A deer biologist who spent 15 years working for the government of New Brunswick says plunging deer populations in the province are part of a larger crisis in New Brunswick’s forests. According to Rod Cumberland, foresters in both government and industry have known for more than 20 years that the wood on public land was running out as a result of forestry practices.
Cumberland worked in New Brunswick’s Department of Natural Resources. He says scientific research makes it very clear that increases in harvest intensity and increased planting and spraying are linked to declining wildlife populations.
Speaking at the Doaktown Salmon Museum on August 10, Cumberland presented a wealth of data showing that as forest habitat was wiped out, deer numbers decreased and moved to other areas. All of that data has been studiously ignored by successive provincial governments.
As a Department of Natural Resources employee, Cumberland personally inspected deer yards across the province and noted that 20 percent of two areas that he had visited had what appeared to be adequate deer food.
For the past 20 years, New Brunswick’s forest management plans have allowed massive clearcutting followed by applications of glyphosate-based herbicides. Glyphosates are known to cause many serious health problems, and the World Health Organization says they likely cause cancer in humans too. They prevent the natural forest, especially hardwood trees, from regenerating after it has been clearcut.
“The forest crisis today is no surprise to the provincial government and no surprise to the forest industry,” Cumberland said. “Studies and research done 25 years ago in the Department predicted the situation we have today. All wildlife species need habitat, and deer need mature forests.”
New Brunswick’s deer harvest in 1985 was 31,205 deer. By 2015, the deer harvest had fell to a mere 4,378 deer – a collapse forecast more than two decades ago by government employees, but ignored by successive governments. Since 1985, New Brunswick’s annual deer harvest has collapsed by 86% while in Quebec the deer harvest actually increased by more than 300%.
New Brunswick lets its forestry companies spray more glyphosate on its public forests than any other province, according to the recent report on glyphosate by the province’s Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health.
Critics of the current forestry management regime argue that successive Conservative and Liberal governments have shown no regard for protecting what is a public resource, and made no serious attempt to use that resource for the long-term benefit of New Brunswickers.
Cumberland is not alone in sounding the alarm about disappearing forests. Last year, New Brunswick Auditor General Kim MacPherson’s annual report recommended reducing the amount of clearcutting in the province. MacPherson told the Gallant government that selective and partial cutting methods are recognized as the best management practices because they protect waterways, wildlife habitat, and preserve a healthy range of plant and animal life in the woods.
In a bitter irony for taxpayers, MacPherson’s report states that the province has lost seven to $10-million managing the forest its way for each of the last five years.
The story of clearcutting and spraying New Brunswick’s forest is also routinely ignored by the province’s daily newspapers, which are owned by Brunswick News, one of J.D. Irving’s companies. J.D. Irving also holds the largest licence over Crown land in New Brunswick and many argue the company controls the forestry industry in the province.
Following Cumberland’s presentation, Peter Gilbert, representing Stop Spraying New Brunswick, spoke about the forest crisis in New Brunswick. He called for sustainable forestry practices that protect the province’s heritage while creating jobs today. A construction surveyor by trade, Gilbert, his wife, and two children live in Smithfield.
Gilbert said he was angered when the Gallant Liberal government fired the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Eilish Cleary, last December while she was conducting a study on the public health hazards of glyphosates. Many in the Doaktown room felt that the provincial government got the kind of report it wanted in July from the Acting Chief Medical Officer of Health. The report was limited in its scope and only examined worker safety. It did not make any clear policy recommendations of how to proceed but noted that other jurisdictions are waiting for Health Canada’s reassessment of glyphosates, which is not due until 2017.
Gilbert is also concerned that current forest management practices are creating a lot fewer jobs than more sustainable forestry practices elsewhere.
“If we want to stop spraying and actually increase jobs, the people of New Brunswick have to step up and defend their rights to their land,” Gilbert said. “We need to see a forest management policy that respects the natural diversity of the Acadian Forest.”
Presenting data from nearby regions on the ratio of jobs created to timber harvested, Gilbert showed how New Brunswick’s record in creating forest jobs is consistently the worst. For those who take the time to analyze forest job creation statistics, it’s evident that provincial forest management strategies and practices are little more than the abuse of a public resource to benefit private interests.
Gilbert also told the Doaktown meeting that because the provincial government only listens to corporate voices, “the voice of the people is not heard” and no consideration is given to “healthy natural resources.”
“Things aren’t looking good for the Acadian Forest and things are looking terrible for wildlife,” he said. “We need diversity for a healthy forest ecosystem and diversity in a wide range of forest products. This is the least we can do to ensure a healthy human population and a strong and resilient forest-based economy.”
“We have to see equitable sharing of benefits,” Gilbert said. “The stranglehold on government policy by industry must end. We need to take back what was once ours.”
Dallas McQuarrie is a retired journalist and civil servant living in unceded Mi’kmaq territory in Kent County.