For generations in Nova Scotia, environmentalists and big forestry companies have engaged in a continuous tug-of-war, trying to pull government policy to their side of the line. In the latest contest, both are pulling as fiercely as ever.
It was sparked by new terms and conditions surrounding aerial spraying of the herbicide Glyphosate on privatelyowned woodlands, primarily in Cumberland County (2,500 acres or 1011.7 hectares), but also in Annapolis and Kings Counties.
On August 15, the Department of Environment and Climate Change issued spray permits to JD Irving and ARF Enterprises of Tatamagouche which will remain in place until September 30.
The approvals were posted online, as well as new rules concerning signage and improved notification of the public.
At the outset, a map was attached to each approval, showing the area which would be sprayed within the much larger area defined by a Property Identification Number. The spray area was outlined in red; blue lines indicated the buffer zone around waterways.
Here’s a screen shot taken August 15 of the map attached to a spray permit for an area in Annapolis County.
However, if you go to the ECC website where the approvals are still posted, you won’t find this spray map — or any others, for that matter. By September 1, they had vanished.
Mikaela Etchegary, a spokesperson for the Department of Climate Change, confirms the maps were taken down following a complaint from Forest NS, a group which says it is the largest organization in the province representing “forestry interests.” These interests included the largest pulp and sawmill companies in the province, as well as contractors and woodlot owners.
“We did post maps of the proposed spray areas to our website in August,” said Etchegary. “The maps, which are not part of the approvals, were removed from our website due to concerns Forestry Nova Scotia had about increased harassment of spray operators and illegal trespassing on the properties.”
Indeed, within days of the spray approvals being issued, Forest NS posted an urgent call to action. Members of Forest NS were asked to sign their name to the following email message which the group would forward to Environment Minister Tim Halman:
We are concerned that your changes to spraying terms and conditions erode landowner rights in our province. These changes will make it easier for people to trespass on private land, disrupt business operations, and add red tape for the forestry sector.
Instead of listening to Liberals and environmentalists, please listen to landowners and woodlot owners. Please reverse these changes.
Forest NS also provided members with this background information for the letter-writing campaign:
Late in the summer, Forest Nova Scotia was made aware of changes to the terms and conditions for spraying approvals. The department decided to add more forestry red tape before ever consulting with the sector. We asked department officials why these changes were made. We were told they received calls. This wasn’t entirely true.
Environment and Climate Change was influenced by Nova Scotia Liberal MLA Carmen Kerr, the caucus’s forestry critic. He has a track record of meeting with people in the Extinction Rebellion movement. In this case, he helped environmentalists pressure the provincial government to adopt new rules. Environment officials spoke with three spray operators and only met with Forest Nova Scotia after we issued a complaint to the department. They did not consult with any landowners. Departmental bureaucrats made these changes. Minister Halman can reverse the changes.
Fear-mongering or legitimate concern?
Stephen Moore is the executive-director of Forest NS. The Halifax Examiner asked Moore for specific changes the group wanted to see reversed.
“First, we were opposed to detailed maps being posted online,” said Moore.
“Second, we were opposed to spraying operators having to provide a toll-free number. Third, we were opposed to the costs of bilingual signage.”
“Our spraying operators have been the focus of harassment and intimidation for conducting perfectly legal operations on private land,” Moore continued:
As the leading forestry organization in Nova Scotia, we cannot accept any changes that increase the likelihood of threats and intimidation for our members… we also not okay with measures that make trespass on private land easier. Our members lose wages and income when people trespass on private land to disrupt forestry practices. This isn’t acceptable. We are grateful Minister Halman and his team took the time to sit down and hear from us. He and his team engaged in meaningful and thoughtful discussions.
The Examiner has learned Forest NS convinced Halman to pull the maps that provided the public with more detailed information about exactly where spraying will occur with glyphosate, a chemical the World Health Organization describes as a “probable carcinogenic.”
Attaching maps to the spray approvals was one of many recommendations put forward to Department of Environment officials in charge of the spray program.
A couple of Extinction Rebellion members drafted a suite of recommendations aimed at providing better information so people concerned about glyphosate could choose to cover their vegetables or keep animals and children inside while helicopters sprayed nearby.
Annapolis MLA Carmen Kerr took those recommendations to the ECC department on their behalf and several were implemented this season.
One of Kerr’s constituents is Nina Newington, an outspoken activist with Extinction Rebellion who is also a woodlot owner in the Annapolis county.
“It is outrageous that the Department of Environment removed the maps in the midst of the spray season,” said Newington:
Without maps showing where the actual spraying is going to happen, there is no way for the public to establish how close they are to a spray area. Someone who lives nearby just has to trust that the Approval holder will notify them.
Earlier this month someone doing mechanical thinning (the non-toxic alternative to spraying) in a clearcut along the Roxbury Rd in Annapolis contacted me to find out how close his work area is to the spray site in Paradise. I was only able to tell him because I had kept that screenshot of the map showing the actual spray areas, not just the property boundaries.
The Examiner asked both the Department of Environment and Forest NS for examples of trespassing or disrupting spray operations during this season or last year. So far, no examples have emerged.
The past two Saturdays have seen peaceful protests by members of the ‘Stop Spraying Cumberland’ group at a park in Springhill and then along the public Pugwash River Road, near the entrance to a road which leads to three spray sites.
Organizer Ann Hennigar told the Examiner why local residents are concerned about herbicide spraying in the Pugwash area:
The spray sites are just below the Pugwash well field area and above Pugwash River Road residences and the Pugwash River. The ground is saturated in many places and some of the area below the spray site is actually wetland. Small streams are flowing everywhere. It’s obvious that some of this toxic liquid herbicide is likely to get into the groundwater and flow into surrounding areas, including the wells and gardens of local residents.
No one with the Stop Spraying Cumberland group saw the map briefly attached to the spray approval on August 15. Instead, the group is relying on a much cruder version. In this photo, the actual spray zone is marked by a single red dot:
Back in Annapolis County, Nina Newington says the pushback from Forest NS has tainted the progress made by officials within the Department of Environment who saw fit to make spray companies “show and tell” residents where spraying will take place.
The new toll-free phone line allows members of the public to find it out when weather conditions are suitable for spraying; too much wind or rain will lead to grounding the aircraft.
Newington was so incensed by Forest NS’s claim it represents land owners that she sent a letter to Natural Resources Minister Tory Rushton. The government handed Forest NS the purse strings to a $1.7 million-dollar annual fund to assist private wood lot owners. Newington is a wood lot owner, but she says Forest NS’s recent actions should make the province assume more responsibility. Wrote Newington:
Dear Tory Rushton,
In light of Forest Nova Scotia’s recent highly partisan and political attack on you and on my MLA, Carman Kerr, for responding to the legitimate concerns of large numbers of Nova Scotians regarding the aerial spray program, I believe it is time to for our government to stop allowing this group the exclusive right to administer road building funds for woodlot owners.
Forest Nova Scotia claims to be representing private landowners. I own a woodlot. They do not represent me or my family’s views, values and priorities. I refuse to join an organization as unethical as Forest Nova Scotia. As matters stand, that means I am unable to access funds to improve woods roads on my property. This is simply wrong.
Either the government itself should administer all woods roads funding for private landowners or, failing that, Forest Nova Scotia’s monopoly on this funding must be broken. A reputable organization such as the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association (of which I am a member) should also be permitted to administer woods road funding.
Penalizing Forest NS for lobbying the Environment Minister to reverse a measure that provided the public greater transparency around aerial spraying is an interesting idea. But that might depend on whether the government feels any shame for having been tugged so quickly to Forest Nova Scotia’s side.