Every year the British Columbian government continues to authorize the widespread, broadcast spraying of our public forests with the toxic glyphosate herbicide VisionMax.
This chemical, which is identical to RoundUp, kills almost every leafed plant it touches, leaving insects, frogs, possibly fish if it enters waterways, and this long list of berries, shrubs, and trees dead:
- Black Cottonwood
- Black Gooseberry
- Black Huckleberry
- Black Twinberry
- Douglas Maple
- Dull Oregon Grape
- False Azalea
- Highbush Cranberry
- Lady Fern
- Ocean Spray
- Paper Birch
- Red Elderberry
- Red Huckleberry
- Red-osier Dogwood
- Red Raspberry
- Saskatoon Berry
- Salmon Berry
- Sitka Valerian
- Trembling Aspen
- Wild Blueberry
- Wild Strawberry
A couple of recent stories in the US on the spraying of Atrazine and 2-4-D on forests in Oregon gained national media coverage:
- Kills food for wildlife and people
- Kills beneficial tree species
- Makes our forests less healthy
- Is a known toxin to frogs and fish
- Has negligible forest productivity benefits
- Is used out of routine not sound science or forward thinking
In any given year, 4000 hectares of young forests will be sprayed by BC Timber Sales in the Prince George District alone. This does not include the annual contribution of spraying provided by Canfor or other forestry companies. This practice is required by law, and in forestry jargon is known as the “free growing rule.”
The benefit of killing all of these plants is presumably the people’s dream of an artificially accelerated reforestation cycle. By short-circuiting the natural stage where these “brush” species dominate, we can trick the forests into producing more wood. This allows a higher rate of logging and resource extraction in the present. In a mind-twisting stretch of logic, herbicide spraying is now cast as a tool of sustainability.
The short-sightedness of this practice is evident in the limitations of our knowledge. It is impossible for forest managers or scientists to claim there are no negative effects from spraying millions of hectares of forest with a toxic chemical, shifting the landscape-wide balance of tree-species towards increasing conifer monocultures of primarily lodgepole pine. This is at best a shot in the dark. Here are some questions:
- Will lodgepole pine monocultures survive as our climate warms? Recent studies suggest they could disappear from much of their present range as temperatures increase.
- Are we sure aspen and birch don’t play a role in reducing insect infestation rates? Preliminary studies suggest these species, by providing buffers against infestations, may in fact improve forest health outcomes.
- How do we know that aspen and birch won’t have increasing commercial values into the future? Unlike the annual cycle of agriculture, tree farming takes place over decades, during which time markets and demand can change dramatically. The species we are killing now could find new uses in the future.
- How do we know that aspen and birch and the many other shrubs we kill don’t play a critical role in forest soil replenishment? Our understanding of interactions between soil fungal networks and nutrients is in its infancy. How can we be sure we aren’t missing something? How do we know aspen, birch and other “weeds” don’t benefit the conifers we eventually wish to harvest?
- How do we know that the slower-burning aspen and birch won’t play a critical role in suppressing wildfires as warmer conditions prevail?
- How do we know that spraying a chemical that is a known toxin to frogs, insects and invertebrates is not going to have a long-term effect on our forest soils? Frogs are the keystone predator species in forest soil ecosystems and the most important vertebrate in terms of biomass in our forests. Yet we have conducted not a single study in B.C. on the impact of herbicide spraying on these animals or what impact it could be having on our forest soils.
- How can we be sure herbicide spraying is not affecting mammal and bird populations? Aspen are the most important tree species to wildlife and are crucial to biodiversity. What impact will spraying have on these populations?
The fact that we authorize spraying despite having little idea of the long-term implications is extremely short-sighted, irresponsible, and presumptuous.
A long-standing practice, we’ve sprayed or manually brushed over 1.3 million hectares of forest across the Province since 1980, an area a third the size of Vancouver Island. We still spray around 15,000 hectares a year today, mostly in the Central Interior.