Montreal drives for greener golf courses by banning most pesticides

Courses have been exempt from 2-year-old bylaw that bans sale and use of pesticides

Antoine Saint-Pierre runs his hands through a patch of clovers on a Montreal golf course, saying normally the green, flowering ground cover is not a welcome sight on a well-manicured fairway.

But now both clovers and dandelions are sprinkled across the municipal golf course in the city's east end where pesticide alternatives have been tested over the last two years.

"We didn't notice any change in the quality of the golf course," said Saint-Pierre, head of parks and facilities in Montreal's Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie borough.

And soon these pesticide alternatives will be commonplace across the city as Montreal officials look to ban most pesticides at golf courses across the territory starting next year. The Montreal executive committee adopted the measure on Wednesday and the municipal council will vote on it next Tuesday.

The city hopes the threat of a $1,250 to $4,000 fine will encourage golf courses to find low toxicity alternatives.

This will put golf courses under the same restrictions as the rest of the city, as previously they were exempt under a bylaw that came into effect in 2022. That bylaw restricts the sale and use of 35 molecules found in pesticides.

Content continues below

"From our understanding, it's not only the first city who's legislating, regulating on golf courses, it's the first jurisdiction in Canada," said Sidney Ribaux, who heads the city's office of ecological transition and resilience.

Starting in January of 2025, the city's eight golf courses will be affected by the ban. But not all substances will be prohibited.

The use of mecoprop and 2,4-D in any of their forms to control weeds, between April 15 and June 15, will be allowed. As will the use of chlorothalonil to control grey or pink snow mould, between Oct. 15 and Dec. 1.

CBC - Antoine Saint-Pierre inspects the fairway at Montreal-s municipal golf course - Rowan Kennedy

Antoine Saint-Pierre inspects the fairway at Montreal's municipal golf course where clovers are now an accepted addition to the ground cover. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

Health Canada says 2,4-D is not a known carcinogen and it can be safely used by homeowners, but the herbicide was classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization.

As for mecoprop, Health Canada says the cancer risks are low. Chlorothalonil, however, is toxic to aquatic wildlife and is considered likely to be carcinogenic to humans. It was banned by the European Union in 2020.

Content continues below

Montreal looks to lead by example

"We wanted to make sure the golf courses would have all the tools in their box to continue their activity but without using so much and so many harmful pesticides," said Marie-Andrée Mauger, Montreal's executive committee member responsible for the ecological transition and the environment.

In a news release, she says pesticides are considered one of the main causes of the global decline in biodiversity and are extremely harmful to human health.

"Despite these findings, there is an increase in the use of these products in Quebec and elsewhere," she says.

"As a metropolis, we must lead by example by further limiting the use of pesticides throughout Montreal, including on its golf courses."

For safety reasons, the operators of railway transport corridors will still be able to use the chemicals to facilitate the maintenance of railways and their rights-of-way, as alternatives to prohibited pesticides have not been conclusive, the news release says.

Having a healthy lawn without pesticides is possible if the right steps are taken to promote its growth according to the grass variety: raking, seeding, fertilizing and mowing the lawn at the right time to make it denser and keep it healthy, the city says.

Content continues below
CBC - Mark Lane - Elm Ridge Country Club - Alison Northcott

Mark Lane has worked as a golf course superintendent for 13 years and is currently employed at the Elm Ridge Country Club. (Alison Northcott/CBC)

Mark Lane, the golf course superintendent at the Elm Ridge Country Club on Montreal's Île-Bizard, says the change to the existing ban will only give Montreal golf courses a "smaller window of opportunity to use these products."

"We won't be able to knock down any ragweed in the fall time. It's not going to have a huge impact," he said. "Times change, and that's something we're going to have to deal with."

Choose less toxic alternatives, expert says

David Wees, a faculty lecturer in farm management and technology program at McGill University, teaches courses on urban agriculture and pesticide use. He said municipalities are increasingly beefing up regulations surrounding pesticides, often surpassing federal rules.

Wees said 2,4-D is toxic to wildlife and humans, and is commonly banned by municipal authorities. There are some worries about Mecoprop as well, he said. Chlorothalonil is often used on vegetables, he said, but also on golf courses to protect turf grass from diseases.

CBC - Montreal golf course pesticides - Rowan Kennedy

Montreal golf courses, like this one in the city's east end, will only be allowed to use three different pesticides during certain times of the year under the bylaw amendment. (Rowan Kennedy/CBC)

Content continues below

Wees said there are ways to reduce diseases with fungicides like chlorothalonil by, for example, limiting fertilizer and watering. But, he added, golfers want lush green golf courses, which are created with a lot of fertilizer and watering.

He said there are already a fair amount of rules surrounding the use of pesticides on golf courses, and it is highly controlled, but more could be done to reduce toxicity. He said there are viable alternatives to the more toxic chemicals.

"That's what we basically need to do — check our choices and always choose the least toxic one," said Wees.

This article, written by Rowan Kennedy and Isaac Olson, was originally published for CBC News. With files from Alison Northcott