Some locals are calling into question the widespread use of a notorious herbicide known as glyphosate to manage unwanted tree species in local forests. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in many pesticides, including RoundUp™.
Firefighter and educator Jared Smith studied geography and environmental science in school, to him, removing aspen stands to create better growing conditions for conifers, like pine trees, doesn’t make sense.
In previous seasons Smith worked at the local fire base leading an initial attack crew to extinguish fires before they expand. While Smith surveyed the landscape he would check for natural firebreaks like lakes, fields and deciduous tree stands.
“Anyone who has spent time on the fireline knows how much of a fire break they are,” said Smith.
“It’s like a wall. You’ll see an active crown fire drop to the ground and smolder through.”
Smith said that the sap in deciduous trees rises at the same time as peak fire season and provide an effective fire defence that firefighters can use to their advantage.
“We use those stands as firebreaks or anchor points. The fire danger is lower and it is a safe place to work from or go back to,” he said.
Smith believes provincial regulations that favour maximum forest revenue are putting the forest, and communities at fire risk.
“Honestly, the way I see it, our annual allowable cut shouldn’t be so high we need to monocrop forests in order to achieve it,” he said. “By leaving the aspen trees in the forest we won’t get as high a volume, we achieve these other biological benefits.”
Smith who has also worked in the logging business said he understands the plight to forest companies. They use the herbicide to get replanted forests back into what is called a ‘free-growing’ state. It’s a requirement made by the province and using the herbicide helps replanted trees grow quickly.
“Forest companies are responsible for the stand until they achieve a free growing state. As soon as they can get it to that age class they don’t have responsibility for it,” he said.
Smith believes government can help take the pressure of forestry by changing the rules.
Andrew Patrick, a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change said that forest companies aren’t required to use pesticides, but are allowed to when they conform to the standards of integrated pest management.
“The principles of integrated pest management ensure that pesticides are only used when necessary, and companies are required to consider both chemical and non-chemical treatment methods to control vegetation,” said Patrick. “The use of glyphosate is not mandatory when performing these treatments on reforested cutblocks. However, it is the most common herbicide used to control vegetation in forestry.”
For Byron and Carol Bustin, residents of Tete Jaune, aerial spraying is disconcerting.
“It means the chemicals are going to go into the water and go into animals,” said Carol.
She said the forest company’s desire to grow conifers, wood of high value in the forest industry, recalls the potato famine in 19th century Ireland.
“You get the potato blight and you get a famine,” she said.
Bustin said that to make matters worse, the herbicides used by forest companies aren’t the only threat to deciduous trees in the area.
“For the last five or six years there have been leaf miners. I think studies need to be done before you give permission for someone to go out and blanket kill,” she said.
Byron’s main concern is waterways and their inhabitants.
“My main concern is the fish. Let’s say they spray right here, we’re still a fair distance from the Fraser River, but what about that stuff going into the ground and then into groundwater.”
“Are these chemicals edible?” asks Carol. “Just think of the number of people that eat wild meat from here. If they are trying to get the aspen, that’s what the deer eat.”
Carrier Lumber Ltd said that they would not provide comment to the media.
Valemount’s closest licensee is Valemount Community Forest. Forest Manager Craig Pryor said that they do not have a Pest Management Plan and don’t do a large amount of spraying.
“We have used small amounts [of herbicide] in the past (2-3 areas) with a permit that the contractor holds. We only use this tool on small areas under 20 hectares where the area is overrun by deciduous tree species,” said Pryor. “This area is sprayed on the ground and with specific targets and not broadcast sprayed.”
Pryor said that they currently have a contractor manually brushing areas.
“We like the manual brushing for the vast majority of our brushing needs but the spraying is a good tool for the most difficult sites. Trying to brush these sites would cost vast sums of money and make reaching a viable stand extremely difficult.”
A man from Prince George has been campaigning against aerial spraying of herbicides since 2013. James Steidle grew up in the shadow of Rosebud Mountain, and loved the biodiversity of the aspen forest there near his family’s farm.
Steidle and his family began campaigning against aerial spraying near their farm because they keep honey bees on the property. Steidle’s started the website StopTheSprayBC.com and has been working to influence the province to disallow the practice and uses science to bolster his case.
“Wildlife are incredibly dependent on broadleaf trees. In a Central BC study, 95% of all bird nests were in aspen trees, even though they were only 15% of the forest,” said Steidle. “Moose are found to be incredibly dependent on broadleaf trees as well, with one Prince George area study finding that moose preferred aspen bark in winter above all else.”
Steidle said that letting aspen forest thrives is critical.
“As our planet continues to warm, biodiversity fades and forest fires grow worse, does it make sense to keep eliminating the trees with the highest biodiversity values, lowest probability of flammability, and best ability to sequester CO2 and reflect solar radiation from our forests? Obviously not,” said Steidle.
Some locals have started a petition against the use of herbicides. At the Mother’s Day garage sale in Dunster the petition garnered 124 signatures. Debbie Knudslien is one of the people involved in the creation and distribution of petition.
“The time has come when people have to stop thinking about monetary gain and start thinking about the environment and the harmful effects of their choices to the plants, animals, birds, fish, bugs and people,” she said. “We don’t have much time left, if we don’t start making changes we’re going to run out of time.”
The petition is available at hardware stores and a number of other locations in Valemount and McBride.