Grooming forests could be making fires worse, researchers warn

Glyphosate sprayed on forests kills slow-burning trees, leaving more flammable species vulnerable


A helicopter sprays glyphosate over crown land near Prince George, B.C. (James Steidle/CBC)

Researchers are growing increasingly critical of a common forest management practice, as studies show it may be causing fires to travel farther, faster.

“In 2017 and 2018 here in British Columbia, in both summers, we burned over 1.2 million hectares of forest,” says Lori Daniels, a forest ecologist at the University of British Columbia.

“Diversifying the forest … is a really effective way to create resilience in our landscape and resistance to these major fires we’ve been witnessing.”

Meanwhile, much of the Canadian forestry industry is doing the opposite, spraying thousands of hectares of public forest with glyphosate each year to promote profitable coniferous growth, and eliminate hardwood species like aspen and birch.

The primary ingredient in the Monsanto-made herbicide Roundup, glyphosate has been under scrutiny in both agriculture and forestry for years. It remains widely used, because while softwood species like pine and spruce can tolerate a certain dosage of the chemical, glyphosate can be effective in eliminating the growth of hardwood trees for decades.

It’s an efficient way for the forestry industry to streamline cut blocks so they contain the most profitable kinds of trees.

But aspen and birch burn more slowly than the glyphosate-resistant coniferous trees, and some experts say removing them is like quite literally stoking the fires that have plagued the province.


On a recent visit to the area of northern B.C. burned by the Shovel Lake wildfire this summer, James Steidle documented aspen trees that were left standing even though surrounding conifers were incinerated. (James Steidle)

Natural fire barrier

“In aspen, birch or broadleaf forests, because of that subtle change in shade, temperature and humidity, they tend to be more resistant to fire,” says Daniels. “[The fire] might burn through, but in a less intense way.”

It’s something she has seen tangibly in the remains of the historic Williams Lake fire that ripped through B.C.’s northern forest in 2017.

University of British Columbia forest ecologist Lori Daniels shows how the 2017 Williams Lake fire changed behaviour when it hit a patch of mixed forest that included aspen. 0:53

“As the fire spread closer into the aspen stand, it stops,” she says. “And if we look in the aspen stand, the trees all have survived.”

But the B.C. Council of Forest Industries says its practices meet strict criteria that make it a world leader in sustainable forest management.

“Once it has been determined that glyphosate use is appropriate, it is applied either manually or by precise aerial methods to ensure that application is limited to the target area,” the council’s manager of public affairs, Diamond Isinger, wrote in an email to CBC News. “Our forest sector is – and will continue to be – committed to responsibly managing our forests for the environment, the economy, and the communities that rely on them.”

Not a vegetable garden

More than 200 kilometres north of Williams Lake, woodworker James Steidle says he’s seen the changes the logging industry — and glyphosate use — have made to the landscape around him.

“We look at forests as some kind of farm, some kind of vegetable garden where you’re trying to grow carrots, and if it’s not a carrot you get rid of it. And I think it’s a lot more complicated than that.”

He is part of the Stop the Spray B.C. movement, a group working to raise awareness about the use of herbicide spraying and its consequences for the forest. The group is aggregating research and posting videos that show what the industry is doing, under rules set by the provincial government.

That’s because the province of British Columbia mandates that Crown land be nearly all coniferous on cut blocks, but that’s not how the forest tends to grow naturally.

“We have a coniferous forest industry and the government saying ‘we are going to get rid of these [deciduous] trees, they are no longer part of the forest,'” says Steidle. “That makes me furious.”


This forest near Williams Lake was decimated by fire in 2017. (Maxime Corneau/CBC)

Forest ecologist Daniels echos the sentiment, calling for a change in forest management practices.

“I think that some of those concepts are outdated,” she says.

“When glyphosate is used to kill aspen and competitive vegetation, the word competitive is crucial. These plants compete with conifers that we want to grow to have a strong forest industry. It means that we put only one value, the financial value, before all the other values.”

The value of diverse forests extends to mitigating disease, limiting insect infestations, and sequestering carbon dioxide.

“There as been great research in the last 10 to 15 years that shows that there are tremendous benefits, even to those conifer seedlings, by having other species around them,” says Daniels.

Deformed vegetation

University of Northern British Columbia researcher Lisa Wood has been doing controlled experiments with glyphosate to determine how long traces of the herbicide remain in surviving plants. (Maxime Corneau/CBC)

 

Newer research also indicates glyphosates may have an impact on the plants that survive the sprays.

“Toxicity, the immediate death of plants, these aspects have been studied extensively,” says Lisa Wood, a plant biologist at University of Northern British Columbia.

“But the small nuances … the nuances that you do not see at first glance, these require more time for one to really understand what is happening.”

Her team has shown that glyphosate is present in the surviving plants for at least a year after it is sprayed, a finding that surprised the scientific community.

The maximum amount of time the chemical may be present in plants has yet to be determined.


A University of Northern British Columbia researcher examines a plant sprayed by glyphosate. (Maxime Corneau/CBC)

The B.C. Ministry of Forests declined a CBC News request for an interview, saying in writing that the use of glyphosate is declining in the province and that it is used under regulation, as it is in almost every other province.

“B.C.’s reforestation practices are updated when new scientific research and information becomes available,” ministry spokesperson Dawn Makarowski wrote. “Aspen and deciduous will not disappear from our regeneration forests.”


WATCH | The National’s story on glyphosate spraying and its effects on forests:


Many Canadian forests are managed through the use of the herbicide glyphosate — which has now been linked to forest fires. The herbicide shapes the way forests grow, which can maximize profits — but not without unforeseen costs. 10:02

Many Canadian forests are managed through the use of the herbicide glyphosate — which has now been linked to forest fires. The herbicide shapes the way forests grow, which can maximize profits — but not without unforeseen costs. 10:02

Canadian lawyers file $500M class-action lawsuit against makers of Roundup

Lawyers in British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta have launched a $500-million class-action lawsuit against the makers of the herbicide Roundup for allegedly withholding information that the product causes cancer.

Lawyers in Vancouver, Toronto and in Edmonton announced on Wednesday the legal action against numerous manufacturers including Bayer, Monsanto and Intertek Group. The statement of claim accuses the manufacturers of concealing “studies from regulatory authorities in Canada and the world that proved Roundup was causing or materially contributing to developing cancer.”

At the news conference in Edmonton, Tony Hunter, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, and his wife Brenda shared their story about how Roundup has impacted them.

Hunter, 55, said he grew up on a 1,000-acre farm where he and his father would routinely use Roundup. He started using the herbicide when he was around 16-years-old and continued to use the product until he was 18.

He was diagnosed with cancer when he was 24 years old and is currently in remission after battling the disease for the past 20 years.

“Growing up I believed Roundup was a safe product because there were no warnings that indicated otherwise,” he said in his statement. “I hope that justice will be achieved for those who also held the same belief that Roundup was a safe product and who were diagnosed with cancer like I was.”

The Hunters live in Saddle Lake and have to drive two hours to Edmonton in order to receive treatment. Hunter was in remission for several years before his cancer came back sometime in 2005. He would eventually be diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma and lupus.

Brenda said it has been a struggle.

Basil Bansal, a lawyer with Diamond and Diamond Lawyers, said his law firm launched three class-action lawsuits in the summer on behalf of 70 people. He said recent information has led them to believe the makers of Roundup “recklessly disregarded the safety of Canadians.”

“It is our belief that the defendants acted negligently in placing Roundup in the stream of commerces in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada,” he said. “We believe the defendants withheld the risks of cancer and other health risks by secretly ghostwriting scientific journals and provided those to Health Canada. Studies that were provided to regulatory authorities in relation to this product’s safety was falsified, misleading and included manipulated control groups.”

Roundup is a glyphosate-based product originally produced by Monsanto and is widely used in Canada including in Alberta. The City of Edmonton, for example, uses Roundup Transorb and Weathermax at certain sites for weed control.

In January, Health Canada found no reason to crack down on glyphosate after conducting a re-evaluation on glyphosate in 2017.

“No pesticide regulatory authority in the world currently considers glyphosate to be a cancer risk to humans at the levels at which humans are currently exposed,” Health Canada said in its statement. “We continue to monitor for new information related to glyphosate, including regulatory actions from other governments, and will take appropriate action if risks of concern to human health or the environment are identified.”

Bansal said Health Canada wasn’t included in the class-action lawsuit because the government body was tricked by the manufacturers into believing their product was safe. He wouldn’t comment on whether criminal action should be taken.

This isn’t the first lawsuit against companies that produce glyphosate-based products. In the United States, about 18,000 lawsuits have been filed against the makers. In July, a California judge awarded $86.7 million to a couple who developed cancer after using Roundup.

Bansal said that while there are currently 70 people on their class-action lawsuit he suspects once the news of the legal action is more widely known more will join.

Bayer Canada in an email statement said it stands by its product.

“Glyphosate has been extensively studied globally by scientists and regulators and results from this research confirm it is not carcinogenic,” the company said. “We firmly stand behind the safety of glyphosate-based products and as a company devoted to life sciences, assure Canadians that their health and the environment are our top priority.”

Bayer argues glyphosate-based products have been used for more than 40 years with multiple studies — more than 800 — showing them to be safe. SOURCE

Bayer Jury Awards on Roundup Underscore Legal Rift Over Science

Roundup labels sit on a spool during packaging at a Belgian herbicide manufacturing facility operated by Monsanto Co. in 2016. Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Jurors have sided with plaintiffs in all three cases over Bayer AG’s herbicide Roundup to go to trial so far, finding that glyphosate causes cancer and awarding a total of more than $2.2 billion in damages.

Those results underscore a growing skepticism of juries to trust the science conducted by regulators, which, if it continues, could have profound impacts on the ability of companies to defend themselves in product liability cases, several legal analysts told Bloomberg Environment.

“Over the past 10 years, jurors have become increasingly skeptical of government regulators and the notion that science is pure,” said Allan Kanner, a plaintiffs’ attorney with Kanner & Whiteley LLC who handles toxic tort cases.

Monsanto, which was acquired by Bayer AG last year and which makes Roundup, has been accused of covering up the chemical’s health risks.

The first Roundup verdict came in August 2018, when a state jury awarded California groundskeeper Dewayne Johnson $289 million, which was later reduced to $78 million. Since then, the number of plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits blaming Roundup for their cancers has grown to 18,400, according to Bayer’s second-quarter report released July 30. And the actions have been filed by a wide range of plaintiffs including, just last month, former NFL running back and ESPN analyst Merril Hoge.

Despite losing at trial in each of the three cases to go before a jury, the company remains confident that appellate judges will be more willing to side with the company’s toxicology evidence, which includes findings by both federal and international regulators.

“We continue to believe that we have meritorious defenses and intend to defend ourselves vigorously,” the company said in its report.

But Kanner said that strategy is based on a premise that regulatory experts still hold a deciding influence over jurors.

“That model, which Bayer has used in these first three trials, is based on a world view among jurors that no longer exists, or is rapidly eroding,” he said.

As the number of cases against Bayer mounts, speculation is growing among legal analysts that glyphosate has the potential to prompt a raft of claims globally. MORE

WATCH: Investigative reporter talks about Bayer/Monsanto’s efforts to discredit her work

“I really was just doing my job as a journalist.”

Investigative reporter Carey Gillam sat down with nonprofit newsroom The Real News Network to discuss recent reporting on how Bayer/Monsanto attempted to discredit her reporting on the weedkiller glyphosate— the active ingredient in Roundup.

The interview comes on the heels of Gillam’s piece in The Guardian last week, I’m a journalist. Monsanto built a step-by-step strategy to destroy my reputation, that outlined how Monsanto had an action plan specifically to discredit her reporting and her award-winning book, Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer, and the Corruption of Science.

“This campaign by Monsanto against me has been going on for a long time … well more than a decade certainly,” Gillam says in the Real News Network interview.

“And I really was just doing my job as a journalist. I was reporting on the new scientific evidence that was coming out about different risks—cancer risks and other health risks—associated with Monsanto’s herbicides.” SOURCE

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San Lorenzo River

As a retired teacher and organic gardener in Ben Lomond, California, he decided to join the Environmental Committee for the local San Lorenzo Valley Water District. The small district serves 7,900 connections with mostly surface water.

Six months into the appointment things were going well. Then, Rick Moran began reading through a proposal titled “French Broom Management Plan for the Olympia Watershed.” He realized that the Water District had used, and was going to again use, the controversial herbicide glyphosate in a “cut and dab” process to kill about 19,000 invasive broom plants. Worse yet, the herbicide would be used near two well heads. MORE