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.

Credit: Contributed

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:

Minister 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. 

Eight people hold brightly coloured signs.
Protesters gather on public property along Pugwash Road on Sept. 16, 2023 to object to Glyphosate spraying. Credit: Ann Hennigar

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:

Credit: Contributed

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. 

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

Join the Conversation


Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
  1. Robert Bright, Bev Wigney, and others are better informed than I on the antics of Forest NS, and your article and their input on the actions of this group are alarming. This is especially so given the suspected cause (glyphosate) of the neurological disorders being experienced by over 200 New Brunswickers. Furthermore, the recent articles on the questionable approvals for use by Health Canada and PMRA of glyphosate while at least one public servant researcher/manager quit over his observations of questionable approvals for use makes one wonder why the “precautionary principle” is not invoked Provincially, let alone Nationally (not just Quebec), leading to a ban on glyphosate use. In my opinion, this exemplifies that our society is run on the operating principle of “it is all about the money”.

  2. Forest Nova Scotia is a dishonest, rogue organization that puts industry profits over human and environmental health. They have demonstrated time and time again that they are too irresponsible, self-interested, and dishonest to manage public money. There are responsible and dependable ecological forestry organizations that are far better suited and far more trustworthy who deserve that funding and money-management responsibility.

  3. So sad and disgusting to see how quickly the Province yanked down the spray maps when harassed by Forest Nova Scotia. Just who is the one doing all the threatening and harassing? I think we all know exactly *who* it is that is behaving like a pack of thugs. Many of us saw with our own eyes, the disgusting web page they put up on the Forest NS website, *attacking* our Annapolis MLA, Carman Kerr, for representing the legitimate concerns of his constituents. Forest NS is employing *political tactics* to create a WEDGE ISSUE between Liberal and Conservative members of the Provincial Legislature. How is it that this organization is permitted to use politicas as a sledge hammer to bash their way into control over everything that they oppose? Just look at how they managed to politicize and torpedo the Biodiversity Act through their fear-mongering. Now they are torpedoing access to information about toxic products being aerial sprayed over the heads of the public. How DARE they think that THEY are more important than the health of the public? How DARE such a politicized and self-serving organization with *virtually NO care for the public* be given the *privilege* of doling out Provincial $$$ for road-building, ONLY to those who will *submit* to being their members only so that they can get some of those funds. Time to rip that privilege away from this POLITICAL organization, and for the Province to either administer the road funding monies, or to hand over the duties to the Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners and Operators Association so that those woodlot owners who are not willing to *bow down and submit* to Forest Nova Scotia’s tactics, can also access funding for their roads.

  4. Thanks for this coverage. Read the label on the product being sprayed. It will become abundantly clear, very obvious, who is spinning a tale on this.

  5. Forest Nova Scotia is opposed to properly informing Nova Scotia citizens where the “Probable Human Carcinogen,” glyphosate will be sprayed over land with a helicopter (a dangerous and foolish practice that is as outdated as it is unnecessary.) Home gardeners’ glyphosate (RoundUp) has only a 2-4% concentration of glyphosate, and is restricted for use to invasive species like japanese knotweed, poison ivy, and poison oak. But the glyphosate sprayed over forests is 40% glyphosate, and clearly much more hazardous to human health, wildlife, waterways, and soil biology. Aerial spraying should be banned outright, but NSECC refuses to protect public health by doing so. At the very least the public should be informed about exactly when and exactly where this dangerous, risky, aerial spraying of toxic chemicals is taking place.

  6. Forest Nova Scotia’s blatant misinforming of Nova Scotians has to stop. Whether it’s spending $250,000 on a fear mongering, lying, misinformation campaign using local newspapers, or starting the fake grassroots group, the Concerned Private Landowners Coalition, to kill a progressive and much needed Biodiversity Act, or whether it’s claiming to represent all wood lot owners in Nova Scotia (clearly a gross falseood,) Forest Nova Scotia persists in misleading and misinforming Nova Scotians. They clearly should not be given any public funding or controlling where those tax payer dollars are spent. They are liars and cannot be trusted.

  7. Thanks for covering this. An important issue due to lack of transparency and accountability to citizens trying to protect their own health and the environment. Please continue to follow up.

  8. It would appear that Forest NS is akin to mafia when it comes to its actions. How else would you explain the money and control behind a group who pretend to be just some “woodlot owners”. It was apparent with the outlay of false narrative against the last Liberal government and them trying to bring forth a biodiversity bill.
    The people behind Forest NS will not be happy until they have sprayed and cut every last tree in this province.

  9. Deja vu- Forest N.S. under a different director and with the previous prov. gov. , a Liberal one, used the same modus operandi. Clearly the maps with the red and yellow lines are superior to the current posting with a single red dot. Best practices in terms of informing the public about concerns with operations involving chemical spraying should be the top priority. If those doing the spraying are, in fact, threatened or illegally encumbered from doing permitted work, then the police can handle it.