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Quesnel-founded forest company ceased the use of glyphosate

Watchdog group grateful, hopes for more deciduous protection

Stop The Spray BC (STS) has been campaigning in 2024 to end the use of glyphosate by companies working in the forest.

West Fraser (WF), founded in Quesnel and now one of Canada’s largest forestry companies, has announced not only are they not using glyphosate any longer, they actually halted its use in B.C. in 2019, and all other herbicides too.

“The effects of herbicides like glyphosate on public forests is poorly understood but one thing is abundantly clear,” said STS founder James Steidle, who grew up farming and foresting in the Punchaw Lake area northwest of Quesnel. “We are systematically and relentlessly growing drier, more flammable, lower biodiversity, conifer plantations that are ill-equipped to deal with a rapidly changing climate.”

D’Arcy Henderson, West Fraser’s vice-president of Canadian woodlands said West Fraser recognizes sustainable and responsible forest practices are about much more than trees and includes a wide range of values like biodiversity, water management, fire suppression, climate change, and use of traditional knowledge.

“We have heard feedback from the public and local leaders like MLA Coralee Oakes on the use of glyphosate. Five years ago, this led us to permanently phase out the use of herbicides in B.C.”

Henderson said the company instead uses a variety of other non-chemical techniques to cut down on the plant-life competing for sun and water in reforested areas of the bush after it has been harvested. Those include manually brushing back the plant-life around the seedlings, using grazing animals like sheep and cattle to eat the competition down because they do not eat the seedlings, plus other site preparation practices.

Deciding what to do on any given reforestation area is based on an assessment of the site’s ecology and vegetation type, the composition and age of the seedlings and the undergrowth, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, water management, fire risk and Indigenous cultural use.

Steidle was pleased, to a point. “There’s no question glyphosate shouldn’t be sprayed in forests. For sure it’s an improvement,” he said, but emphasized that the philosophy of clearing out deciduous trees (poplar/aspen and birch varieties, primarily, in our region) so that just lumber trees grow (mostly spruce, pine, fir) was ecologically bad.

“It has always been my/our opinion they shouldn’t be doing any brushing whatsoever,” Steidle told The Observer. “If the forest is giving us free trees, which happen to be sequestering the most carbon, stopping the most fire, and feeding the most moose, why would we cut those down? They should be thinning conifer to actually grow deciduous, not cutting down aspen and birch.”

It’s only a small percentage of the overall forest that should be represented by deciduous trees, Steidle clarified, but the mix promotes forest health and those trees have been shown to impede forest fires.

“Currently we are working with the Government of B.C. and Indigenous nations on forest landscape plans,” said WF in a statement to The Observer. “Managing for landscape resilience is a key objective in these plans and includes determining the optimum deciduous content and landscape arrangement.”

West Fraser does still use glyphosate in Alberta, but is working on a reduction plan there as well.

“Although in B.C. we were able to phase out the use of herbicide five years ago by incorporating a variety of treatments to successfully reforest harvested areas, in Alberta we continue to be challenged by finding alternative treatments to effectively manage prairie grass and deciduous areas that compete with regenerating seedlings,” said the company.

Each site is assessed to find the best treatment possible to the replanted forest area, it was added, and if herbicide is used it is in accordance with that jurisdiction’s health and safety guidelines, and are part of an advertising-based public engagement process.

“We also seek direct engagement with Indigenous nations to understand traditional use of a specific area and to define no spray zones such as key wildlife areas and riparian zones,” said the company. “We are working hard to find alternatives for herbicide use by continuing to invest in research and incorporating alternative methods as they become available.”

Steidle said STS will be holding meetings and events in Victoria on April 3 to continue the pressure on all forest companies to stop using herbicides of any name in the forest, and stop the mono-forest practice of stifling deciduous trees.

“We are contaminating and simplifying our forests, making them less resilient, worsening climate change, and undermining historical Indigenous connections with the biodiverse forests our region is blessed with. It needs to stop,” said Steidle.

READ MORE: Coniferous vs. deciduous, and an everchanging climate

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