‘It’s an indication of a corporate agenda’: Conservation Council’s Lois Corbett on Rob Cumberland firing

Rod Cumberland, recently fired from his position as a college wildlife instructor, speaks out against glyphosate-spraying in front of the Legislative Assembly in this photo from May 2014.

In the National Observer’s story about the firing of Rod Cumberland – one of New Brunswick’s top critics on the effects of herbicide spraying in our forest – from the Maritime College of Forest Technology, the Conservation Council’s executive director Lois Corbett came out swinging. 

“I think it’s an indication of a corporate agenda. If your business is about making money out of pulp and paper products, and the widespread use of glyphosate, then Rod is a problem for you. If you’re a corporate guy, you would ask ‘Why don’t we just fire the guy?’” Corbett told journalist Bruce Livesey in his July 11 story

Cumberland has made headlines following the firing in late June. The college denies the former chief provincial deer biologist’s outspokenness on glyphosate, heavily sprayed in New Brunswick to facilitate the growth of monoculture softwood plantations, as its reason for firing the instructor. 

Cumberland says the use of glyphosate is linked to New Brunswick’s collapsing deer population, which dropped from 286,000 in the ’80s to 70,000 by 2014. It’s also increasingly linked to cancer in people.

Clearcutting currently comprises 80% of the annual timber harvest in the Acadian forets region, whereas more environmentally responsible harvest methods like selective or partial cuts have declined in recent years.

Bayer, the pharmaceutical giant that produces the most popular glyphosate-based herbicides, has been slapped with a spate of lawsuits in California by people claiming the chemical gave them cancer. In May, the company was ordered to award $2-billion in damages to a couple who used the product on their property for decades, the third major loss Bauer suffered in courts in recent years. 

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, classified glyphosate as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ in 2015.

Cumberland worked for New Brunswick’s Department of Natural Resources, where he witnessed the decline in deer populations. The department oversees Crown lands, which is then leased to J.D. Irving Ltd. and other forestry companies. 

After finding his concerns weren’t taken seriously, Cumberland went to work for the college. Still, at MCFT Cumberland felt pressure to stifle his controversial opinions on the herbicide.

“Our college is run by a board of governors and the members consist of (the forest) industry and (provincial Department of Energy and Resource Development) and the feds. It’s no secret that several of them have been critical of my position on glyphosate,” Cumberland told Livesey.

“Do not eat the berries.”

In the article, Livesey notes Cumberland is just the latest victim to fall by the wayside after speaking out on current forestry practices in New Brunswick.

“In 2015, then-premier Brian Gallant’s Liberal government terminated Dr. Eilish Cleary, the province’s chief medical officer, who was at the time working on a study examining the health impacts of the herbicide. Cumberland says numerous other government officials who’ve opposed current forest practices have been removed from their posts,” Livesey writes.

In an interview with CBC New Brunswick, Gerald Redmond, a retired executive director for the college, said he was “pressured during his tenure to reprimand Cumberland” for his outspokenness on the chemical.

In the National Observer article, Corbett points out Cumberland’s opposition to clear-cutting and monocultures, two common industry practices affecting New Brunswick’s habitats and the decimation of its natural, mixed-wood Acadian forest. 

“The Rod Cumberland I know is a genuine father, scientist, researcher and educator,” she said.

Recommended links

Phase-out Herbicides
Green Party Leader to introduce resolution to ban herbicide spraying in NB forest
Where our forest is being sprayed this summer