Group in Powell River opposes pesticide application

Members are advocates for biodiversity, say tree plantations are vulnerable

Pesticide Free Powell River is working to stop the spraying of pesticides in the region’s forests.

The organization, with the goal of stopping the spraying by Western Forest Products of systemic pesticides starting July 1, 2020, until 2025, appeared as a delegation via teleconference before the qathet Regional District board of directors at its May 28 meeting to urge the board to express opposition to the pesticide application.

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In an interview, Pesticide Free Powell River member Lisa Marie Bhattacharya said the organization does not consent to spraying of pesticides in forests or using other means to significantly reduce biodiversity in local forests. The organization states that spraying puts watersheds, wildlife habitat and food sources, berry and mushroom foraging, soil stability and carbon output at risk, and increases wildfire susceptibility.

“We also feel that this practice doesn’t protect the long-term interests of forest companies’ profitability and their employees’ job security and safety,” said Bhattacharya. “We request that all plans to use pesticides on forests or any land that directly affects the Powell River community be ceased. We do not give consent to use of pesticides in local forests, as a matter of protecting public health. We also do not consent to any measure that significantly restricts the biodiversity of our forests, whether by chemical or mechanical means.

“We would like to start a conversation around how to do things better. It’s 2020 and there are other places that aren’t using pesticides, such as Quebec, that are promoting biodiversity as a means of increasing resiliency. This is the way Powell River ought to be promoting itself. We should be leaders in promoting and protecting our vibrant, but vulnerable, resources and natural surroundings.”

Bhattacharya said Pesticide Free Powell River was trying to create awareness in the community of Western Forest Products’ intentions to use pesticide treatments on its expansive tree farm licence in the region. She said the group is trying to change practices that “really are not acceptable in an environment such as ours, surrounded by waterways.”

Member Sheryl McCumsey said she’s had extensive discussions in the community and the indication is that it’s time for change.

“Powell River is in a very risky position, where a forest fire is a serious issue and if you listen to FireSmart, they give you instructions on how to prevent a fire from burning your home down; one of the things they talk about is deciduous trees,” she said. “In the Western Forest Products report, it lists all the deciduous trees and berry bushes that are planned to be removed by the forest company. This is unwise on so many levels. The science on it is how much more resistant to fire deciduous trees are.”

McCumsey said it is time to look at this practice of growing just one kind of tree. She said that is not really a forest.

“We want to maintain forests, not tree plantations,” she said.

This practice of spraying was stopped in Quebec in 2002, according to McCumsey. There are also other places in the world where spraying has been discontinued, she added.

Chemical companies have a lot of influence, and that’s a problem, said McCumsey.

“Tree plantations are going to be vulnerable to insects, disease, and soil erosion,” she added. “Also, our watersheds are vulnerable. If we had pesticide contamination in our water here, no one would know. It’s quite possible it has already happened.

“It’s time to change our view of these things and view a forest as it is and how an ecosystem works. We need to look at agroecology and agroforestry as the way forward.”

McCumsey said there are also reports that say forest fires in BC have doubled every nine years and carbon emissions from these fires exceed all of the carbon from cars on the roads in BC.

“We’re kind of crazy not to be thinking about how we do forestry and looking at this aspect of how forest firefighters know deciduous trees are where you go when a forest fire is out of control,” said McCumsey. “This should be on everybody in BC’s mind about how important this is. Even if they say they will only use pesticides as a last resort, pesticides still are named, front and centre, in their report, and so it therefore remains an option, and there is little overseeing of the actual spray onsite in the forest.”

Bhattacharya said when pesticide is sprayed, it doesn’t just go where the sprayer wants it to go, it goes onto the ground, onto the plants and it’s going to impact the wildlife.

“If you think about it in a holistic way, even the trees we want to grow, the immune systems of those trees can be declining because of what you do to the soil with the pesticides,” said Bhattacharya. “A lot of the time you hear that Health Canada registers it so it’s acceptable.”

She said 122,000 people have been suing Bayer over the use of some of the same chemicals planned to be used by Western Forest Products. She said the suit links the chemicals to cancer.

Bhattacharya said Powell River is an isolated community and efforts need to be made to protect what is here.

McCumsey said it’s not just about the trees. She said forests need to have animals and the food to feed them. She said it’s important to have an ecosystem that will maintain the health of the very trees that are to be harvested. The organization would like to see no use of pesticides and herbicides in the forest.

Bhattacharya said it’s important for people opposed to the application to contact their MLA and MP, and ministry of forests.

To find out more about Pesticide Free Powell River, email

Bhattacharya said her organization is growing and it encourages people to get onboard.

“It’s something a lot of people are concerned about and those who aren’t concerned may not know a lot about the issue,” she said. “We have to change things here or we are going to be overburdened with a lot of sick people.”

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