The judges for the annual Beth McLaughlin Environmental Journalism Award have chosen Dallas McQuarrie of the New Brunswick Media Co-op as the 2016 first-place award winner for his extensive and ongoing coverage of significant stories that are frequently overlooked or underplayed by other media outlets.
In 2016 alone, for example, Dallas provided detailed coverage of the sharply declining health of New Brunswick’s forests citing experts such as wildlife biologist Rod Cumberland on decreasing deer populations due to clearcutting and herbicide spraying. Dallas also focused attention on activists such as Peter Gilbert of Stop Spraying New Brunswick who is campaigning for sustainable forestry practices that protect and create jobs.
In addition, Dallas reported extensively last year on the Aboriginal Title Claim filed in the New Brunswick courts by the Elsipogtog First Nation, seeking to protect its land and water in a huge area of New Brunswick.
Dallas has been writing high-quality and timely environmental stories like these for the NB Media Co-op since 2013 — in fact, all the way back to June of that year when he was arrested while covering the resistance to shale gas drilling in Kent County where he lives. The long struggle over fracking is a story Dallas has reported from several angles over the past four years.
Having assessed the many stories that Dallas has filed as a volunteer for the Media Co-op, the judges agree wholeheartedly with Sarah Kardash who nominated him for this award. Sarah writes:
Dallas shares a similar spirit, heart and conviction that drove Beth McLaughlin to join environmental movements and write about environmental problems. He is committed to the environment and respect for indigenous rights as evident by the news stories he chooses to cover and how he covers them. He lifts the voices of the indigenous land defenders and the local environmentalists so they can be clearly heard.
It is with great pleasure, therefore, that we recognize Dallas McQuarrie of the NB Media Co-op as the winner of first place in this year’s Beth McLaughlin Environmental Journalism Award.
The second-place prize winner for the 2016 Beth McLaughlin Environmental Journalism Award is the CBC journalist Gabrielle Fahmy. The judges recognize her this year for her investigative reporting on high levels of bacterial contamination and lack of safety standards at Parlee Beach — often called the Crown Jewel of New Brunswick beaches.
Gabrielle Fahmy began reporting on the ongoing Parlee Beach water quality issues shortly after arriving in New Brunswick in July of last year. The 2016 summer season was one in which Parlee made headlines, for all the wrong reasons. The water quality at the beach was rated poor for 28 days in June, July and August, fully a third of the peak summer swimming season.
The poor ratings were posted at only a few beach entrances and in small letters while the beach itself remained open. And what did a “poor” water quality rating really mean?
Gabrielle asked her editors to give her a few days to investigate. She looked more closely at the results of provincial water tests and investigated how the local testing system was developed back in 2001. Her reporting found that, according to Canadian water quality standards used in several other provinces, but not in New Brunswick, Parlee Beach should have been closed altogether for a total of 10 days over the summer to protect public health.
Gabrielle interviewed two doctors with nearby cottages. One told her Parlee was a Walkerton waiting to happen — a reference to the seven deaths and thousands of illnesses in Ontario that resulted from faulty municipal water testing. The other doctor had written a 106 page letter to Premier Gallant complaining that the province was putting politics ahead of public safety and deliberately dragging its feet on finding the sources of the beach contamination.
Gabrielle Fahmy’s investigative reporting exposed New Brunswick’s lax water quality safety standards, put renewed pressure on provincial authorities to protect public health and gave citizens more information to challenge political apathy in the face of a continuing environmental crisis.
The judges take great pleasure, therefore, in naming the CBC’s Gabrielle Fahmy, as this year’s second-place prize winner for the Beth McLaughlin Environmental Journalism Award.
Bruce Wark is a retired CBC journalist and currently writes for the Wark Times and the NB Media Co-op. Erin Steuter teaches sociology at Mount Allison University and Roland Chiasson is with Aster Group, a group of environmental consultants. All three were judges for the Beth McLaughlin Environmental Journalism Award.