Herbicide use in Nova Scotian Crown forests panned by Ecology Action Centre

The environmental group is alarmed that the provincial Department of Natural Resources appears to be softening its stance on the spraying of herbicides in Crown forests.

Environmental group fears province is softening its position

The Ecology Action Centre believes the province may be softening its stance on public funding for herbicide use in forests. (Department of Natural Resources)

The Ecology Action Centre is alarmed that the provincial Department of Natural Resources appears to be softening its stance on the spraying of herbicides on Crown forests. 

"I think it's outrageous. Obviously the public is against this," said Matt Miller, the forestry program co-ordinator at the centre.

Since December 2010, the province has not put any funds toward herbicide use in forestry on either private or Crown land. Miller said that has reduced herbicide use on private woods, and had the effect of "essentially eliminating the practice" in Crown woods. 

Lately he's been seeing signs that make him think that will change. 

In a request for proposals issued Aug. 26, the department is looking for an author for a "forestry operations management manual," which would be guidelines used by commercial forestry operations working on Crown lands. 

"Application of herbicide or insecticide treatments" is listed among the types of activities to be included in the manual. The request for proposals notes the activities are "subject to confirmation or change." 

"Over the last couple of weeks we've seen huge opposition to forestry companies using their own money to pay for spraying on private land," Miller said.

"I think that's bad enough. It's obvious the public is against it. So the idea of once again using public funding to support a practice that the public is obviously against is outrageous."

'There has never been a ban'

In an email statement, a DNR spokesperson wrote that the policy manual the department wants to create will pull together existing policies.

"It will be a simplified guide to all department policies, published in one place, to make it easier for DNR staff to do their work managing activities on Crown land," media relations advisor Bruce Nunn wrote. 

"There has never been a ban on the use of spray treatments and anyone considering that treatment would need to apply to Nova Scotia Environment for a permit. The policy manual will be a guide for DNR forest managers to government policy and will reflect the government's position on the use of spray treatments."  

'I wouldn't say that it's not impossible'

The government, however, has not taken a definite position. Natural Resources Minister Lloyd Hines has refused to say public money will not go towards herbicide use. 

"I wouldn't say that it's not impossible," he said Friday in an interview with Information Morning Sydney

"But there's no particular plan for that. I think we have to assess what we are doing. Herbicide spraying is a common practice across resources in Nova Scotia."

That didn't satisfy Matt Miller, who called the comments "wishy-washy." 

"Certainly the minister's comments in the media this week have not done anything, I don't think, to reassure folks who are concerned about herbicide spraying," Miller said. 

"It would appear to me that they are giving serious consideration to allowing public funding to support herbicide spraying as part of the development of a new Crown land forest resource management policy." 

The province is expected to release a new Crown land forest policy this fall.

Herbicides limited

In an August 16 natural resources update, the department included a short section on limiting herbicides.

"Herbicide use has not been eligible for public funding within existing silviculture programs since December 2010," the report said. "We will continue to assess the effectiveness of various forestry practices, including herbicide use." 

"We've accepted that, although we're trying to work with them to understand that it is an important tool when used properly," said Rick Archibald, the president of the Nova Scotia Forestry Association.

Archibald said the association members only use herbicides on a small proportion of their private land, but his view is that limiting herbicides results in fewer softwoods and lower quality hardwood trees.  

"If you use a vegetative management program that does not involve herbicides, your growth rates will be less. So you will be growing less fiber. There is an impact, there's no doubt about that." 

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Shaina Luck

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Shaina Luck covers everything from court to city council. Her favourite stories are about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. Email: shaina.luck@cbc.ca