A woman with white hair speaks to a crowd rallying outside a corn field on a sunny day
Nina Newington speaks at the rally Thursday. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

As another season of aerial herbicide spraying begins, citizens of the Annapolis Valley are once again gathering to protest the use of glyphosate-based products on lands surrounding their communities.

On a dirt road in Burlington, King’s County Thursday evening, about 50 people, mostly locals, gathered next to a 45-hectare plot of land at the top of the North Mountain to protest planned spraying of forest there. A small faction of that group is setting up camp on the plot, intending to prevent spraying until Freeman and Sons Ltd. – which holds the application under the umbrella of ARF Enterprises, Inc. – or the provincial government says herbicides won’t be used.

Their concern: the carcinogenic dangers of glyphosate to community health, as well as the health of their surrounding forests and wildlife. And they want to see the product and practice banned.

“I find it very disturbing that there’s any thought of spraying in this area, or really any area in the province,” Leo Glavine, the spokesperson for the protestors, told the Halifax Examiner in an interview. “We now can go about selective harvesting. We don’t need to spray so only coniferous trees will go up… and of course, they’ll be clear cut.”

“To come and spray and create a monoculture adds to one of the greatest threats in our province – and nationally and globally – and that is the loss of biodiversity.”

a middle-aged white man speaks into a microphone next to a pick up truck by a field. A sign next to him reads "We say no to aerial spray"
Leo Glavine speaks at the rally in Burlington Thursday. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

Glavine, the province’s former health minister, who spoke against Glyphosate-based spraying when he was MLA for King’s West, also said people are concerned about the health effects of the chemical.

He and the protestors want to see the province ban the product. But glyphosate is approved as a herbicide by Health Canada, under federal jurisdiction, as an Environment and Climate Change spokesperson pointed out to the Examiner by email — as such, the department did not comment on whether it would consider a ban on glyphosate. And no province has taken it upon itself to ban it outright, though Montreal has stopped its sale over the counter as a weed killer.

So protestors in Kings County have contacted their local politicians.

Municipal councillor for the area Dick Killam was at the rally in support of a ban.

MLA Chris Palmer did not attend. He told the Examiner in an email he’d “continue to engage” with his constituents about their concerns, but the land is privately owned and has been approved for spraying in accordance with Health Canada guidelines. Similarly, Chris d’Entremont, MP for West Nova, said he’d rather not see spraying happen, but needed more information to be dissuaded from the “rigorous guidelines” that surround a practice that’s been going on for decades.

The province hasn’t approved the practice for Crown land in recent years though.

It did approve three new applications in August for aerial pesticide spraying on private lands, covering 2,306 hectares across the province which includes the land where protestors have set up camp in Burlington (The site is listed under Victoria Harbour on the provincial list). The approval holders, aside from ARF Enterprises, are JD Irving Ltd. and Wagner Forest NS, Ltd., and the proposed timeline for spraying ends Sept. 30, though approvals don’t expire until Dec. 31.

Nine protestors sit around a camp and umbrella in a field surrounded by forest at dusk. A dog sits in the foreground. Some are sitting, some standing.
Protestors camped out at the “Victoria Harbour” site on the North Mountain in Kings County. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

All three applications will use glyphosate-based herbicides, either Timberline or Vision Max.

Herbicides are dumped from a helicopter above the targeted land, killing unwanted trees and vegetation.

Rosemary Mapplebeck lives down the road from the site in Burlington. She was at the rally Thursday and said she’s worried winds and heavy rains could spread aerial spray beyond the bounds of the approved lot.

“We live on the mountain, right? And my concern is the water,” she told the Examiner. “Yesterday we had some pretty heavy rains. And if [the spray] is up there, and it runs down…and into the brooks. Usually the water would run down the field and underneath the roadway and then across and down into a pond behind the other neighbours, right? And it runs down through our land as well.”

a middle aged white woman speaks into a mic by an open field and a white pickup truck. Two protestors are seen from the back in the foreground
Rosemary Mapplebeck speaks at the rally Thursday. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

The federal government warns users of the following “environmental precautions,” among others, when using Timberline herbicide, the spray being used in Burlington:

  • TOXIC to aquatic organisms and non-target terrestrial plants.
  • To reduce runoff from treated areas into aquatic habitats, avoid application to areas with a moderate to steep slope, compacted soil or clay.
  • Avoid application when heavy rain is forecast.

Glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, according to the World Health Organization, and numerous studies have pointed to the potential harmful health effects of the chemical in wildlife. A recent University of Arizona study found prolonged exposure to glyphosate can lead to neurological damage that may lead to Alzheimer’s.

a sign warns of Herbicide treatments next to forested land in Burlington
A sign warns of Herbicide treatment at the “Victoria Harbour” site on the North Mountain where protestors are now camped out. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

The Examiner reported on the effects of glyphosate in 2020 (and as far back as 2016), when Kings County locals protested similar spraying in the area. Those protests ultimately prevented the use of herbicides on the same land where residents rallied Thursday.

Aside from the potential side effects, there are also questions about the actual aim of glyphosate-based herbicide spraying in forestry. When harvesting softwood, glyphosate is used to kill competing hardwood species. This makes it easier to harvest the remaining softwood through clearcutting. The practice creates a monoculture of trees, diminishing biodiversity.

Similar concerns have inspired others in Digby and Annapolis Counties to take action against approved spraying near their communities.

Keith Joyce is camped out on one such site in Digby County, and plans to stay there as long as spraying is approved.

“There’s myself and two other people who have been camping out here overnight. And we expect more on the way,” he told the Examiner in a phone interview. “I’m just stunned they’re still allowing these toxins to be sprayed on the environment.”

Spraying on newly approved sites in Digby and Kings Counties is planned to begin after Labour Day, but camped out protestors hope to delay it until the proposed timeline passes at the end of the month. At that point, they believe they’ll have stopped spraying at a few locations for another season.

Spraying in Annapolis County was also planned to start next week, but a lack of public notice caused by an error – Annapolis County was accidentally left off the list of areas to be sprayed – pushed back the start date to Sept. 19. 

The Examiner emailed Freeman and Sons to ask whether an alternative to herbicide spraying could be considered, but had yet to receive a response by the time this article was published.

But Glavine is optimistic that Freeman and Sons, like Five Islands – the company that sold the land after protestors prevented spraying there in 2020 – will decide against using herbicides.

“I believe they will respect the people of this community, who are against having the section of the North Mountain become a monoculture of coniferous trees, and respect the natural area that these people live in and work every day.”

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Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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  1. Herbicide use was one of the few items in the Lahey report that I found a little disappointing. It was well considered by the authors to be sure but based on my own knowledge of herbicide use even in the high production forestry part of the triad I would have though it would have been more prudent for the overall ecology of NS to recommend a shift other manual control methods on crown land (even on high production sites) instead of herbicides to try to shift the private land practices away from herbicides as well over time.

    It could have at least parsed out aerial vs backpack applications which are very different in terms of their specificity to what is being killed and the effects on the ecology. The deleterious effects to the ecology of flora (moss, ferns, asters, goldenrods etc) unfortunately was not considered only effects on Fauna, Effects on Humans, and Environmental Quality. To my knowledge neither environmental toxicologists nor botanists were specifically brought in to provide expert advice on the use of herbicides on the forests ecology.

  2. It’s not an either or but for absolute volume I’d be interested to see what uses more glyphosate in Nova Scotia, these private and crown land aerial applications for forestry or Christmas tree plantations

  3. Thanks for this well written carefully researched article. Frustratingly accurate is the title “Once again….” indicating that in spite of the overwhelming evidence about the negative impact of spraying, the plan is moving forward.