Stopping glyphosate spraying in a province captured by industry

Written by Susan O'Donnell on March 31, 2019

Linda Bell with Rod Cumberland and David Coon at the panel, “Glyphosate, Forestry and our Future,” in Plaster Rock on March 30. Photo by Susan O’Donnell

How can residents stop glyphosate spraying on public and private forest land, in a province captured by industry? The province has permitted four multinational companies to control the public (Crown) forest in New Brunswick, with J.D. Irving Ltd. (JDI) being the largest licensee. Journalist Bruce Livesey wrote that New Brunswick is: “a ‘company province’ dominated by one very rich and powerful family.”

Current forest management practices, focused on large-scale extraction of softwoods that benefits corporate owners and shareholders, dictate that spraying poison is required to kill off other plant species to make tree plantations more profitable. Private woodlot owners are also governed by strict regulations that promote spraying glyphosate to increase profits and yields of the desired products. All these forest management requirements are legislated by a provincial government that is not only ignoring the widespread public concerns about glyphosate spraying but also continuing to use public funds to pay for the practice.

These concerns were raised by many participants at the public meeting: “Glyphosate, Forestry and our Future” in a packed room at the Tobique-Plex in Plaster Rock on March 30. Panel speakers included Bruce Dryer, board member of Stop Spraying New Brunswick (SSNB), Linda Bell, general manager of the Carleton-Victoria Wood Producers Association, David Coon, leader of the Green Party NB and MLA for Fredericton-South riding, and Rod Cumberland, wildlife biologist with the NB Department of Natural Resources from 1990 to 2012.

Rowan Miller, panel chair and event co-organizer, is with the University of New Brunswick project RAVEN (Rural Action and Voices for the Environment). Miller opened the panel by stressing that finding alternatives to glyphosate spraying is all about the economic and environmental sustainability of rural communities.

Dryer set the meeting tone with an informative overview of glyphosate spraying in New Brunswick. As well as forestry spraying, he noted that Plaster Rock is one of many communities where CN sprays along rail lines. In addition to the potential negative health impacts of glyphosate, Dryer pointed out that other chemical compounds are used in the spray to make it stick to plants, and that research is needed to understand the combined effects of these chemicals on humans, animals and the wider environment.

One of SSNB’s key messages is that better forest management using sustainable practices would create more jobs in New Brunswick. Linda Bell agreed but pointed out that manual culling of the forest is a job that not many people are willing to do, for the low wages offered. Bell’s presentation focused on explaining how her organization manages the silviculture program for the province in Carleton-Victoria, representing more than 3,300 private woodlot owners in that region.

Bell shared with participants copies of recent blogs by the NB Federation of Woodlot Owners, of which her organization is a member. The blogs include calls for a more progressive and environmentally responsible Crown Lands and Forests Act, including the history of the implementation of the Act that “basically turned control of more and more Crown lands over to industry, resulting in greatly reduced revenues for taxpayers, reduced opportunities for private woodlot owners to sell their wood at a fair price.”

The province provides subsidies to private woodlot owners who manage their woodlot following strict guidelines laid out by the New Brunswick Department of Energy and Resource Development (ERD). One of the key woodlot management plans chosen by woodlot owners includes ERD requirements for clearcutting and glyphosate spraying. Participating woodlots are monitored for compliance by ERD inspectors.

Bell’s organization reviews the plan for woodlots and decides if the spraying should be applied by land or aerial methods. As more and more Crown land is made available to the four corporations operating the mills, the power of the woodlot association members is reduced through lower prices for the wood and increased pressure to produce specific types of trees at a price that can only be achieved through spraying.

Bell’s comments about spraying and clearcutting were challenged by an audience member. “When private woodlot owners clearcut, that affects everyone. Why do we have no control over this?” he asked, pointing out that flooding of properties along inland waterways is related to nearby clearcuts.

Another audience member said that he sold his woodlot because it was not profitable, and the new owner clearcut the property. “If you look all along the valley, you will see former woodlots that have been sold and clearcut,” he said, highlighting that the challenge is that older woodlot owners see no future in it. With their children moving away they believe selling out is their best option. He asked David Coon: “How can this be changed?”

Coon’s answer is that it will require a political change. His primary message was that the Crown Lands and Forests Act needs a fundamental overhaul. In the previous legislature, he introduced legislation to make this happen but both other parties would not even debate it, and as the only Green Party member at the time, he could not move it forward. In the current legislature, the Green Party has three caucus members and so they can support each other’s proposals, ensuring the possibility of debate on this and other important issues.

However the current Higgs government, like the previous Gallant government, has restricted the number of sitting days in the legislature, the time available to debate new legislation. In the new legislature, the Green Party has again attempted to introduce legislation to stop glyphosate spraying, however given the reduced days in the legislature, they may not have the opportunity to move it forward. Coon urged everyone at the meeting to contact their MLA to ask that the sitting days in the legislature be increased.

Coon stressed that the original peoples, the First Nations, have never surrendered their territory but have no say in Crown land management. “Now the government has control of forests, we own it, and we have no say!” The provincial forest management plan has no meaningful goals and objectives for Crown lands. The process to overhaul the Act will need meaningful engagement with Indigenous peoples and the public.

Similar to the blog post by the NB Federation of Woodlot owners, Coon said forest management is “a system that increasingly gives industry control over what happens in our forests.” He pointed out that communities such as Miramichi are surrounded by Crown forest but have no access to the economic benefits. Forested land is increasingly being turned into plantations, with more herbicide spraying.

When industry introduced glyphosate spraying as an alternative to the other “nasty herbicides being used at the time,” their research showed all its benefits. But over time, independent research identified the health and environmental issues associated with glyphosate spraying, the long-term impacts of glyphosate in the soil, the water, the air, the wildlife – everything we require for our survival – are becoming clearer. We now know that the residual effects of glyphosate exposure last much longer than previously believed.

Rod Cumberland’s talk “What happened to NB’s deer herd?” underscored the message about the impact of spraying on animals. The purpose of glyphosate spraying is to kill off species other than softwoods. Hardwood browse is the main feed for the province’s deer, and Cumberland’s research shows that the reduction in hardwood browse is a major contributing factor to the dramatic decline in the deer population.

The underlying theme of all four presentations is the need for political action, by the public and politicians, to bring about the desired changes. Judging by the general mood in the room of about 50 people in Plaster Rock, it is time for the forest and forest products industries and the government to do the right thing for New Brunswick: ban the use of these poisons in our forests, and return the planning and management of public forests to the people and rural communities so that the multiple uses of forests will benefit everyone now and for future generations.

Susan O’Donnell is a member of the NB Media Co-op editorial board and the RAVEN project.

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