When it comes to climate change, New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant is “talking the talk,” but so far has refused to “walk the walk” when it comes to his government’s support for clearcutting New Brunswick’s forest.
“Climate change knows no borders. That is why we must … develop our natural resources and energy projects in a responsible way,” stated Gallant in a government media release on Sept. 1, 2015.
Far away from news conferences in plush hotel rooms and staged photo-ops where New Brunswick’s Premier talks about combating climate change, the daily roar of heavy equipment systematically clearcutting provincial forests tells a different story. The on the ground reality is that successive Liberal and Conservative New Brunswick governments have presided over massive deforestation by clearcutting.
Clearcutting forests drives climate change because trees play a central role in absorbing the greenhouse gases that fuel global warming. Less forest means a lot more greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere a lot more quickly, thus increasing both the speed of, and devastation caused by, climate change.
New Brunswick’s Auditor-General Kim MacPherson reported that 80 per cent of all the wood cut from the province’s Crown forests in the past 20 years had been harvested by clearcutting in her June 2015 submission to the Legislative Assembly. Critics charge that level of deforestation is simply unsustainable, and threatens to rob future generations of what has been, historically, New Brunswick’s most important natural resource.
MacPherson’s report also noted that, for more than a decade, government ministers and officials in the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have ignored a host of studies and recommendations calling for a reduction in clearcutting. Despite the fact that selective and partial cutting methods are recognized as the best management practices, New Brunswick has steadfastly refused to implement the kind of responsible resource development Premier Gallant talks about.
On top of it all, the stubborn failure to reform provincial forestry practices is actually costing New Brunswick taxpayers big money. MacPherson’s 2015 report notes that the destruction of our forests costs taxpayers $7 million to $10 million a year. The bottom line is that for years successive Liberal and Conservative governments have been billing taxpayers for the cost of clearcutting their forest.
Rosaireville resident Roger Babin, 70, was a forestry worker for most of his life. Driving along what used to be forest on a logging road between Rogersville and Rosaireville on December 1, Babin explains that after the forest has been clearcut, it’s then “plowed” and eventually sprayed, often repeatedly, with chemicals like cancer-causing glyphosates.
The plowing of the forest after the clearcutting is done leaves in its wake an all but impassible, virtually lifeless tangle of debris leftover. Plowing also completes the destruction of habitat and potential food sources for wildlife in the area.
“Three years after clearcutting, the companies spray with glyphosates,” Babin says. “The spraying is aimed at preventing the predominantly hardwood forest that would grow naturally from re-establishing itself.” But, spray falling from the sky falls on everything. Other plant and animal life that die are a kind of ‘collateral damage.’
Babin points out that the chemical eventually makes its way into the streams and, from there, into the rivers fed by those streams.
Glyphosate spraying is controversial in New Brunswick. A March 2015 report by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), stated that glyphosate damages human DNA and chromosomes, and probably causes cancer.
That report by internationally-respected scientists confirms what critics of glyphosate spraying have been saying for some time. So far, however, the provincial government has turned a deaf ear to glyphosate warnings by the globally-respected World Health Organization.
Indeed, New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Elish Cleary was preparing to study the health impacts of spraying glyphosates in New Brunswick when she was abruptly fired on December 7 by the Gallant government.
Six days before, on the logging road near Rosaireville, Babin had declared that Dr. Cleary was in trouble with the provincial government because it wants to keep on spraying. Both forestry companies and NB Power make extensive use of glyphosates.
Babin is the President of the People for the Protection of the Forests of New Brunswick (PPFNB), an organization with about 4500 members. Like the Provincial Auditor, the PPFNB is urging the province to stop clearcutting and begin managing the renewable resource in a responsible manner.
The clearcutting Babin and the PPFNB decry is also destroying streams and cedar swamps that are essential for the survival of deer in the winter.
“This kind of damage can’t be fixed,” Babin declares while looking over a stream that used to feed the Bay du Vin River. Ribbons, required by regulation to mark streams so that they will not be clearcut and plowed, are still visible. Contrary to provincial regulations, the stream has been obliterated.
Driving away from the stream, Babin spots a DNR truck parked by the road. He reports the destruction of the stream to DNR Auditor Michel Bordage, who asks to be taken to what was the stream so he can make a report.
Babin and Bordage hike the last 50 yards or so to the creek, and Bordage takes a GPS reading that will enable the precise location of the destroyed stream to be identified on maps. Bordage says he will keep Babin informed of the DNR’s response.
A couple of miles from what used to be a stream, a cedar swamp has also been ruined by the same kind of indiscriminate clearcutting and plowing Babin has just reported to the DNR auditor. Cedar swamps or “deer yards” are natural deer wintering areas, and without them deer can’t survive the winter.
Babin points to the devastation, where all that remains of what was a cedar swamp are chewed up chunks of wood and a couple of dying cedars still standing in the mud. “The natural habitat has been destroyed, so there’ll be no deer wintering here anymore,” he says.
“With so much of their habitat being wiped out, and so much poison being sprayed around, it’s no mystery why deer populations are plunging,” says Babin. Deer yards in cedar swamps here have traditionally been protected, but recent forestry agreements now allow clearcutting there too. That’s very hard on deer, according to Babin.
Babin says government cabinet ministers and DNR officials refuse to admit that a major cause of recent dramatic declines in New Brunswick’s deer populations is current forest management practices. Those practices encourage clearcutting and the indiscriminate spraying of glyphosates that destroy wildlife habitat and food sources.
“Once you clearcut the trees and haul the wood away, the natural forest and the sustainable jobs it could provide in the province, as well as other uses like recreation and tourism, are gone forever,” Babin says.
Babin is very concerned about the wholesale destruction of New Brunswick’s heritage, and what appears to be “a real rush to get the forest cut down as quickly as possible.”
“”In 40 years, I’ve never seen so much clearcutting done so fast,” he says. Responsible resource development would mean carefully managing forests by ending clearcutting, and replanting the trees that are cut, to preserve forest environments and the sustainable jobs they make possible.
Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell once wrote a song lyric that said “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” If Premier Gallant does not stop clearcutting soon, New Brunswick won’t have forests on which to practice the kind of responsible resource management he is fond of talking about.
Dallas McQuarrie is a retired journalist and civil servant living on unceeded Mik’miq territory in Kent County.