Why business owners feel stymied by mass forestry operations in northern N.B.
Owners of tourism businesses say herbicide spraying and clearcuts have limited them for years
In 1993, a struggling sheep farmer in northern New Brunswick decided to put a few canoes on his front lawn and rent them out to people looking to explore the Restigouche River.
Those six canoes grew to become a flotilla of 110.
"It just went wild," said Andre Arpin, founder of Arpin Canoe Restigouche.
Today, the business is the premier tourist destination in that part of the province, winning national awards and attracting people from around the globe.
But after 26 years, Arpin said, the wilderness that surrounds the business and the tourism it fosters is under threat from a forest industry that is only concerned about sustaining itself.
Issues with industry
Arpin spent 2½ decades working with his canoes full time. He hired staff to guide guests, transport boats and maintain the fleet.
He sold the business to his daughter a few years ago, but said it continues to thrive solely because of the untouched wilderness of the river.
He said tourists are looking for the version of Canada they see on postcards, and northern New Brunswick is where they find it.
But as Arpin speaks, his voice is drowned out by the roar of logging trucks from across the river.
From the river you can only see trees, but the booming stutter of transport truck brakes and downshifting is deafening.
"Just behind the trees there is a major road to get all the wood from here to the Quebec border," said Arpin.
"We would have liked to have campsites nearby, but it's impossible with the traffic. There's just no opportunity there because nobody would sleep at night. It's all night."
For Arpin, it's the lost opportunities because of forestry operations that keep the area from taking off.
It's not just campsites. Hiking trails have also been wiped out by logging.
He said the trail leading to waterfalls on the Gounamitz River has been obliterated. It's no longer a place he can take tourists.
"It's kind of nonsense to bring them to see a nice fall when you drive through clearcut for a while, and it just kind of ruins the whole trip," said Arpin.
"We didn't think they would have a clearcut the whole stretch, all the way to the river. But they've just wiped everything. You were like on the moon."
He said there had been plans to develop a mountain-climbing attraction near Stillwater Brook, along the Restigouche River.
He said there is a steep drop "and there was opportunity there," said Arpin.
"We had to fight in order to save that little portion. And the energy we put in fighting, it took too long."
Preservation attempts drew attention to the area. It was clear cut soon after.
"It just kills all the opportunity to develop another aspect of tourism," said Arpin.
'The smell of the chemicals lasts a week'
An hour's drive away is another tourism hotspot on another northern New Brunswick river.
For the last 10 years, Guildo Martel has been renting inflatable tubes to travel down the Little Tobique River just outside Mount Carleton Provincial Park. For two decades prior to that he rented canoes and kayaks for use inside the park.
He's fed up with the disappointment of tourists after they drive through repeated clearcuts. But he's furious with the spraying of herbicides, such as glyphosate, which he said literally leaves a bad taste in tourists' mouths.
"The smell of the chemicals lasts a week," said Martel, adding that helicopters were spraying just across the road from his business a few days earlier.
"What do you tell the tourists who sit on the tube on the river and hear and see helicopters spraying chemicals?"
Meanwhile, Martel said, the mass of clearcuts has dried up smaller streams leading into the Little Tobique, causing river levels to become unpredictable.
That's echoed by Arpin, who said the lack of trees has led to flash floods in recent years. He's had to rescue tourists because flash floods swept away canoes while they slept along the river overnight.
"It just raised seven feet and people were on islands and they didn't figure it would come up that much," said Arpin. "They lost five canoes. There were 10 people; no canoes to get downriver.
"There was no forest to regulate water flow. So, it puts people at risk some times."
International Trail clear cut
The thunder of logging trucks, herbicide spray residue and mass clear cutting can be summed up by northern New Brunswick tourism operators as a forest industry that has overstepped its bounds.
To them, nothing showcases the problem more than the clearcutting of the New Brunswick portion of the International Appalachian Trail.
"It's a trail that's supposed to be protected," said Samuel Daigle, a retired family doctor who now is a hiking and kayak guide with Nepisiguit Adventures based in Bathurst. "In the past some parts of the trail have been clear cut.
"How can you mark a trail with no trees on it?"
Much of the trail follows rivers so the trail stays within the buffer zone where logging companies are not legally able to cut trees. But Daigle said those clearcuts loom just a few metres away.
"As soon as the [International Appalachian] trail was marked and everything was good the companies aimed [for] the trail and cleaned everything," said Arpin.
He suspects logging companies target some trails in order to prevent them from becoming potential parks or protected areas.
"They clear cut everything right away," Arpin said. "So, it's just hard to develop and go ahead when you're always blocked in your development."
Clear cutting right up to the signature provincial park has also been a blow to tourist expectations.
"People are disappointed," Daigle said. "Mount Carleton for example. It's a provincial park, it should be one of the few unspoiled places in the province. No cell coverage, You're thinking, 'I'm going to be unplugged and have a pure nature vacation.'
"You're standing on top of Mount Carleton and, geez, you see a lot of clearcuts. And I've seen those reactions, it's really disappointing."
There are a number of forestry companies operating around these tourism companies, including Twin Rivers Paper Company, Fornebu Lumber Company Inc., AV Cell Inc., and JD Irving.
CBC News requested an interview with J.D. Irving Ltd. about the logging truck traffic coming from its Kedgwick sawmill that Arpin claims is responsible for keeping his business from expanding.
JDI would not provide an interview. In a statement, spokesperson Mary Keith did not address the traffic concerns stating only "we are focused on being a good [neighbour] and generating year-round jobs."
The company also did not offer a response to concerns about clearcutting hiking trails.
But a forestry industry advocacy group that represents some of the timber companies operating in northern New Brunswick said it's open to working with tourism companies to make some changes.
"I think there's opportunity to talk and see if there can be minor tweaks or adaptations to management plans on a year-to-year basis to accommodate where possible," said Mike Legere, spokesperson for Forest NB.
Forest NB represents Fornebu Lumber Company Inc., Twin Rivers Paper Company and AV Cell, all companies operating on Crown land timber licences in the area. It does not represent JD Irving, which operates on its own private land in northern New Brunswick.
"They give consideration to things like view lines when they're operating," said Legere. "They don't necessarily have to. But I think to be good corporate citizens they do consider that and they do want to hear what the public has to say, including the business community and the tourism community."
Legere said he's not aware of specific incidents of hiking trails being clear cut, but he said it happens.
He said anyone who comes in contact with herbicide spraying should contact the Department of Energy and Resource Development.
"But there's no doubt that the forest industry is prominent in New Brunswick," Legere said. "I mean we're the most forestry-dependent province in the country based on contribution to GDP."
CBC News made multiple requests for an interview with someone representing the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture. No one was made available.
In an emailed statement spokesperson for the department, Jennifer Vienneau wrote, "No concerns have been brought forward regarding forestry operations." The remainder of the statement championed the government's current forestry strategy.
Diverse business wanted
That prominence is what concerns all three tourism operators. They say it's no secret forest companies dominate the northern part of the province, but none of them are entirely opposed to the industry.
"I understand that we need to cut wood," said Daigle. "There's a need for it to cut some, but I feel we're cutting way too much."
They all say they want a reduction on the dependency of a single industry to allow for others to grow, including a focus on high-end wood products.
"I know of people who can make $5,000 or $6,000 out of one tree instead of cutting hundreds and hundreds of trees," said Daigle.
Arpin agreed. He pointed to suffering outfitters as another casualty of forestry operations.
He blamed the disappearance of whitetail deer in his part of the province on clearcuts. The population has been so low in the area for years that hunting deer is prohibited.
He believes removing the spraying of herbicides and a reduction in clearcutting would allow for deer hunting to resume, and outfitters to offer guided deer hunts in the area.
He pointed to the maple syrup industry and the harvesting of forest mushrooms as more examples of businesses that are being squeezed by too much forestry.
"We're losing everything for the profit of one," said Arpin. "That's nonsense for New Brunswick."