By Angela Gentile
April 1, 2021
Angela: I am Angela Gentile, I am interviewing my dad Ken Wilson who is passionate about the forests of Canada, especially in Ontario. He told me about this herbicide spray that contains the active ingredient glyphosate that they are spraying on the forest that is killing a lot of the plants and vegetation. Glyphosate is found in herbicides such as Roundup, VisionMax, and others. There are other herbicides used in the forest such as WeedMaster (which contains 2,4-D and Dicamba). Ken has noticed a decline in wildlife because there are no plants and berries for them to eat in sprayed areas. There are all kinds of problems going on. I had some questions for my dad and decided to interview him. I hope that by him sharing his experiences might help us understand what is going on and what we can do to help. So, start by telling me a little bit about yourself, where you were born, and where you live now.
Ken: I was born and raised in the Rainy River District in the town of Fort Frances, Ontario. I spent most of my 76 years in Fort Frances. I was in Toronto for a period of time, when I did my journeyman electrician and I came back here to Fort Frances in 1978. We used to come back hunting. Every fall we would spend a week hunting deer and moose up here and then go back to Toronto. Now this is my home for sure. I am not going back to Toronto, for a while, that’s for sure. Anyway, this glyphosate-based herbicide we are talking about, is a deadly thing in our forest up here.
Angela: How long have you been enjoying the forest? What do you do in the forest?
Ken: Well, I am a seasoned trapper. I’ve been trapping for approximately 65 years of my 76 years. It’s very sickening when you see the broadleaf plants are being destroyed by this glyphosate. The moose, the deer, everything, they disappear when there are no broadleaf plants for them. The animals can’t survive without these food sources. And we all know that, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the logging companies have been spraying for the last 40 years up here. When it originally started, it wasn’t really noticeable. There weren’t many cuts affected. But when you see a small percentage of the forest sprayed yearly, it adds up. There’s hardly anything left for the animals to eat. They can’t live on conifers. They have to have deciduous trees. Deciduous trees have the berries, leaves and browse (tips of deciduous trees). The blueberries and all the broadleaf plants are disappearing when they spray–and they don’t come back. I was told by a forester one time that they come back. Well, they do come back, but, they are stunted and they are unhealthy shrubs. They just can’t win the battle over glyphosate, or whatever name they call it.
Angela: So, you said you are a trapper, you’ve been trapping for many years. What other kinds of things do you do in the forest?
Ken: Well, we fish just about every week. I could live on fish – or whatever wildlife I trap. I try to eat most of the animals we trap (that are edible). I could pretty well live in the bush. Except I like the milk! I need milk for my coffee. So, I have to go to town every couple weeks.
Angela: And what about hunting?
Ken: Well, we always try to harvest a deer and make sausage or pepperettes. My wife usually gets a moose – if I don’t, my wife will. They are getting few and far between. At one time we could count 6 or 7 moose in one cut (recently harvested area). And now you can’t even count 2 moose in a whole season anywhere out there, in this 9A area, which is north of the Rainy River District, it’s in the Kenora District.
Angela: So do you believe, what you just said about there is less moose, do you believe that’s because of the spray?
Ken: Well, the spraying has cut down the plants so much that when the moose do find a patch to browse, two or three of them will get in there and then the wolves would join them and take one or two of the little ones. They will also take the adults. The deer are non-existent right now up there. They had a couple bad winters and springs and they are not native to the boreal forest in that area. They just can’t survive when we get a bad winter of 100 inches of snow. They just don’t make it. So, now it is a moose area. And there are less of them.
Angela: So, you mentioned you noticed the spraying started 40 years ago, so when you think about what you saw when you were younger, how does it look different now? Why are they spraying and what’s going on?
Ken: The conifer is a preferred tree by the large forestry corporations and apparently the Ministry is gung-ho for letting them grow conifer plantations (which are not ecosystems). But, the deciduous trees are the ones that feed the people and feed the animals in the bush. None of the cuts that are sprayed come back with lush deciduous trees. The conifer takes over after they spray it, and all the seed trees and berry bushes on the ground get shaded out by conifers that were planted and grow in the sprayed area. There are very few berry trees left. The bears will feed in the areas where there are lush blueberries. I have seen the spray come on August 20th, when the bears were bulking up on blueberries. That is their main diet. The bears ate the berries that had been sprayed. The berry plants were wilting, and the bears continued to eat the blueberries. It was sad to see them eating those poisoned berries. The glyphosate-covered berries must be doing them some harm. There are places in California that have proven that glyphosate does cause cancer. So, what does it do to the animals?
It’s a real lush area until they spray it. The bears are in there eating, they spray it, and they continue to eat it for probably about one month, until the leaves are all down. I am sure it’s harmful. The sprayed berries and vegetation has got to be harmful to all the wildlife that is sprayed.
Angela: How does the spray affect the water?
Ken: I know on our trapline, we are right down to maybe a dozen otter on the entire 150 square miles that we trap. And I am sure the glyphosate is getting into the water, and doing something to the otter’s main diet of clams and crayfish. Otters catch them readily – and I am sure that’s what’s causing them to be sick. I haven’t caught a healthy otter in two years. It’s getting worse every year, and this year I only saw two otters. So, I don’t know what’s going to happen with the otter. There has to be something getting into the water. The only thing different is they are putting glyphosate into the land. It binds to the soil and if it rains soon after, the runoff from the plantation can cause glyphosate to get into the water. They say it doesn’t get there, that it just evaporates. Well, I don’t believe that. It gets into the water system. I am told there are studies that prove it.
Angela: So, what do you want your fellow Canadians to about this? Because I just learned about this a month and a half ago when you showed me that notice of spraying glyphosate on the forest. I couldn’t believe it, and you showed me proof. What do you want people to know about this?
Ken: Well, glyphosate is outlawed for use on lawns. It’s outlawed in Ontario to use Roundup on your lawn to kill the weeds. And that’s what the Ministry and the forestry companies are doing to the forest. They are spraying the bush with these glyphosate mixtures and they are killing all the good “weeds” that would grow into “pests” if they weren’t killed. The glyphosate mixtures they use in the forest have different additives to make the glyphosate stick longer to the foliage. What is considered the major food source for all the animals are considered weeds or pests to the logging companies. It’s not right. It’s not something to be killed or controlled. It’s food for the critters.
Angela: What would you want our government to know? Or what would you want the government to do about this? Because it’s Health Canada that says glyphosate is safe for you.
Ken: Well, that was about six years ago when Health Canada claimed it was safe for humans, based on industry studies they have reviewed. But I don’t think they’ve done any studies to prove that it’s okay on animals. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry thinks it’s okay because Health Canada has approved it. And I am sure they have never done studies on animals in the forest. I’d like the government to do lots of studies on the animals. We have 13 species that we trap on our trapping ground. All of them depend on a mouse at the beginning. The food chain starts with the mice, then the squirrels eat the mice, the squirrels get eaten by the marten, the marten get eaten by the fisher, and on it goes all the way up the chain. If the mice don’t have the seeds such as pin cherries, chokecherries, blueberries (all of those plants are killed when they spray), there will be no small rodents. And the birds, all the birds that migrate, need seed-bearing trees, berries, all kinds of seeds that deciduous trees have. There is not enough plant life left to sustain a healthy bird population. I believe this is why the bird populations are on the decline.
Angela: Would you be satisfied if the government said we are going to do studies? Would that be enough? Or do you want something else to be done?
Ken: I think they have to stop the spray by putting a ban on glyphosate, any of the herbicides or pesticides that are lethal to the broadleaf plants. They should stop the use of harmful pesticides until they do studies on the wildlife. Both the health of the animals and the harm to the ecosystem. When I started on the trapline in 2002, we’d take 60 marten in a year. That wasn’t hurting the population. The next year we took 40. The following year we took 30. I only took two last year. There are hardly any martens around. There are no mice. They are not coming back. The food chain starts with mice and small birds. Partridge (or ruffled grouse) are very good main source of food in the fall. They need birch trees to survive in the winter. They eat birch buds all winter. That’s what they live on. The birch trees are almost nonexistent, except along the roadways where they don’t spray.
Angela: I know there are different parts of Canada that has been fighting this fight for years – decades actually. I know there is a lawyer, Joel Theriault, in Ontario who has been working on this for 20 years. This is an issue affecting most of our Canadian forests and people don’t know about it! You are the founder of the Facebook group, “Stop the Spray Canada” and I have been helping you build this momentum for this campaign to get people educated and aware that this is going on in our forests. I want people to know about it. I thank you for bringing this shocking truth to our attention and making it a national issue. I know BC has been fighting. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are desperately fighting to keep what they have left of their Acadian forest. There are so many Canadians that don’t even know about this tragedy, and it’s huge what’s going on. So, again, I want to thank you for bringing this to our attention.
Angela: You and your supporters have designed a logo for the Stop the Spray Canada campaign and have made some T-shirts. A portion of the sales of the T-shirt will go towards our campaign for education and awareness. There are a few of these special edition T-shirts left, in limited quantities. If anyone wants to get involved, we encourage people to visit Stop the Spray Canada Facebook page, Facebook members-only group and webpage. There are a few people who are working with us on this. They are amazing people, who are all passionate about saving our forests. I hope that this momentum gets building and we can do some things to help save our forests for the future generations. Are there any parting words you’d like to share?
Ken: I’d like to get all the band councils around this area on board with this. I want to talk to the MPP for this area, too. I need to speak to him personally. I need to communicate with both the provincial and federal leaders. That’s where I have to start. They have to start pulling up their socks and looking after our forests rather than let them being run by the forestry companies.
Angela: Yes! The First Nations communities are also onboard. I know that they have been willing to provide letters of support in this cause. We have a number of them posted in our Facebook group. They are the keepers of our forests in most parts of Canada. They are who look after things for us who are in the smaller rural communities and larger cities. If we can get everyone on board, even cottagers, people who like to hike through the forest. There are so many users of the forest that can get involved. Thank you very much for taking this time to educate us and share your experiences. We also appreciate the sharing of that letter you wrote to some of your government officials in March 2020 advocating for the ban of glyphosate. It’s travelling around, people are reading it.
Ken: I sent that letter to the Ministry of the Environment right downtown Toronto, but I guess I should have sent it to the Federal government, too, to the Prime Minister’s office – The Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.
Angela: Yes, there is still time. Everybody can write letters, everyone can ask to meet with their government officials. We are going to get this done! So, thank you again for your time!
Join the Stop the Spray Canada Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/stopthespraycanada
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Check out the Stop the Spray Canada webpage: http://nlmotel.com/stop-the-spray-canada/