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On September 4, people working in the woods of northern New Brunswick, including more than 50 women planting trees, were doused with chemicals from a helicopter spraying the public forest to kill the hardwoods for a softwood plantation.
Betty St. Pierre, a spokeswoman for the group of people who say they were sprayed, says people were told to evacuate the area in Kedgwick because of imminent spraying, but the spraying began before they had the chance to leave. According to St. Pierre, tree planters experienced runny eyes, sore throats and nausea after being sprayed by the herbicide.
Many of the women and men are afraid to speak publicly about the event for fear of losing their jobs. St. Pierre, who scales trees for a living, says someone has to speak up.
“We have had enough. They are scaring people by telling them there will be no work. Meanwhile, they are using us as guinea pigs.” She says that since the incident many people have relayed stories of getting sprayed while fishing or working in the woods.
The frustration is apparent in St. Pierre's voice as she describes the community and surrounding forest.
“A man reported fish kills along a stream here after the last spraying. It is not normal to do that to the forest. We can't prove we are sick because of the spraying but cancer and pesticides have been linked. People are starting to question why do so many people in our community, in northern New Brunswick, have cancer, and rare cancers,” she says.
A new high-tech wind tunnel was unveiled at the Acadia Research Forest near Fredericton on the same day that the news broke across the province that women sprayed in Kedgwick were calling for a ban on aerial forest spraying. The HJ Irving-JJC Picot Wind Tunnel will be used to determine the exact location where spraying planes should fly depending on weather and wind.
St. Pierre says her message for the provincial government is to ban all pesticides. St. Pierre and a group of women have held community demonstrations and have collected 5,000 signatures on a petition calling for a ban on aerial forest spraying. They plan to present the petition to New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham when the NB Legislature reopens on November 17.
On its website, the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources (DNR) admits it has tried alternatives to spraying herbicides on New Brunswick's public forest but continues to use herbicides because they are cheaper and involve less labour. “Natural Resources has tried clearing the brush using hand tools and brush saws. Cut stems re-sprout the following year, causing severe competition; therefore, these treatments must be repeated often. This raises the cost to over 10 times that of a single application of herbicide.” According to DNR, herbicides are sprayed on approximately 25 per cent of the softwood land cut over each year in the province.
In late January, the province of New Brunswick announced a new plan for the forest that would allow the area of plantations on public lands to increase to 28 per cent. Plantations currently represent 10 per cent of the public forest.
More plantations will mean an increase in herbicide spraying. The increase in plantation area concerns scientists working with the Greater Fundy Ecosystem Research Group. They recommend that plantations not exceed more than 15 per cent of the forest area in order to preserve biodiversity.
St. Pierre points to other regions in Canada that have banned spraying. No herbicides have been sprayed on Quebec's public forest since 2001. Carol Hughes and Glen Thibeault, two NDP MPs in Northern Ontario, are expressing concerns with aerial forest spraying. Hughes is calling for an investigation on the impacts of aerial spraying of glyphosate over forests in northern Ontario.
Over half of the forest in New Brunswick is designated Crown land (public land). This land has never been ceded by its Indigenous people.
Tracy Glynn is the Forest Campaigner at the Conservation Council of New Brunswick and a director on the board of the Dominion Newspaper Cooperative.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.