Berry pickers raise alarm over herbicide spraying

A First Nation that harvests blueberries to eat and sell feels the Ministry of Natural Resources herbicide spraying program is bad for business.

Aroland First Nation says blueberries being harmed by MNR's aerial herbicide spraying program

A First Nation that harvests blueberries to eat and sell say the Ministry of Natural Resources’ herbicide spraying program is bad for business.

The economic development officer for Aroland First Nation said community members harvest blueberries and have been developing an economy based on selling them.

Blueberries that are sprayed with herbicides by the Ministry of Natural Resources struggle to survive, an Aroland First Nation official reports. (Aroland First Nation)

Mark Bell said aerial spraying by MNR of an herbicide called Visionmax "turns very productive blueberry areas to very desolate areas."

But a vegetation management specialist with the MNR said spraying is done in small areas to control plants that compete with conifers — and leaves a great deal of room for blueberry pickers.

"Of the other 99.8 per cent of the forest area [that isn’t sprayed] there are lots of blueberry areas," Michael Irvine said.

'On our radar screen'

A spokesperson for the Blueberry Blast festival coming up this weekend in Nipigon said the MNR will be supplying pickers with maps of areas sprayed in the past.

Carol Ann Banning also said the event's prearranged picking areas this year are far away from cuts scheduled for spraying. She noted aerial spraying will not happen during the event itself and festival organizers have had close contact with the MNR about the issue.

"Well, it’s on our radar screen every year," she said. "Because we want to make sure … people [aren’t] berry picking [in] an area that is being sprayed."

Nipigon's Blueberry Blast kicks off Friday. 

Bell said blueberries tend to recover from spraying "because of the family they are in, [they] have fairly thick, fairly leathery leaves that are somewhat tolerant of herbicides."

"That's not to say that blueberries don't get injured," he said. "[But] … we tend to get  a lot of  survival in the blueberries that remain."