Vancouver-based Canfor is preparing to implement a new pest management plan that includes aerial and ground-based applications of the herbicide glyphosate on regenerating forests near Prince George.
Canadian Forest Products Ltd. is consulting with stakeholders who might be affected by the spraying. Stakeholders have 30 days to review the plan and respond. That period expires Nov. 9.
The proposed pest management plan for 2021-26 is available for viewing in-person at the company’s Prince George office, according to the notice. It will be published online after it’s confirmed, the company said.
“We are legally responsible to re-establish a healthy forest stand of conifer trees where they were removed,” said Canfor spokeswoman Michelle Ward. “Responsible forest management is one of our top priorities using a balanced mix of social, economic and environmental values.”
To that end, “we are significantly reducing our use of herbicide by increasing our use of manual brushing and other practices,” she said.
The World Health Organization created a stir when it concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015, but a subsequent WHO report concluded that the pesticide is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.”
Nonetheless, governments recognize that there is significant public concern about its use. Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide that doesn’t affect trees of commercial value such as Douglas fir and pine.
Sold under the name Vision, Vision Max, Vantage, Glysil, and on store shelves as Roundup, the herbicide was sprayed on roughly 11,000 hectares of B.C. forest in 2018, according to a review contracted by the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development .
That review notes that “glyphosate remains an important tool for establishing conifer or conifer-deciduous mixed stands and ensuring future timber supply.”
Glyphosate has low toxicity to animals and “minimal impact on forest ecosystems,” it said.
Forest companies are obligated by provincial legislation to manage regenerating forests until the replanted trees are free-growing and dominant. That may require selective tree and brush removal, and the use of herbicides to delay the growth of deciduous plants and tree species that crowd or shade “commercially valuable” species.
Chemical treatments are generally less expensive than manual control methods because fewer treatments are required.
Areas are selected for spraying where competition from deciduous vegetation results in “imminent or measurable negative crop tree impact” or where it is predicted to do so, according to Canfor’s 2016-21 pest management plan .
The use of glyphosate has been trending down in B.C. since reaching a peak of 18,896 hectares treated in 2010, according to the ministry.
The use of “chemical brushing” is expected to decline further after the provincial government relaxed regulations on the amount of aspen and broadleaves allowed in managed stands, a ministry spokesman said.
That day can’t come fast enough for James Steidle of Stop the Spray BC.
“Despite their campaign promise to phase out mass aerial broadcast spraying of glyphosate, the government has made no indication they won’t proceed with the authorization of (Canfor’s) plan,” he said.
Steidle argues that mixed forests are more resilient and better able to resist wildfires.
“Government needs to get with the times and recognize the value of species like birch, cottonwood and aspen,” he said.
B.C. is focused on managing forests to sustain a supply of forest products “at the expense of some aspects of forest function and biodiversity,” said University of B.C. forestry Prof. Lori Daniels.
Government policy is focused on racing through the first few years of re-establishing conifer forests, she said: “Maybe we need to take our foot off the gas.”
“We need to have more of that broadleaf forest component back on the landscape, to create that diversity that makes them more resistant to fire, pathogens and insects, and more resilient to climate change,” she said.
Research led by University of Northern B.C. Prof Lisa Wood found that glyphosate and its residues persist in plants that aren’t specifically targeted for treatment, including berries and traditional forage plants used by First Nations.
“The highest and most consistent levels of glyphosate and AMPA (aminomethylphosphonic acid) were found in herbaceous perennial root tissues, but shoot tissues and fruit were also shown to contain glyphosate in select species,” according to the study published in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research .