report on Caltrans’ Vegetation Control Program was distributed statewide mandating that Caltrans reduce the use of nonselective chemicals by 50% by the year 2000 and an 80% reduction by the year 2012.

June 1992:                   MOW! challenges James M. Strock, Secretary for Environmental Protection, California EPA, regarding children and the public being exposed to dangerous pesticides.

July 1992:                   MOW! and the East Shore Planning Group request that the community be involved with the implementation of the Marconi Conference Center Vegetation Management Plan.

March 1993:                MOW! supports Dr. Marion Moses’ efforts in producing the video,”Harvest of Sorrow” to educate farm workers about pesticides.

April 15, 1993:            MOW! /Pesticide Watch pressure Caltrans(District 4) to identify Sensitive Zones, update and discussion of research developments and plans for non-chemical vegetation control and discussion of pre-notification and post-notification of pesticide spraying, for the following reasons:

                                    State budget cutbacks

                                    State EIR

                                    Legal paper trail

                                    Individual law suits

                                    Maizlish cancer study

                                    One out of three women now have breast cancer

                                    One out of two will have breast cancer

                                    MOW & MULCH!

May 1993:                   MOW! hosts breast cancer statewide activists to help launch statewide pesticide campaign.

Oct.1993:                    MOW! addresses Caltrans Division of Maintenance employees regarding their pesticide reduction since the EIR.

Nov. 1993:                  MOW! presents pesticide reform to Marin Environmental Alliance.

Jan 1994:                     MOW! begins infrastructure for native, perennial bunch grass restoration for Highway 1.

Feb. 1994:                   David Brower, Earth Island Institute, endorses MOW!’s efforts to create a statewide native grass restoration program along California’s highways.

Sept. 1994:                  MOW & SOW organizes community to stop spray trucks at Marconi Conference Center, California State Parks and Recreation.

March 1995:                MOW & SOW wins complaint filed with Marin County for Marconi Conference Center’s endangerment of an employee using Garlon 2.

May 13 1995:              MOW & SOW endorsed and promoted the Russian River Watershed Protection Committee educational conference re: Estrogen Impostors and Their Potential Threat to Humans and Wildlife. Santa Rosa, CA.

1995:                           Citizen’s Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, based in Falls Church, Virginia, awarded $2,500 to MOW & SOW to deliver the six week Hug-a-Bug summer 1995 teaching program.  Donna Sheehan introduced and taught the   program to the 4-5 grades of the Tomales Elementary School and San Domenico school.

1995:                           MOW & SOW endorsed and participated in the CALPIRG effort to support the Clean Water Act, The Endangered Species Act and The Delaney Clause.

July 1995:                   MOW & SOW was interviewed and published in The Yoga Journal, July/August1995 issue.

Oct. 17 1995:              MOW & SOW created and organized the first bioregional BUNCHGRASS WORKSHOP which was held at the Marconi Conference Center.  Dan Strait, President of Native Grass Association; Jules Evens, Naturalist; Pamela C. Muick, Ph.D. Restoration Ecologist; all presented to an audience of approximately thirty participants who represented country, state and federal agencies.   The result is a volunteer library resource data bank, private restoration volunteers, public restoration and a 1996 Bunchgrass workshop.

1995:                           MOW & SOW contracted with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to experiment with planting of perennial native grass demonstration plot on the north side of the town of Tomales, with an ongoing monitoring program.

Jan. 1996:                    Penny Livingston of MOW & SOW presented a workshop on ROADSIDE VEGETATION DESIGN & MANAGEMENT at the 16th Annual Ecological Farming Conference Program, Asilomar.

1996:                           On-going community education with emphasis on seeking viable alternatives to the use of herbicides on the Marconi Conference Center.

June 1996:                   MOW & SOW participates in media campaign with Beyond Pesticides and the National Coalition Against Misuse of Pesticides, entitled “Voices for Pesticide Reform: the case for safe practices and sound policy” .

July 1996:                   MOW & SOW endorses and works with Sierra Club’s efforts to add a no-spray policy to the Bolinas Lagoon Management Plan Update.

July 1996:                   MOW & SOW receives 501(c)(3) Non-profit status, no longer using Environmental Action Committee as its fiscal agent.

Aug. 1996:                  MOW & SOW launches national campaign to boycott Marconi Conference Center for their spraying practices. Companies that had previously used the facilities (Greenpeace, Odwalla, Communities For A Better Environment) sent letters of boycott.

Aug. 1996:                  MOW & SOW, in collaboration with Marin County Farmers’ Market Association, applies for grant from USDA Community Food Projects Program.

Sept 1996:                   MOW & SOW requests funding from Marin Community Foundation for West Marin Economic Survey.

Oct. 1996:                   MOW & SOW wins! Marconi Conference Center Board of Directors passes a resolution not to spray beginning Jan. 1 1997. The community questions the wisdom of spraying during winter rains.