Stop the Runaway Clearcutting and Say Goodbye to Herbicide Spraying

Written by
David Coon


I had the great fortune to be in Tracadie on November 18th to accept some 7,000 signatures on a petition organized by members of the group Stop Spraying NB (Arretons l’arrosage Nouveau-Brunswick) to stop spraying glyphosate on Crown land in New Brunswick.  This herbicide is sprayed from helicopters to kill hardwood trees and shrubs growing in softwood plantations.

Last November, Restigouche MLA Gilles LePage and I presented petitions in the Legislative Assembly to stop herbicide spraying signed by 13,000 New Brunswickers.  This brings to over 20,000 the number of New Brunswickers who are calling for a halt to herbicide spraying as a taxpayer-funded forest management practice.

It is disturbing to look at a map of New Brunswick showing all the lands sprayed with glyphosate. Each year the big forestry companies combined with NB Power spraying under their power lines blanket an area larger than Greater Moncton (around 30,000 ha) with the herbicide.

Ours is one of only three Canadian provinces clinging to the practice, despite numerous petitions similar to the present one, and long-standing, vocal objections from our rural residents. They have a right to a safe environment, to live free of fear for their wellbeing and that of the wildlife inhabiting our forests.

Years of research has raised concerns about the impacts of spraying on wildlife. More recently, the World Health Organization changed its assessment of glyphosate from possible carcinogen to probable carcinogen.  This got everyone’s attention.  This is particularly so when many feel we are facing a cancer epidemic in our province.  

Industry and some government officials maintain the need to spray is unavoidable.   Following massive clearcutting operations, hardwood  and softwood saplings and shrubs quickly grow in to keep the soil from drying out and to re-establish the conditions for a new forest to emerge.  However, the kind of forest that re-emerges in a clearcut is doesn’t contain the high volume of rapidly growing evergreen trees the big forestry companies want for their mills.   The solution?  Poison the hardwoods, so the evergreens they plant will not have to compete for light, water and nutrients with all of the plants and trees that naturally regenerate.

The root of the problem is the forest management formula:  carve big clearcuts out of our forest, plant them to grow evergreen trees as if they are a crop of corn, and then spray the naturally growing hardwoods as if they are weeds.  Repeat, and repeat again. Herein lies the problem.

As the Legislative Assembly’s Select Committee on Wood Supply recommended years ago, we need to significantly reduce the use of clearcutting.  With more selection cutting, we get more desirable natural regeneration, and no spraying is needed.  Abandon clearcutting as the logging method of choice and herbicide use is pointless.

Ironically, research of biologist Dr. Charles Bourque shows that the growing conditions suitable for the spruce trees the large forest companies are planting, will disappear from much of New Brunswick in the face of our rapidly changing climate.  Many varieties of hardwoods, however, will thrive.

Since 2014, the provincial government has permitted the forest companies to expand their clearcutting so they can cut 20% more wood every year, and so they can increase their acreage of plantations .  That means far more glyphosate spraying.  If this keeps up, 25% of the forest on Crown land will be replaced by plantations, with plenty of herbicide spraying to make that possible.   

Tens of thousands of rural New Brunswickers are saying no to spraying, and no to runaway clearcutting.  It’s time our government does the same.

David Coon,
MLA Fredericton South
Leader of the Green Party of NB