After presentations from 17 different groups over four days, the latest round of hearings on pesticide spraying in New Brunswick has finished.
The committee on climate change and environmental stewardship has one more day of hearings scheduled for Sept. 7, when Indigenous groups will be invited to speak, but the group expects to meet informally through the summer as it begins the task of crafting recommendations for the legislative assembly.
“The due diligence isn’t over,” said natural resources minister Mike Holland on Friday afternoon.
“We’re going to be meeting in September but I spoke to other committee members where particular areas of interest piqued different members and we’re going to drill down on those over the summer.”
The task of crafting recommendations will be a difficult one, considering the diversity of opinion of presenters to the committee and the legislators sitting around the table itself.
Both the Green Party and the People’s Alliance have called for a ban on glyphosate spraying in the province’s forestry sector.
In the 2020 election campaign, then Liberal leader Kevin Vickers promised a Liberal government would phase out glyphosate spraying on Crown land over four years.
Liberal environment critic Francine Landry said Friday that the caucus will have to meet to discuss where they currently stand on the issue, but says she hopes to strike a balance between conservation, responsible forestry management and industry.
“I think we have one common goal: it’s to protect the environment and it’s to protect the jobs and the economy of New Brunswick as well,” Landry said.
“We hope to find a balance.”
Presenters from the forestry industry told the committee that glyphosate spraying is a cost-effective way to manage New Brunswick’s forests. Aerial spraying is used on about a third of clear-cut blocks to kill competitive hardwood species, allowing softwoods to grow faster and therefore be harvested sooner and in greater volume.
But others called for a more holistic rethink of the way forestry is done in New Brunswick, raising concerns over the ecological impact of clear cuts and spraying.
Green Party MLA David Coon says he wants to see that viewpoint reflected in the final recommendations of the committee.
“Clearly, across the public in New Brunswick, you can’t look at glyphosate in isolation from the model it’s being used in,” Coon said.
“What I’m hearing from the public is really that model that’s being applied, the extensive reliance on clear-cutting and then converting to plantations which requires the use of herbicides to do those plantations, according to the companies, effectively, is the root of the problem.”
Some foresters told the committee that the model keeps the province’s forestry footprint as small as possible. The argument is that without clear-cutting, or even without herbicide spraying, it would take far more land to harvest the necessary level of wood fibre. Forest NB’s Mike Legere told the committee that other methods of reducing competition like manual thinning, where workers are sent into blocks with chainsaws, would increase costs ten-fold.
Throughout the week Holland cited his commitment to double the protected areas in the province from four per cent. He said his primary concern when approaching the issue of herbicides is conservation and habitat regeneration, which he says may not be analogous to the methods currently employed in forestry.
“For me, the use of a herbicide, if it contains industry to the smallest footprint we possibly can … from my perspective, if it’s a tool that allows me to build conservation in other areas of the province, (that’s for) the very best,” Holland said.
“At the end of the day, my concerns have always been habitat driven.”
Holland did push representatives from Forest NB about why they are reliant on herbicide spraying in silviculture.
“Surely there are jurisdictions that operate a viable, economically sustainable forestry (sector) without herbicide,” Holland said.
“I have a hard time believing that we need that exclusively here to be successful in New Brunswick.”
Legere said that Scandinavian countries are able to use very little herbicide in their forestry operations, but says that’s a result of having mostly a boreal forest and being “probably 200 years ahead” when it comes to silviculture. He said the repeated harvest and regeneration of trees taking place over the course of two centuries has made the soil more acidic and less hospitable for the competing hardwoods that glyphosate is used to kill.
Other committee members want to see Indigenous perspectives adequately reflected in the final report of the committee.
Coon says he wants to see the final recommendations reflect treaty obligations for First Nations to be consulted about forest management strategies and to share in resource development.
“We’ve got to — as a society in New Brunswick and as reflected by government — to stop making decisions about management of forests on Crown land without First Nations being part of decision making,” Coon said.
“The land wasn’t ceded. All of us as politicians, whatever party, we make that land acknowledgment regularly, publicly and yet First Nations are not at the table when it comes to management, decision making and planning and they need to be.”
On Friday afternoon Steve Ginnish, the director of forestry and natural resources for Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc., spoke to the committee about the lack of consultation on forest management with Indigenous Nations. He also took aim at the tiny share of the annual allowable cut on Crown land awarded to First Nations. Each year industry receives 95 per cent of that cut and First Nations split the other 5 per cent.