About 50 people protested outside the Ministry of Forests District Office in Prince George Thursday.
The protesters are calling for an end to the decades-old practice of spraying regenerating forests with glyphosate, which kills broadleaf plants such as aspen and birch trees and enable quicker growth of conifers such as spruce, pine, and fir trees.
Canfor is in the process of renewing its pest management plan that designates high-biodiversity, fire-resistant native tree species including birch, cottonwood and aspen ‘pests.’ according to rally organizers Stop the Spray BC, and which will be sprayed with glyphosate on their new cutblocks in vast areas around Prince George.
“There’s a five-year plan for spraying that has been approved by the ministry and we’re saying we don’t want that to happen,” said James Steidle, Stop the Spray spokesperson. “We don’t want another five years of indiscriminate spraying of glyphosate on our forests.”
He said the aspen trees do not come back after the forest is sprayed and other species such as birch and cottonwood are greatly reduced.
“You end up with single species plantations that are extremely flammable that aren’t good for wildlife and deny future economic opportunities that you get from a more diversified forest,” he said.
The group is sending a letter to District Forest Manager John Huybers calling for a change in how the forests are managed, which is up to the local office.
“The solution for me is we have to relax the restrictions on broadleaf in the forest,” he said. “You’re allowed to have five per cent deciduous in a replanted cutblock, if we could increase that to 15 per cent, is that the end of the forest industry? I don’t think so.”
If that amount is increased, then the need to spray is reduced and keeping a cutblock to 15 per cent deciduous could be done with manual brushing and sheep.
“Let more of the forest develop the way it wants,” he said. “Those birch, the aspen and the cottonwoods are there for a reason. That ecosystem said ‘hey we’re going to grow aspen and cottonwood and birch here.’ Why are we trying to fight that?”
He also questions why aspen, birch, and cottonwood are deemed ‘unacceptable.’
He adds that while forest companies order and benefit from a monoculture forest, it is the taxpayer who ultimately pays for the spraying. Stop the Spray says it costs taxpayers $400 per hectare.
“Over the next five years, if we’re going to do 5,000 hectares of spraying, that’s $10 million that we, the taxpayer, are paying for spraying,” he said. “Do people agree with that? I don’t think so.”
The group has at least one sympathetic voice in Victoria … Prince George-Mackenzie MLA Mike Morris, who spoke at the rally and who has been vocal in his opposition of the spray.
“If I had the power, I’d pull the plug on glyphosate in the use in forestry right now on Crown land,” Morris told the Daily News during the election campaign. “I’ve been working to try and convince my colleagues that’s the proper thing to do.”
As a trapper for more than 40 years, he has spent plenty of time in the great outdoors and has seen impact on the forests and, more specifically, the food supply of wild animals … large and small.
“Our wildlife populations have been significantly affected by that,” he said. “Our forests have been significantly affected by glyphosate by eliminating a lot of that aspen and broadleaf plants that we have that are excellent fire mitigation tools. Nature supplies them for us, we should be using them.”
Mackenzie Kerr, who ran for the Green Party in Prince George-Mackenzie in last month’s election and Peter Ewart of the Stand up for the North Committee also spoke at the rally.
“Our forests are not just plantations for the sole benefit of Canfor,” reads the letter to Huybers. “There are other values that need protection and your consideration. This does not only include hunters, trappers, ranchers and others who live off the land, but the future economy that may find work in what we today spray.”