By Douglas Hunter

Northern Ontario residents witnessing forestry companies’ large-scale spraying operations carried out from helicopters want to know why an activity that is considered harmful in the south is acceptable in their neck of the woods.

Opposition has been growing to the use of products containing glyphosate, the active herbicide in weed killers such as Roundup. While such products are now forbidden under the new Cosmetic Pesticide Ban Act, except as a control measure for noxious plants such as poison ivy, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) has permitted forestry companies to conduct aerial spraying of large areas with the glyphosate-based herbicide Vantage Forestry. A fact sheet from Dow AgroSciences on Vantage Forestry says that it “provides non-selective vegetation control, i.e. ends growth of almost all species of weeds and grasses that compete with trees in reforested areas … On contact with the soil, glyphosate binds very tightly to soil particles and there is very low leaching potential to groundwater. In the soil, Vantage Forestry is degraded by natural processes into harmless compounds.”

Nevertheless, Sierra Club Canada has been highly critical of glyphosate products. A fact sheet posted on its website concludes: “Glyphosate is a herbicide that is constantly lauded as benign. These affirmations are based on studies examining the active ingredient only. In the field, our lawns, and our communities, however, a different result has emerged. Glyphosate has caused a host of acute and chronic effects ranging from red blood cell destruction to increased propensity for miscarriages. The effects on wildlife, from fish to birds and also non-target species, have been observed at doses lower than the application rates suggested.”

Critics do not believe that aerial spraying operations can be accurate enough to keep the product away from human habitations and out of watersheds. One such critic is Lisa Pilgrim, who operates Sure Catch Baits of Walford. She first became concerned in 2008 when she encountered MNRposted warning signs advising people not to eat blueberries in a spray area. “I have many harvest areas for minnows and leeches and we have noticed a change in the water chemistry,” she says. “What used to be vibrant minnow ponds now are not. Not only do we notice the difference in the water but we have noticed the lack of wildlife such as rabbits and birds hanging around. It is quite ironic that Toronto does not want spraying but [the forestry industry] has certainly done enough of it in our area.”

Concern has reached the municipal level. In July, the council of the Township of Sables-Spanish Rivers requested more information on spraying programs but, according to the Mid-North Monitor, was far from reassured by the written response of the management forester of Northshore Forest that Vantage “is not very toxic to people, animals or fish.” The council then passed a motion requesting MNR to halt all aerial herbicide spraying in the Aux Sables River watershed. On September 15, local MP Carol Hughes wrote the federal and provincial ministers holding the portfolios of health, environment, and natural resources, calling for an inquiry into the use by forest companies of glyphosates, particularly in aerial spraying. At press time, Hughes had yet to receive a reply.