Members of the group “Stop Spraying New Brunswick” are voicing concern about the effect of herbicides on wildlife in the province and are calling for a change in provincial forest management strategies.
The group said they’re concerned about the declining deer population in the province. Group member Peter Gilbert said there’s a link between the fewer number of deer and the use of the herbicide glyphosate in forestry management.
“Glyphosate is not the only factor involved in the decline of the deer population in New Brunswick, but it’s very indirectly the result that we get when we use glyphosate in forestry techniques that involve clear-cutting plantations. That speaks to total destruction of our environment [and] of our ecosystem, that all of the forest species, that all our population, is reliant on for subsistence,” Gilbert said.
Green Party leader and MLA for Fredericton South David Coon said the government should stop spraying until more research can be done.
“They need to end herbicide spraying in our forests, that’s for sure. Now, how to go about that? I would say they need to, they should set up a process that would take an independent look at this that is clear-headed with clear objectives to answer the question, ‘what are the ecological and health impact of herbicide spraying on our forests – what are the risk associated with it,'” Coon said.
A spokesperson from New Brunswick’s Department of Energy and Resource Development told Global News that the University of New Brunswick – in association with NB Energy and Resource Development, the Universities of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, and other partners – are now collaborating to investigate potential effects that forest management activities may have on deer population dynamics.
Staff said the three-year research project will monitor deer survival and habitat utilization on managed and unmanaged forests.
In an email sent to Global News from staff in the department of energy and resource development, a spokesperson said the deer population has declined since 2007.
“Currently, New Brunswick’s deer population is expected to be around 56,500 animals down from a recent peak of 115,000 in 2007,” wrote a spokesperson from the department.
The department said the population decrease is primarily because of two severe back-to-back winters that killed a large population of large animals.
The spokesperson told Global News that deer populations fluctuate on a landscape for many reasons and that data suggests deer mortality during winter is the most influential factor on deer population dynamics in New Brunswick because of exposure, predation, starvation, disease, or illegal harvesting.
The department said, on a broad scale, the effects of winter severity can also be seen across the northeast area through the recorded deer harvests in Maine and Nova Scotia. Staff said that Maine, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia had similar fluctuations in deer harvest, and this was in response to similar winter conditions.
Gilbert said the the group has done research on the deer harvest numbers in New Brunswick, and surrounding regions.
He told Global News there’s evidence to support spraying is hurting wildlife populations in New Brunswick and said deer numbers are up in provinces and states where glyphosate spraying is banned on public land.
Coon said the scientific evidence is very strong about the negative impacts of herbicides on wildlife — and he says the problem goes beyond just deer populations.
He said, approximately a year ago, retired government deer biologist Rod Cumberland was very public with his conclusions that using herbicides has a negative impact on deer populations.
“The scientific evidence is very strong about its negative impact on amphibians, for example,” he said.
“So there hasn’t been the kind of question asked in New Brunswick which says ya know ‘should we continue to spray herbicides in New Brunswick’s forests or not?’ and in Quebec they asked that question and the conclusion was ‘no’, so they no longer permit the spraying of herbicides in the forests in Quebec.”
Coon said that in Nova Scotia the government decided to end its financing of herbicide spraying, and although it does occur at some level there, the government no longer pays for it. Coon said that’s not the case in New Brunswick, where taxpayers pay for herbicide spraying.
“We do have some research that shows the deer harvest numbers in New Brunswick and surrounding regions – mainly Maine, Quebec, Gaspé Bay and Nova Scotia – and over time we can see where places like Quebec, where they have the same winters as us, they haven’t experienced the same decline in deer harvest as what we have,” Gilbert said.
Gilbert said figures taken from the Government of New Brunswick’s ‘Big Game Harvest Reports 2015’ corroborates the numbers in the group’s research.
In 2011, the Government of Québec launched its Agricultural Phytosanitary Strategy in order to reduce health and environmental risks related to the use of pesticides in agricultural areas by 25 per cent by 2021.
Gilbert said the larger issue is New Brunswick’s forest management policy. He said it’s “for industry and by industry.”
“It doesn’t respect a healthy diversity in our forest ecosystem in our culture, and in the economic conditions that result from the use of our Crown forests in particular,” Gilbert said.
Coon told Global News the reason all the spraying is going on in New Brunswick is because it’s part and parcel to the kind of forest management strategy on Crown lands that government is allowing. He said with a different strategy there wouldn’t be this kind of spraying.
“It really requires a change to forest management practices. So we get away from this sort of industrial approach to try to recreate the forests to produce the kinds of trees in high volume that the pulp mills are looking for, to ones that really over time manage the forest for the diversity that it can supply and have a more diverse forest industry to diversify those products. So you end up using the materials the forest can supply, rather than trying to make the forest over to supply those volumes that individuals companies are demanding,” Coon said.
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