UC President Drake and UC Regents and Chancellors: Make the UCs Organic by 2025!

In 2019, the UC system took strides towards protecting students, faculty, staff, wildlife, and the environment when Janet Napolitano banned glyphosate and established the UC Herbicide Task Force, charged with improving the policies around integrated pest management (IPM). The UC-wide IPM policy currently being drafted is a great first step, however, with the intensifying threat of the climate crisis, the ongoing California drought, declining biodiversity, endangered CA bee populations, and the wellbeing of campus communities at risk, integrated pest management is not enough. The University of California can, and must build upon the current IPM policy, which does not fully protect against the potential chronic harms of pesticide use or include practices to cultivate healthy soil, and take a truly comprehensive, organic approach to campus management. As organic land management is proven to improve soil health, save water, promote pollinator habitats, and protect people from toxins, the University of California has an opportunity to transform the campuses into climate-change-resilient, drought-tolerant, havens of biodiversity. It is imperative that the UC campuses commit to transitioning to Organic by 2025.

The UC’s, and the state of California as a whole, will reap numerous benefits from this transition. As 2022 is the driest year to date over the past 128 years, it is crucial that President Drake and the UC Regents take every step to reduce the impacts of drought and conserve water. Organically managed soils are richer in organic matter and have the ability to store more water, therefore requiring less water. Building healthy soil also makes the soil more resilient to changes in water influx, which is crucial in a drought. Campuses that have transitioned to organic landcare, like Harvard, UW Bothell/Cascadia College and Willamette have seen water savings between 25% and 30%, reported grounds managers at the respective campuses. Additionally, CA drinking water is already contaminated with pesticides, and nitrate and nitrite (ingredients in fertilizers) are above the legal limit. Eliminating synthetic pesticide and fertilizer use on UC campuses will help to protect water sources around campus communities and beyond.

As the UC’s continue to implement carbon reduction practices in their effort to mitigate climate change and achieve the UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative goal by 2025, it is imperative that the UC’s maximize the carbon sequestration capacity of their land. Research shows that properly managed university lawns can have a net soil organic carbon sequestration rate of 51.7 to 204.3 g C/m2/year. Carbon sequestration rate can be increased with biomass gains from proper organic management, and is inhibited by inputs such as pesticide use, fertilizer use, and improper mowing, which are all landscape practices addressed in organic land management.

Organic landcare will also help the UC’s combat the continued loss of biodiversity in California, as well as the decline in critical pollinators like bees. By eliminating synthetic pesticides that are toxic to bees and other wildlife, the UC campuses will help to protect the diversity of flora and fauna on campuses. Additionally, through the inclusion of organically managed native plants and pollinator friendly habitats, the UC’s will be able to create an environment that fosters biodiversity. As a land grant system, the University of California has the responsibility to put research into practice in order to tackle the most pressing issues of our time- climate change, and the resulting water shortage and biodiversity loss. In transitioning to organic landcare, the UC’s will protect students, staff, and campus communities from the detrimental effects of synthetic pesticides. With potential chronic impacts including: cancer, reproductive harm, inducing neurotoxicity, birth defects, and the disruption of the endocrine system, the UC’s must take action now to protect the 500,000 students, faculty, and staff that are currently being exposed to toxic and carcinogenic pesticides.

The University of California prides itself on its commitment to sustainability and leadership in the field. As such, as a member of the University of California community, I am calling on the University of California to commit to transition all 10 UC campuses to organic by 2025.

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