Forestry Ink columnist Jim Hilton. (File Photo)

FORESTRY INK: Responsible use of herbicides

Columnist Jim Hilton writes about the issue of spraying herbicides like glyphosate

Jim Hilton

Observer Contributor

A recent article by Bill Phillips in the Prince George Daily News describes how about 50 people gathered outside the Ministry of Forests District Office in Prince George Nov. 12 to protest spraying herbicides on B.C. forests by Canfor.

The protesters are calling for an end to the decades-old practice of spraying regenerating forests with glyphosate, which kills broadleaf plants to enable quicker growth of conifers such as spruce, pine and fir trees.

Canfor is in the process of renewing its pest management plan that designates high-biodiversity, fire-resistant native tree species, including birch, cottonwood and aspen ‘pests,’ according to rally organizers. Protesters were proposing an alternative like changing the government requirement limit of deciduous stand content. The solution offered was to have five per cent deciduous in a replanted cutblock, increase that to 15 per cent,which could be done with manual brushing and sheep.

Determining harmful levels of toxic substances is complicated enough in the lab, but it becomes much more difficult when working in the field. An recent article by Matt Simmons in the Narwhal reported about some research on the long-term impacts of glyphosate on northern B.C. forests. Lisa Wood, a plant biologist, forester and assistant professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, first became interested in glyphosate as an undergraduate forestry student .While glyphosate has been shown to have toxic effects on earthworms, insects, amphibians and other aquatic species, Lisa was interested in the impacts on flowers and fungi, along with edible and medicinal plants. Even though most stands are not adjacent to human habitation, there could be significant impacts of herbicides on biodiversity of native ecosystems.

The common theme for people getting sick from herbicides seems to be the level of exposure because of certain lifestyles. Pesticide handlers are often victims, farmers and people involved with frequent applications being the most susceptible. Recreation-related activities are not immune. One study published in 1996 in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found that death rates attributable to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and to other cancers associated with the brain, large intestine and prostate were higher in a group of golf course superintendents compared with a control group. It is not just people that work on the golf courses with health problems, but there are some instances of golfers who have spent a lot of time on the courses who have also died immune-compromised deaths. Some golf courses have taken this study seriously and restricted the use of pesticides, and some provinces have banned “cosmetic pesticides,” used solely to improve the appearance of lawns, vegetable and ornamental gardens, cemeteries, parks and school yards.

Thousands of people have filed lawsuits against Bayer (formerly Monsanto), the company that makes Roundup, claiming it caused them to develop non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. As pointed out in one article, despite the overwhelming evidence linking low-dose, long-term gestational exposure to pesticides being linked to disorders like Autism Spectrum Disorders, low IQ, birth defects and developmental delays, there seems to be a reluctance to make significant changes to our lifestyles.

A quick review of non-herbicide options provides some interesting natural products and inventions like “foam stream,” which is an organic foam and hot water application. While these systems are not available at a reasonable cost for the average user, hopefully in time there will be some acceptable alternatives.

Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.

READ MORE: FOREST INK: Old-growth forests under new management

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