Run This Letter as Written or Not at All

RECEIVED Tue., Sept. 27, 2011

Dear Mr. Black,
    I have read closely the Jordan Smith article in the Sept. 2, 2011, Austin Chronicle, "Poison in the Park," and I wish to tell you that you and your publication must immediately cease printing the defamatory and libelous statements about me and my actions that this article contains.
    The following statements are errors of fact that could have been easily prevented if your reporter had bothered to take the time to interview me or interview the appropriate Parks & Recreation Department personnel:
    Column 1, line 13: "… the park is a mess." This statement is false and cannot be supported by the facts and can easily be disproved by on-site inspection of the park.
    Column 1, line 14: "Trees are dying." While numerous chinaberry trees have died and numerous woody annular small trees/large shrubs like waxleaf ligustrum are dead or dying, there are no trees of size or import that are dying or affected from my actions in Stacy Park. All of the plants that I sprayed in the park (with the exception of two catalpas growing in a power line easement) are trees and shrubs that PARD, Watershed Protection, and Austin ISD agreed to have killed. I refuse to take seriously any complaints about my killing these two catalpas in a powerline easement, as my doing so now makes Austin Energy's necessary line-maintenance work easier.
    Column 1, lines 15-17: "… residents are concerned about the possible effects of the chemicals on the area wildlife, as well as on children and pets." By implication this statement implies that the chemicals I used, Remedy and Garlon 3A, as well as methylated seed oil, are dangerous to human or animal health. This statement is false, and these chemicals would not be on the market, as over-the-counter products, if they had such dangers. Additionally, triclopyr, the active ingredient, has been OTC since its introduction in 1978. Furthermore, if there was any significant health danger from triclopyr, it would have been listed under California Proposition 65 as a hazardous chemical, and despite the best efforts of various parties to do so in as environmentally conscious a state as California, these parties have been unable to do so.
    There is also the issue of statements like this having the potential to promote individuals to take unlawful actions against me and my property. In a city like Austin, this is a real possibility that cannot be disregarded. While this statement is itself not an incitement to violence, a factual misstatement of this magnitude does put me at some risk, particularly when it is combined with the other numerous misstatements of facts in this article.
    Column 1, line 24: I am quoted as saying that poison ivy is invasive. This is not something I have ever said. Poison ivy is and has always been a native plant to North America. Using the term "invasive" implies that it is a non-native invasive plant like chinaberry or waxleaf ligustrum. Your reporter's putting her or some other party's words in my mouth in this manner implies that I lack basic botanical knowledge.
    Column 2, lines 7-8: This statement is taken out of context from the IPM plan. The EPA has always certified Garlon 3A, the salt formulation of triclopyr, for direct application to bodies of water to control aquatic weeds, anywhere in the country, any time. Therefore, there is no need for any sort of buffer zone when using it near any body of water. All of my foliar spraying in Stacy Park was done with Garlon 3A. As far as the basal spraying of targeted species with the methylated seed oil/Remedy mix, all of the spraying was done with a solid stream from a handheld spray unit from a range of one foot or less. The amount of skill necessary to hit the target at this range is most modest, hence PARD and Watershed Protection's agreement to this use here and elsewhere in Austin.
    Column 2, lines 15-16: "… after swaths of vegetation in the park began to die." The only "swaths of vegetation" that died was vegetation that needed to be removed for health and safety reasons. There were in fact swaths of poison ivy along Alta Vista Drive and Sunset Drive that grew out into the street and sidewalk, posing a clear and inexcusable safety hazard to any passerby. The undercanopy trash trees growing in the triangular area immediately north of Travis Heights Elementary could perhaps be called a "swath." By agreement with Austin ISD and the Travis Heights Elementary PTA, the undercanopy brush/non-native invasives/competing undesirable species of inferior trees that were growing in this location were killed for safety reasons to remove the wino nesting areas therein. The ligustrums and other non-native invasives selectively and individually killed cannot reasonably be called "swaths."
    Column 2, lines 17-20: The quotations from unnamed neighbors about how other plants have been damaged from my actions, including box elders, cedar elms, and mustang grapes is false and defamatory. Mustang grapes are a targeted species per orders from Troy Houtman, PARD operations manager, and this matter would have been easily verified had your reporter asked him. Anyone with a modicum of landscaping or plant biology knowledge is aware of how mustang grape vines choke and kill the trees they grow in, and the choice has always been trees or grapevines. Both your reporter and the South River City Citizens Neighborhood Association complainants lack this elementary knowledge.
    Column 2, line 45: The statement that I performed my work without oversight overlooks the useful direct oversight John Estrada of PARD provided on several occasions. This statement is therefore false.
    Column 3, lines 4-8: Again, the falsehood is reported about lack of oversight. An additional falsehood is made from your unnamed neighborhood sources and printed about my failure to provide adequate signage.
    Column 3, lines 12-17: The statement that I was spraying mustang grapes and thereby putting people and animals at risk from eating "poisoned" grapes is false. Furthermore, it is even more easily refuted by noting the ripening dates of mustang grapes this year and comparing those dates with my spraying dates.
    The photo caption as well as the photo itself are misleading to the point of being false. The caption reads "Plants and trees in Stacy Park began to die after a Parks and Recreation Department volunteer sprayed herbicide to eradicate invasive species." This caption makes the clear false and defamatory inference that I injured trees and plants from overspray. This statement is substantially false. There is exactly one instance of significant overspray damage in the park, to a live oak bent into a semicircle whose canopy is on the ground, and I have done my best to alleviate the overspray damage by watering and fertilizing the tree. The same people who are complaining to you in this article have objected to my use of fertilizer on the tree and have objected to my watering the tree and have, in consort with PARD, kept me from any additional watering, which, in my professional opinion, is necessary and is not being done by PARD or any other city of Austin agency nor by any of the complainants in the article. I cannot account for the unwillingness and failure of these parties to do this necessary work. If this tree dies or suffers significant injury, I cannot be held responsible because I have been prevented from performing my professional tasks and duties here for no good reason.
    Mr. Black, I have been doing poison ivy control for various nonprofits here in Austin since 2004. I have a great deal of experience in performing the necessary tasks in herbicide application in urban/suburban areas. I have, through my experiences in dealing with a wide range of city of Austin agencies and AISD, discovered that my level of professional knowledge about herbicides and invasives control and poison ivy control exceeds any city or AISD employee's that I have come across. There is just a terrible lack of professional knowledge and skill on this essential subject here in the city and AISD bureaucracy. Poison ivy can be successfully controlled and largely eliminated with efforts like mine using the same safe chemicals I used. Non-native plants require the use of these same chemicals in the manner I applied them if they are to be controlled. The various city and private parties' past efforts at non-native invasives control have almost entirely failed when herbicides were not used, and questions must be asked about the seriousness and sincerity of these agencies' past efforts at this task. And there is the question of how trash tree invasion, damage, and destruction of expensive public works is supposed to be stopped without using herbicides. This problem is endemic throughout Austin and requires our attention, now.
    While I may have done this work as a volunteer, I resent the article's overall implication that I am any sort of amateur, or that my work efforts are anything less than professional. The city of Austin and its residents are fortunate that someone as skilled and able as I did this job. There simply isn't a single city employee currently in the picture who could have done as good a job.
    Mr. Black, the article's factually incorrect statements, by themselves and in sum, portray me as an unskilled chemical applicator who commits damages to valuable property from a lack of skill and a lack of professional concern. This is defamatory to myself personally and to my ability to conduct business in this city and, since your magazine is widespread on the Internet throughout the entire U.S., any other part of the country. You must cease and desist printing them, or any other such defamatory falsehoods from whatever sources your reporters use, in the future. This is in particular to any statements that numerous SRCC persons and other persons have said about my having a lack of professionalism that have circulated on their internal emails. I will in particular regard such defamatory falsehoods as requiring the appropriate legal action should I see them printed in your magazine.
    And a note on the professionalism of your reporters is due. I made a genuine, bona fide effort to give timely notice to Michael King about this story. I stated to him that the story required three hours in the field to get adequately explained. This is my expert opinion based on the fact that all my Duncan Park field trips ran at least 90 minutes, and to explain the story requires field trips to Duncan Park, to Stacy Park, to Red Bud Isle, to ACC Riverside, and to the Hike and Bike Trial along Lady Bird Lake. The more I think about it, it is four to five hours out in the field, particularly since the waters have been substantially muddied by the factually incorrect statements circulated by your reporter's sources. Mr. King's response is that he never leaves his computer these days and therefore can't help me, sorry. In my conversation with Jordan Smith, I reiterated the need for three hours of her time out in the field to explain the story. Ms. Smith's response to me was that she didn't spend three hours on any City Hall story, so she couldn't be expected to spend that much time on this story. Mr. Black, Ms. Smith did a terrible job on this story and the fault clearly lies with her and your magazine's inability to devote sufficient research time to a story that involves major issues of several branches of science, Austin history, and public policy. I must ask you why you bother to print stories if you don't, won't, and can't be bothered to do the necessary research they require.
    And a final note, Mr. Black: I would find it completely unacceptable if your magazine, after doing such a bad job on reporting this story, were to run this letter in any edited manner that reflected poorly on me. I suggest that you either run this letter word for word as written or not run it at all.
Daniel N. White
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle