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It's Deja Vue All Over Again -
Toxic Herbicide Spray on our Forests

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The following message was written by Don Black

Date: Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Dear friends

The stew that's currently brewing about helicopter spraying the herbicide Vision in Nova Scotia woodlands gives me a strong sense of deja vu since I was writing about this issue for The Scotia Sun, a weekly newspaper in Port Hawkesbury, exactly 20 years ago last month.

Since then, I've come to the opinion that the real battle is about the destruction of our remaining woodland at the least possible cost to the corporations who are doing it.

Cheap application of toxic chemicals is only one component of a systematic, on-going program of cooperation between Nova Scotia governments and powerful corporations to convert large parcels of Nova Scotia woodlands to industrial tree farms.

The program goes like this: clearcut, so it's "efficient" to use heavy harvesting machinery, and to spray from helicopters. Plant a softwood monoculture. Spray a herbicide to suppress all competition (diversity). Later, spray pesticides to kill the insects that will thrive on the monoculture. In 30-60 years, cut and chip, so as little as possible is left to nourish the soil. Re-plant and repeat. When growth rates fall, abandon.

In the end, just as in the fishery, we lose both the jobs and the resource.

The point of using Vision is to help engineer a monoculture, a tree farm designed to meet the corporations' need for the cheapest possible access to the raw materials basic to their profits. It's cheaper to harvest from a tree farm than selectively from a mixed woodlot.

Spraying chemicals from helicopters is cheaper than paying trained silviculture workers to remove competing species selectively with a brush saw.

In both cases, "cheaper" means fewer jobs in the woods.

Because this program is already in place, regardless of whether Vision is used in the present situation, woodlands all over Nova Scotia are right now being systematically destroyed. Worse, the fragile underlying ecology that produced what was once a great mixed forest, is itself being destroyed by clearcutting, an unsustainable level of extraction, roads, machine tracks, erosion, stream damage, elimination of diversity and contamination with toxic chemicals.

The net loss to the public from the value of the original woodland is nearly total. In my opinion, it is in no way in the public interest to support this corporate agenda; government that supports the agenda is not acting in the best interests of the people of the province.

I think the health issues around pouring more toxic chemicals into our environment are now much more widely understood than they were in 1984, yet for twenty years, we have heard Nova Scotian government ministers repeat the big lie: that glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup and Vision are "safe" . They are not. They are toxic chemicals, and for that reason are approved for use by the federal government only under clearly defined conditions.

However, it is the responsibility of the provincial government to provide and enforce the regulations that govern the actual use of toxic chemicals in agriculture and forestry, to ensure the level of public safety prescribed by Health Canada. Trust evaporates when government promotes an industry agenda over sound precautionary public health policy.

It is absurd to speak of the "safety" of spreading chemicals in the environment when we have literally no idea what new compounds they may form with other chemicals they encounter, nor of the damage those new compounds may cause.

And the question has to arise as to why governments and the departments concerned would still be supporting the use of these chemicals, in spite of a history of significant public opposition that goes back at least 20 years, and at a time when the public generally has become more aware of the health costs of toxic loading on the environment?

By now, we're all familiar with the concept of "following the money". Who profits if the chemicals are used?

Monsanto, the manufacturer of Vision for sure, not so much for one large sale, but for the precedent, the ability to say, "Well, they're using our product in Nova Scotia", and of course for the prospect that this will more and more become the kind of chemical-dependent "forestry" we do here in Nova Scotia.

The helicopter companies that profit by spraying the chemicals are also large corporations tied into the aerospace industry and equally interested in assuring future income.

Then of course there are the modern timber barons of the world who operate in Nova Scotia, like the Irving family of New Brunswick, and the Swedish giant Stora Enso (originally Stora Kopparberg, the oldest corporation in the world, founded 200 years before Columbus "discovered" America, with sales of EUR 12.2 billion in 2003).

All of these--and more--large, powerful and wealthy corporations can reduce their costs if the Nova Scotia government continues to support the destruction of Nova Scotia woodlands by conversion to industrial tree farms.

Using helicopter spraying of toxic chemicals that kill insects, plants and fish and suppress diversity is only one part of a bigger, and much more threatening picture. To be realistic, the leverage of these multinational corporations, the kinds of influence they can bring to bear on politicians and the public service, can be overwhelming.

Individuals in the public service who oppose the industry program need clear and significant expression of public opposition to the corporate agenda to help them resist corporate pressure.

The widest public support might be gained by relating sustainable, diverse woodlands to the quality of life we want for ourselves, and the opportunities we want for our children.

Diverse, sustainably-managed woodlands can provide employment, fuel, timber for sale, building materials, a habitat for wildlife and birds, and a place of peace, relaxation, and recreation indefinitely into the future. There is at least one woodlot in Nova Scotia (Windhorse Farm) that's been doing all these things for well over 150 years, that still has the same amount of standing timber as it had when records were first kept. A tree farm provides only cheap fodder for the mills, leaving desolation behind.

People and their organizations stopped the spray in the eighties, and their influence on public awareness and government policy has persisted. But the corporate drive to minimize costs is also persistent. So for me the challenge in 2004 is to expand our goal, and make it our business to communicate all this to the general public and to our children in a meaningful way, so that 20 years from now, they'll have been able to move on to much more creative concerns.

Any suggestions or assistance will be gratefully considered. And thanks to all those who are working so hard-again-to bring this to public attention. Cheers.

Don Black Bluedoor.chebucto.net


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