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N.B. committee examining glyphosate spraying

Stop Spraying NB protesters outside legislature in 2016. Jeremy Keefe/Global News

The first stage of public hearings on the use of glyphosate happened this week as government departments appeared before the committee on climate change and environmental stewardship.

Departments appeared to give presentations detailing how they controversial herbicide is used and faced questions from MLAs, but some feel the committee isn’t getting the whole picture.

“The primary look is always economy, that’s it that’s all. This is a big forest that we manage and that we harvest,” said Green MLA Kevin Arseneau.

“It’s a complete different worldview. It’s really based on economics and economics only. The jargon is always on productivity.”

READ MORE: Environmental group putting pressure on New Brunswick to ban herbicide spraying

On Wednesday, the Department of Natural Resources and Energy Development walked the committee through how glyphosate is used in provincial forestry operations.

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Effectively newly-planted areas are sprayed after about two to five years in order to clear balsam fir and hardwood to reduce competition for the spruce seedlings planted by the department.

A hectare of forest land sprayed allows trees to grow quicker, meaning less land is needed to produce more wood. It’s estimated that an area that has been sprayed with glyphosate will produce about 250 cubic metres of wood over 50 years.

According to the department, alternative thinning practices are more expensive and less effective than the aerial spraying that happens on 15,000 hectares of crown land every year.

NB Power also makes us of the practice in order to prevent trees from growing into transmission lines. The utility claims that manual cutting can actually be more destructive than herbicide spraying.

READ MORE: Stop Spraying group in New Brunswick urging public to speak up

According to the crown corporation, about 40 per cent of transmission lines are sprayed with herbicides each year and on average about 30 per cent of that activity includes glyphosate.

Both NB Power and DNR say their use of glyphosate is within the acceptable dosages deemed safe by Health Canada.

But Arseneau and the rest of the Green caucus want to see the practice banned.

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“Our position has always been clear,” he said. “A total ban on crown land and under NB Power utility [lines] to start with and a progressive [phase out] in agriculture also.”

Rod Cumberland attended the public hearings on Wednesday. Cumberland alleges he was fired from the Maritime College of Forest Technology due to his views of glyphosate spraying and will be running as a candidate for the People’s Alliance in a by-election is St. Croix.

Cumberland pointed to Quebec, where glyphosate has been banned, as a potential example for New Brunswick.

“It’s going to come down to human health versus economics,” he said.

“It may cost us a little bit more money to keep our forest industry going, but they’ve looked at that, they’ve actually been quite ingenious and they’ve come up with other ways of making that system work.”

Members of the public have been invited to appear before the committee during four days in March to speak on the subject. Those rounds of hearings will run from March 24-27.

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