It’s the fifth petition of its kind in just over a decade. But this time there are nearly 13,000 names signed by New Brunswickers who want the province to stop spraying public forests with glyphosate, the herbicide used in New Brunswick’s forestry industry and labelled last year as a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization.
Thousands of acres of Crown forest lands are sprayed every year with herbicides to kill hardwoods and plants that compete with softwood plantation seedlings.
On Wednesday, May 18, 2016, over a 100 people, many carrying colourful signs against spraying the forest, were at the NB Legislature to witness the passing over of thousands of signatures to the petition to two New Brunswick MLAs, David Coon (Fredericton South) and Gilles LePage (Restigouche West), who presented the petitions in the Legislative Assembly later that afternoon. Also in attendance at the rally were Minister of Natural Resources Denis Landry and Kent South MLA Benoit Bourque. Both LePage and Coon promised to add their names to the petition before they presented it to the Legislative Assembly.
The drive for signatures on the petition is still ongoing and is expected to be tabled again in September.
“It’s a significant achievement” said Stop Spraying New Brunswick (SSNB) representative Peter Gilbert, acknowledging the efforts of one woman in particular who was responsible for getting 3,000 signatures. Francine Lévesque and a handful of family and friends, from Kedgwick in northern New Brunswick, collected about a third of the signatures on this latest petition drive.
Lévesque, like many of SSNB’s organizers, have been part of petitions against spraying the forest in the past. She and a group of women were largely responsible for presenting such a petition to Kedgwick’s Mayor and the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly in 2009. The women were driven to action after more than 50 people doing silviculture work in the Kedgwick area say they were doused with chemicals from a helicopter spraying the public forest.
“We didn’t want to go provincial, we wanted to collect signatures and go to our mayor and have him stop glyphosate spraying on our rural community,” said Lévesque.
“We’re only 2,200 people in Kedgwick. We met with 1,114 people and only fourteen refused to sign,” said Lévesque.
She quickly realized her mayor didn’t have the power to change forestry practices in her hometown. Rather than give up hope, she joined SSNB’s provincial-wide petition.
This most recent petition campaign was started on December 16, 2015 with an initial submission of almost 1,200 signatures from Kedgwick, representing half the population of the small Restigouche County community.
Gilbert also said SSNB representatives have requested that the acting Chief Medical Officer of New Brunswick, Dr. Jennifer Russell, release the department’s review of glyphosate spraying.
“Last fall they promised a review on glyphosate by this spring in advance of the spraying season. We have yet to see that.”
The Office of the Chief Medical Officer of New Brunswick responded to SSNB in email saying the report was expected to be released this coming spring.
Glyphosate is the predominately used active herbicide ingredient used in forestry in New Brunswick and across Canada. Glyphosate is found in products like VisionMax, Forza and Vantage.
Critics of herbicide spraying in the Crown forest worry the province’s natural mixed forests of evergreens and leafy hardwoods like maple, oak and birch are declining due to the conversion of naturally occurring forests to plantations of balsam fir, spruce or jack pine by J.D. Irving, Limited and other forestry companies that hold licenses to harvest wood on New Brunswick’s Crown land.
SSNB also worries that the combination of increased and larger scale clearcutting and glyphosate spraying of plantations are eliminating important sources of deer food. Herbicides like glyphosate kill broad leaf plants that are critical sources of food and habitats for forest wildlife like deer and moose.
SSNB also distributed recent data from Maine Inland Fish & Widlife, Quebec Chasse et Peche (Quebec Hunting and Fishing), and both Nova Scotia’s and New Brunswick’s Department of Natural Resources that showed a drop in New Brunswick’s deer population by 15 per cent of what they were in 1985. In Quebec, deer populations have tripled over that same period while in Maine, the population has remained the same.
Using Quebec as a reference, SSNB proposes replacing herbicide use in Crown forests with thinning crews which they say would create much needed jobs in rural communities. Quebec banned herbicide spraying of its public forest in 2001 and has successfully applied the use of thinning crews. Nova Scotia is no longer funding herbicide spraying of its Crown forest.
SSNB also referenced the Auditor General of New Brunswick’s 2015 report attributing the annual forest deficit ($7-$10 million for each of the last five years) to the costly silviculture program. They say it’s time to stop funding herbicide spraying as part of New Brunswick’s crown forest management and try something different and potentially less costly.
In defence of herbicide spraying, Natural Resources Minister Denis Landry said the use of herbicide is limited to only a small percentage of clearcuts and only once during a tree’s lifetime.
“Some people tend to think we’re using glyphosate all over the province, all over the forest. That’s not the fact, not at all. We’re only using glyphosate on a 20 to 23 per cent of clearcuts in the province. That’s a big difference between clearcutting everything and replanting everything,” said Minister Landry.
The petition was presented to legislation one week after Mi’kmaq First Nation Chiefs launched their second lawsuit against the New Brunswick government over its Crown Lands and Forest Strategy, declaring it an infringement of Aboriginal rights and treaties.
CCNB has been a long-time advocate for phase out of New Brunswick’s use of herbicides in the Crown forest and has taken part in the collection of signatures for every petition in the last decade. CCNB has been instrumental in bringing hunters, scientists and wildlife groups together to build an united constituency against herbicide spraying.
CCNB also fosters awareness surrounding the issue by circulating educational material describing the negative effects of herbicide spraying on natural forests and inviting local speakers to give presentations on forestry issues concerning New Brunswick.
Petitions can be returned to the Conservation Council at 180 Saint John St., Fredericton, NB E3B 4A9.