Forest herbicide listed as “probable carcinogen” as protesters face fines for blocking its spray [updated]

Written by Tracy Glynn on March 31, 2015

Update: charges have been dropped against those who blocked a truck carrying forest herbicides near Rogersville in September. More to come.

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Leo Goguen and Duma Bernard (left to right) are mobilizing people in Kent County to stop herbicide spraying of the public forest. Photo by Melissa Augustine.

Two men and one woman from Kent County are facing fines of approximately $7,500 for their role in a protest against forest herbicide spraying as the International Agency for Research on Cancer has listed the forest herbicide, glyphosate, as a probable carcinogen.

A dozen people blocked a Forest Protection Ltd. vehicle for several hours in Village Saint-Pierre, near Rogersville, on Sept. 8, 2014. While opposed to spraying herbicides in the woods, they were immediately concerned that the tractor trailer carrying the toxins had expired plates, a cracked frame and worn out tires.

“The clearcuts in our area are unreal. I don’t support spraying the forest because so many people are getting cancer. We’re trying to protect people, the animals, the moose and deer, the partridge and the rabbits that we eat,” says Leo Goguen of Rogersville who has worked in the woods all his life. Goguen is named in the court documents filed against the three people facing fines.

Four RCMP vehicles came to the blockade site and Forest Protection Ltd. agreed to have their truck towed to their headquarters at the Miramichi Airport.

Forest Protection Ltd. provides services and aircraft for herbicide and pest management as well as forest fire fighting services. According to the company’s website, the private company is owned by “a group of New Brunswick forest stakeholders.”

The protest moved to Forest Protection Ltd.’s office along Highway 11 the next day on September 9. The highway protest was meant to raise awareness with passersby about the opposition to forest herbicide spraying.

Critics charge that the abundance of maple, oak, birch and beech have all declined in New Brunswick’s forests due to the conversion of natural forest to balsam fir, spruce and pine plantations by J.D. Irving and other forestry companies that hold licenses to harvest wood on New Brunswick’s Crown land, which covers about half of the province.

New Brunswick has been spraying herbicides on its forest since the 1970s when it first permitted pulp and paper companies to clearcut natural forest and replace it with plantations. Spraying usually occurs one to two years after a plantation has been established. Herbicides are sprayed once or twice over plantations to poison hardwood trees and shrubs that compete with the planted softwood trees for space and nutrients. Spraying occurs each year in August and September and lasts about 40 days.

Three petitions signed by thousands of New Brunswickers against herbicide spraying in the forest have been tabled in the New  Brunswick Legislature in just over a decade, the most recent in 2011. The Lord, Graham and Alward governments as well as the Department of Natural Resources have defended the practice as safe and cost-effective.

The Conservation Council of New Brunswick argue that the practice is not safe, pointing to recent studies of glyphosate, the herbicide sprayed on New Brunswick’s forest. Glyphosate products include Monsanto’s Vision and VisionMax. The studies show glyphosate’s toxic impacts on a wide range of species including humans.

Glyphosates kill broad leaf trees, shrubs and grasses, wiping out the food source and habitats of many forest dependent species, including deer. The impacts concern deer biologist Rod Cumberland, who has been organizing with hunting, fishing and outdoors recreation groups to oppose the herbicide spraying.

“We wonder why there are vacant deer yards on Crown land? Deer have been forced to private land where good deer food still grows,” says Cumberland. Cumberland estimates that New Brunswick’s herbicide program has removed nearly a half a billion tons of deer and moose food from the Crown forest in the past 20 years.

“Herbicide use in our forest is presented to us as the only way but it’s not. It is the most profitable means of removing competing hardwoods for a hungry forest industry,” argues Cumberland. “Thinning crews used to remove hardwoods in New Brunswick and that’s what they do in Quebec today. In a climate where our province is drastically struggling to keep skilled workers from moving west, it’s incredibly ironic that the government of New Brunswick refuses to entertain a method of hardwood removal that will create good paying jobs for New Brunswickers and one that does not carry with it potential health threats and biodiversity damage that herbicides cause.”

Quebec banned herbicide spraying of its public forest over a decade ago in 2001. Nova Scotia recently abandoned the public funding of herbicide spraying of their forest. New Brunswick continues to fund silviculture on Crown land that includes spraying, which according to data from Natural Resources Canada, can cost the province about $1,000/ha.

The forest plan announced by the Alward government in 2014 guarantees forestry companies like J.D. Irving an additional 660,000 cubic metres of wood every year from Crown land for the next 25 years. Ten First Nations Chiefs in New Brunswick unsuccessfully tried to obtain a court injunction to temporarily halt the 2014 forest plan over failure to consult. Land in New Brunswick was never ceded by the Indigenous Mi’kmaq, Wolastoqiyik, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot people.

The newly elected Gallant government says that they are reviewing the 2014 forest plan. Critics including conservationists, First Nations, woodlot owners, scientists, economists and others say the plan gives too much of the forest to industry and should be abandoned.

If the 2014 forest plan goes ahead, more forest will be converted to plantations and that will mean more herbicides in the woods. Kent County residents have shown that they are not willing to accept spraying of glyphosates in their woods.

Tracy Glynn is the Conservation Council of New Brunswick’s Forest Campaigner.

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