Nova Scotia

Protesters win local battle against herbicide spraying, want forestry practice banned

Protesters occupying a 46-hectare site in the Burlington, N.S., area learned the owners of the property, Five Islands Forest Developments, had changed their minds and decided not to aerially spray the area.

Some residents in Burlington, N.S., occupied 46-hectare site this week

The site in Burlington, N.S., that was occupied for a day and a half before a forestry company decided not to spray it. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

They started out as a few families from Burlington, N.S., opposed to woods in their area of the Annapolis Valley being sprayed by herbicide, but within a few days they gathered support from all over the province.

Don Osburn and others began occupying the 46-hectare site Monday night and on Wednesday they learned the owners of the property, Five Islands Forest Developments, had changed their minds and decided not to aerially spray the area.

"When they stopped communicating with us and their permit came due [Sept. 1], we decided we had to act," said Osburn, who lives in Burlington. "We felt we had to take some kind of strong step and for us it was a desperate little action."

Even though the protest helped them win their fight, they are still pushing for more action.

They will be holding a demonstration in Burlington late Thursday to try to garner support to urge Nova Scotia's Environment Department to rescind the approvals recently given to allow 41 other sites to be sprayed with herbicides that have glyphosate as its active ingredient.

The chemicals in the spray target hardwood saplings, clearing space for softwood trees to grow. The land size of the sites totals more than 1,500 hectares of forest.

"We're here to tell all Nova Scotians that if they would allow an entire section of woodlands to be sprayed with glyphosate in this particular spot, they will allow the poisoning of lands anywhere in Nova Scotia," said Osburn.

Don Osburn is drumming up support to get the Nova Scotia Environment Department to rescind all aerial spraying approvals. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Glyphosate is one of the most common herbicides used in the world and is in more than 130 products sold in Canada. It is used in the forestry industry and widely by farmers to keep weeds out of their crops.

But there have been many lawsuits filed across North America alleging the chemical can cause health problems including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system.

Health Canada, however, said last year it does not consider the chemical to be a cancer risk if the herbicide is used as it is supposed to be.

Nova Scotia Environment spokesperson Rachel Boomer said in an email Wednesday the company that was planning to spray in the Burlington area has told the department it no longer intends to do so.

"Health Canada's Pesticide Management Regulatory Agency determines which pesticides are safe for use. Nova Scotia Environment only approves pesticides for spraying that have been approved by Health Canada," she said.

Almost half of the 42 sites approved for aerial spraying are in Cumberland County and are owned by J.D. Irving Ltd. There are other approved sites in Colchester, Annapolis and Hants County slated to be sprayed by Century Forestry Consultants.

There are strict conditions in order for them to spray including winds must be less than 10 kilometres per hour. The helicopters are loaded with precise GPS files to avoid overspraying.

"There's essentially no drift, they are extremely controlled," said Scott Maston, co-owner of Century Forestry Consultants. "The way the boom and the navigation system works is that those booms can't be on outside of the targeted area."

Environment Minister Gordon Wilson is away this week and was not at this week's provincial cabinet meeting in Halifax.

No one from Five Islands Forest Developments was immediately available for comment.

With files from Canadian Press