Lawrence Parks and Rec director backtracks, apologizes for herbicide use on remnant prairie

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Post updated at 7:16 p.m. Tuesday, May 2:

Derek Rogers on Tuesday apologized for the city’s Parks and Recreation department spraying herbicide at the remnant prairie behind Prairie Park Nature Center, which is killing millions of flowers and causing irreversible damage.

Rogers, director of Parks and Rec, and staff released a statement Monday saying that the use of PastureGard, a broadleaf herbicide, was part of a plan for maintenance of the grassland.

During Tuesday’s Lawrence City Commission meeting, though, he said the spray was a departmental error, “and we will conduct a thorough review of what happened.”

Several community members spoke during public comment just prior to Rogers addressing the commission. They lamented the inevitable loss of the rare and irreplaceable wildflowers growing on the 5-acre remnant prairie, which has never been plowed.

“We will hold staff accountable if there’s any sort of intentional violation of policy,” Rogers said Tuesday. He said they will determine if there’s a need for additional training and education, plus any policy changes that need to be made “so that this doesn’t happen again.”

“We’ll also do everything we can, do the best we can, to restore the plant species that were killed by the herbicides last week,” Rogers continued. “… I offer my sincere apology to the community for the damage we have done to this area, and we promise to do better.”

Below is Monday’s statement from Parks and Rec:


Ken Lassman, who creates the Kaw Valley Almanac, wrote in a column Tuesday morning that the city was “seriously downplaying this herbicidal overkill” and that “Parks and Recreation clearly lacks a culture or management plan that recognizes and effectively nurtures and values what native prairies and woodlands remain as is evidenced by this event and the responses to it.” 

“This can and should change, and it is up to the citizens of our city to ensure that such a robust plan be developed before this happens again,” Lassman wrote.

We have reached out to Rogers with further follow-up questions, asking what changed between Monday’s news release and his statements Tuesday evening; was this spray a mistake, or was it part of a department plan; and if he can elaborate about the “thorough review” he mentioned, and who will be responsible for that. We will update this post with his responses.

Update, 7:53 p.m. Wednesday, May 3: Rogers did not respond to the follow-up questions.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

Related posts:

Ken Lassman: My interview with the prairie (Column)

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”It has been just more than one year since the old growth prairie that grows next to the Prairie Park Nature Center was sprayed … I decided: why not go to the source and interview the prairie itself?” Ken Lassman writes in this anthropomorphic column.


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