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James Steidle: Glyphosate study waste of time and money

The research is a waste of taxpayer money because the science showing the futility of spraying has existed for decades.
stop the spray rally 10
A group led by Stop the Spray BC rallied in front of the Ministry of Forest offices in Prince George demanding glyphosate spraying maps be made public.

So apparently taxpayers are going to spend $1.5 million researching the damage glyphosate is doing to our forests.

We will have to wait five years for the results.

It’s kind of a neat trick our federal funding authorities pulled.  $1.5 million is a pretty cheap hall pass to hold the critics at bay while we keep doing more and more studies amidst ongoing clouds of glyphosate in our forests.

I’ve got a question.  Shouldn’t the pesticide companies have footed the bill for this research before telling us spraying forests with a chelating, patented antimicrobial agent that kills 50 percent of select boreal fungi species at standard field application rates was A-OK?

Ultimately, the research is a waste of taxpayer money.  The science showing the futility of spraying has existed for decades.  It’s just not communicated.  So allow me.

First of all, the best tree at sequestering carbon is aspen, believe it or not, with birch and cottonwood/balsam poplar probably in close proximity.  This is for the same reason we spray them; they grow quicker. An Alaska study found these species sucked up five times more carbon after a forest fire than black spruce in the same amount of time. Once mature, they locked up 1.6 times more carbon.   

Another question: instead of paying for studies on glyphosate, why don’t we pay for studies on how much carbon tax we should charge the softwood industry for all the surplus carbon sequestration we lose out on because of their war on aspen?

Spraying is making climate change worse not just through significantly reducing the amount of forest carbon uptake but by making those forests more flammable.  Pine, our favourite monoculture crop, might be more competitive than spruce in sucking up carbon, but they have exponentially higher flammability than both white spruce and broadleaf.

And it gets even better.  If we didn’t spray, or brush, the aspen would make the earth’s surface less dark, and absorb much less solar radiation.  There’s only been a single Canadian study on this, Alan Betts' study from 1997, that has shown boreal broadleaf (mostly aspen) have a summertime albedo 1.8 times higher than conifer.  They absorb nearly half the heat.

This is no small potatoes.

A shocking study from Europe has shown that the conversion of European forests from light-green broadleaf to dark-green conifer in the past 250 years has warmed the planet equivalent to six percent of all fossil fuels burnt up until 2018.

We don’t need more studies on spraying our forests with glyphosate to kill mostly broadleaf forest types.  What we need is to get our heads out of the 18th century sand where the Germans invented sustainable yield conifer plantation tree farming that worked well at the time but whose day in the sun is dwindling as fast as those Greenland ice sheets.

And furthermore, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the best habitat for declining moose is what we have right on the hills around town: those deciduous broadleaf forests we call “low-quality” junk forests.  These forests have the highest wildlife carrying capacity for almost all classes of flora and fauna and are known biodiversity hotspots in interior forests.

We all know what needs to be done. We just need to do it. 

James Steidle is a Prince George writer.