Each year, like many Canadians living in forested regions of this country, I dread the summer season. Any time from late May until September, pesticides can be used on the forests of Nova Scotia. So it is a time of tension, apprehension and bitter anger. It is also a time when we receive telephone calls asking for information, and help to try and stop not only forest spraying, but pesticide use on roadsides, powerlines, railway lines, blueberry fields, and Christmas tree plantations. Sometimes the inquiries come from outside Nova Scotia, such as a recent letter from a person in Toronto, who enclosed a communication from the acting director of parks and urban forestry, justifying the use of a long list of pesticides on turf areas, bowling greens, flower and shrub beds, and city-owned trees. None of these pesticides we are informed “are considered hazardous to humans or animals following extensive testing which is based on rigid standards.” It is hard for many people to comprehend, at a time of developing environmental consciousness, that pesticide use is increasing. Yet when this is grasped, and the reasons why, it is an understanding which can radicalize.
A recent address “The Future Of Pesticides In Forestry” by the director general of Forestry Canada, puts the present and future pesticide manipulation of Canada’s forests in blunt terms:
“The demands for forest protection will increase. As we invest more in forest renewal and intensiveforest management, it is axiomatic that we must protect that investment. Intensive forest management will undoubtedly make pests out of species that have not been important pests to date (the spruce budmoth in Quebec and New Brunswick is a case in point) and climate change will add another dimension of stress to many of our currently desirable tree species, making them even more susceptible to insect attack and less tolerant of competing vegetation.”
The director general, spoke also of the increasing use of biological controls: “What do you think the public reaction will be to the release of viruses and fungi and nematodes into the forest environment, and how will they react to our use of genetically manipulated organisms?” He urged his audience to “close ranks” on the necessity for a variety of pesticide options “in enlightened forest management.”
So this is the projected face of the forest future, which those who live in forested areas have to come to terms with.
During about ten years of organizing around forestry and pesticide issues I, like many others, have seen the options for trying to influence the system to change its forestry spraying policies, essentially disappear. Court challenges, petitions, demonstrations, social pressure, appeals to politicians, exposure of fraudulent pesticide science, shows of massive local opposition to pesticide use, and token representation on pesticide user committees have not stopped forest spraying. So today, the only realistic advice can be that no “official” is going to help any individual or community which wants to stop a particular forest spray situation.
The pulp and paper companies — whose forestry policies rest on the need to use herbicides and insecticides for broadcast spraying on a very large scale> the state apparatus at the provincial or federal levels> and the chemical companies which manufacture the pesticides, are in collusion and committed to using these chemicals for straightforward capitalist reasons. They will not be deterred by appeals to reason. Communities therefore have to organize themselves, using whatever means are necessary, to prevent forest spraying which increasingly impinges upon human living space. There is a gathering storm of dissent building up against the chemical contamination of our environment. It will eventually erupt on a massive scale, and bring about major changes in the way we relate to our forests and to the natural world.
“Pesticide” is a general term which includes herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, growth regulators, rodenticides, etc., as well as “biological controls.” B.t. (Bacillus thuringiensis variety kurstaki), is an example of biological control — with chemical additives — which is used as an insecticide against the spruce budworm. The basic federal pesticide legislation is the Pest Control Products Act and Pest Control Products Regulations, administered by Agriculture Canada. Pesticides are registered for use in Canada by this agency, which can consult with other federal agencies like Environment, Health and Welfare, Fisheries, etc. Thus an agency which promotes the use of pesticides in farming, is ultimately responsible for their registration.
Large scale clear cutting and the promotion of selected softwood (coniferous) pulp species for their long pulping fibers, gives rise to the “necessity” to use herbicides. They are used for “weeding,” that is, to eliminate hardwoods and vegetation in plantations and in naturally regenerating forest sites.
Also, herbicides are used for what is called “site preparation” before planting nursery-grown seedlings.
Pesticide drift cannot be avoided, and drift from aerial application of forest sprays (the norm), is reputed to be about five times greater than when ground-rig spraying is carried out.
The main forestry herbicide in use in Canada is called Vision or Round-Up, and it is made by Monsanto. The active ingredient is this herbicide is glyphosate. According to Monsanto’s “Material Safety Data”, this amounts to 41 per cent of the pesticide formulation. Despite the sworn claims to the “safety” of this herbicide, or any other pesticide for that matter, the public is normally only given the chemical company version of knowledge about the active ingredient.
Activists working on pesticide issues, point out that we cannot know the impact of a pesticide on the environment or human health, unless we have independent data about:
a – the active ingredient>
b – the “inert” ingredients, which can be harmless fillers, poisonous in their own right, or enhance thetoxicity of the active ingredient>
c – the contaminants from the production process>
d – the metabolites or breakdown products of the pesticide> and
e – the synergistic interactions of the particular pesticide with other pesticides and chemicals already present in the environment.
It is really impossible to know ‘e,’ and for Vision, independent researchers, have identified ‘b,’ ‘c’ and ‘d.’ This knowledge is now widely known in the anti-pesticide movement.
All pesticide information normally available to the public from pesticide promoters or “regulators” is promotional. When Agriculture Canada has a “review” of pesticides due to health or environmental concerns raised by critics (as happened with the forestry herbicide Vision), economic factors are given the most weight. The public and environmentalists need to come to the position that pesticide use is incompatible with an ecologically sustainable forestry. The integrity of our environment, and human health considerations, demand our “adjustment” to the real productivity of a non-sprayed, natural forest ecosystem.