Traditional Land of Wabanaki People/Fredericton – The Conservation Council of New Brunswick says the new report on glyphosate use in New Brunswick missed a key opportunity to deliver on the majority of citizens’ demands for an end to spraying on the Crown forest.
The Standing Committee on Climate Change and Environmental Stewardship tabled its report on Nov. 2, 2021. The report summarizes the submissions and presentations made in June and September by conservation groups, citizens groups, scientists, Indigenous leaders, and the agricultural and forestry sectors and makes 20 recommendations to the Legislative Assembly and Higgs government.
“If you’re looking for a dramatic U-turn on how we manage our Crown forests, you won’t find it in this report,” says Lois Corbett, the Conservation Council’s Executive Director. “We did, however, get a few swerves and curves that, if taken, will inch us toward ecological forestry instead of large-scale clearcutting, more legally-protected nature, and much wider water buffer zones.”
Corbett says she’s disappointed the committee failed to recommend a ban on glyphosate spraying in the Crown forest, which 76 per cent of New Brunswickers asked for in a September 2020 poll. In 2016, more than 35,000 citizens signed a Stop Spraying New Brunswick petition calling for a ban on glyphosate in the woods, the largest petition ever tabled in the province’s legislature.
The committee also fell short of recommending that taxpayers no longer fund large forestry companies’ silviculture programs, including spraying, which the Auditor General determined in her 2015 report costs taxpayers roughly $29 million a year. Jason Killam said his company, JDI Limited, receives between $500,000 up to $800,000 per year for spraying on the Crown forests Irving controls when he testified at the committee on Sept. 21.
The report includes recommendations that, if implemented, could see some greater forest protections, ban spraying in municipal drinking water watersheds, widen the no-spray zones from people’s homes, wetlands, rivers and streams, and improve monitoring, enforcement and public transparency around spraying.
With respect to forest management, recommendations include:
- Within a year, conducting a cost-benefit study comparing current practices including aerial spraying with alternative methods, like manual thinning;
- Implementing a combination of ecological forestry and new protected natural areas to ensure New Brunswick’s remaining hardwood and mixedwood forests are not converted to softwood plantations; and,
- Ensuring protected natural areas are interconnected to protect a greater diversity of plant and wildlife habitat in the forest.
Recommendations on new bans and no-spraying zones include:
- Increasing the distance companies can spray glyphosate by helicopter near homes by 500 metres to one kilometre;
- Requiring a spraying buffer of 100 metres from protected natural areas and a minimum of 100-metre buffer from water, wetlands and steep terrain;
- Banning spraying in designated municipal drinking water areas; and,
- Have the Minister of Natural Resources and Energy request that NB Power immediately begin phasing out spraying glyphosate under transmission lines.
On improved science, monitoring and enforcement, the recommendations include:
- Appointing a Legislative Officer to oversee Crown Lands and Waters, with an appropriate budget, beginning next year;
- DNR partner with educational institutions and non-government organizations to study the effects of spraying in forestry on wildlife and Indigenous foods and medicines;
- The government of New Brunswick requests that Health Canada evaluate glyphosate every five years with research conducted in New Brunswick;
- Introducing mandated routine sampling and testing of water and sediment for glyphosate and related components near spraying sites by the Department of Environment, and requiring the results to be reported annually; and,
- Within six months of the report, DNR creates a public dashboard with all aspects of Crown forest management, including glyphosate spraying and forest management agreements.
The recommendations, if acted on, could bring N.B. closer to ecological forestry practices, and nominally protect human health and water by reducing some exposure risks. Corbett says the real test is how quickly and effectively the Ministers and departments put them into action.
“In some of the recommendations, the wording is loose enough for Ministers Holland and Crossman to do absolutely nothing, or, do the right thing,” Corbett says. “For example, Minister Holland could immediately send the new five-year forest management agreements with the large companies to the Department of Environment for review under the environmental impact assessment regulation.”
In her presentation to the committee in June, Corbett said glyphosate spraying is a symptom of a broader problem in New Brunswick’s woods: an outdated Crown forest management system. In addition to a ban on glyphosate spraying, she called for an update of the 30-year-old Crown Lands and Forests Act with a focus on nature protection and fairness for private woodlot owners and First Nations at its core.
Quebec banned glyphosate in its forest in 2001 after public consultation due to growing concerns over its effect on people’s health. After a decade of manual thinning in its forests, Thiffault and Roy’s 2011 paper, Living without herbicides in Québec (Canada): historical context, current strategy, research and challenges in forest vegetation management, found that Quebec’s manual thinning approach to silviculture was “an asset in the implementation of ecosystem-based management.”
In 2016, New Brunswick’s Chief Medical Officer of Health’s Action Plan on Glyphosate found that New Brunswick uses more glyphosate per hectare of harvested forest than any province in Canada, with 40 per cent of forest land cut in New Brunswick in 2014 sprayed with glyphosate, compared to 28 per cent in Ontario, 21 per cent in Alberta, 18 per cent in Manitoba and 11 per cent in Nova Scotia. The report also found that forestry accounts for 61 per cent of all glyphosate use in New Brunswick, followed by industrial uses at 27 per cent and agriculture at 11 per cent.
Recent peer-reviewed scientific papers have shown glyphosate negatively affects the health of plants, wildlife and people more than the chemical industry and industrial users claimed. These include:
- Cindy Peillex and Martin Pelletier’s September 2020 paper, The impact and toxicity of glyphosate and glyphosate-based herbicides on health and immunity, which found glyphosate has cytotoxic (toxic to living cells) and genotoxic (damaging to DNA) effects in people, causes inflammation, and disrupts immune system function.
- N. Button, L. J. Wood and J.R. Werner’s August 2021 paper, Glyphosate remains in forest plant tissues for a decade or more, which concluded, among other findings, that glyphosate remained in raspberries and blueberries at levels sometimes exceeding the maximum recommended limit for human consumption.
- A series of research papers from a McGill University-led team, reported on in the September 2021 article, Freshwater ecosystems at risk due to glyphosate use, found that even very low concentrations of glyphosate can disrupt plankton, the foundation of the food chain in freshwater ecosystems, under current North American water quality guidelines.
Jon MacNeill is the Communications Director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.