How Local Conservatives are Fighting Back Against Dangerous Cow Parsnip

City officials agreed last week to buy up more than 36,000 pounds of popular, but dangerous, cow parsnip in Detroit after an even more ambitious proposal backed by Detroit-based conservative group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) failed.

American mayors, eager to assume the mantle of green in a manner befitting the current Democratic administration, may be missing a unique opportunity to reduce the dangers of cow parsnip, the sugar beet replacement found across metro Detroit. Both are a menace to the environment because of their high levels of nitrogen, a potentially deadly toxin.

Both are also highly combustible and potentially dangerous to cyclists, strollers and other pedestrians.

Just last month, several St. John Baptist Episcopal Church families reported to local media that the nitrates of the powerful tri-color cow parsnip found growing wild on church property in Northville and near nearby streets had sickened kids who played nearby. Some of them fell ill after playing and walking on the same flower beds they are trying to protect from the pound that some called the “obesity-killer.”

“This is a parish that has suffered many, many years of poor maintenance, neglect and a failure of oversight,” Rev. R. Steven Davis told local media. “I learned about this issue just by accident after I was selected for the bishoprics [allowing him to move his family from Michigan to Detroit.] When I went home and my wife turned on the news, I was shown live coverage of people sickening themselves. My heart sank and there was a terrible feeling that I had made a terrible mistake.”

Earlier this year, AFP organized its first effort to cut the deadly rind off what it dubbed the “obesity-killer.”

Leading off the first attempt, Americans for Prosperity’s Michigan office announced it would team up with The Northwood Foundation to appeal to public officials to do something about cow parsnip in June.

“Detroit is an extremely strategic and high-profile area for the safety hazards,” Policy Director Phillip Kimbrough said. “It is also on the pathway to and from the auto corridor, a corridor that is home to people that will inevitably come in contact with this difficult-to-control plant. We took it upon ourselves to ensure our voices are heard.”

But recently American cities including New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Boston failed to take any action after AFP brought attention to the problem.

Now for the first time, officials in Detroit have agreed to take action.

“It is the City of Detroit’s position that it is important to restore the trust of residents and those that wish to enjoy the city by utilizing best practices and prevention approaches that will help lessen the chances of people sustaining injuries,” city spokesman John Roach said.

AFP partnered with U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) to pick up the case once it became apparent the city was not taking its responsibility seriously.

AFP Executive Director Tim Phillips said they have received mixed reactions from elected officials.

“Some want to protect their cities from these dangerous weeds, while others have played a rebranding game,” Phillips said. “However, it is essential that the citizens of these communities advocate for the protection of people.

“The last time we checked, stopping blight and potholes don’t fall into that category, yet people are suffering the consequences,” Phillips added. “Americans for Prosperity will remain actively engaged in the continued assault on cancerous oxpeckers in the city of Detroit and in other cities across the country.”

Josiah Mortimer is the CEO of the Michigan Action Network (MAIN).

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