The Issue

Every year forest companies and government agencies spend millions of dollars to eliminate broadleaf species including aspen and birch from replanted conifer plantations.  This is a website that seeks to provide information on this activity and to pose a few questions:

  • Why are aspen trees considered weeds? Trembling aspen, or poplar, are the primary target of aerial herbicide spraying campaigns in the Central Interior of British Columbia. In many other jurisdictions, aspen is an economically viable species whose natural growth as a pioneer species is a recognized part of a forest’s natural regeneration, and are allowed to exist.  Why does the government require forest companies to eliminate them, oftentimes, with astonishing effectiveness?
  • 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 the impact of insect infestations? Preliminary studies suggest these species, by providing buffers against infestations, may improve forest health outcomes, and at least provide us with a back-up species.
  • 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 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.   Aspen forests support many more species of life- by a magnitude of two or more- than conifer forests, and sequester significantly more CO2. What impact will their elimination have on these populations?

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.

 

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