NB Power sprayed where they forage, and now this family is pushing for change

Had Samantha Thorpe’s neighbour not alerted her family to the spraying done by NB Power the previous night, Thorpe says they may have eaten berries freshly sprayed with herbicides.

Thorpe said she doesn’t understand why there were no signs put up prior to the spraying, and why they only appeared afterwards.

“[This impacts] a lot of people directly in our community,” said Thorpe, whose family relies heavily on foraging and gardening in a stretch of forest in the Boiestown area.

The family has concerns about the ingredients being used in the application of herbicides called Clearview and Garlon XRT.

“We’re not even posting a material safety data sheet for people to look at as they’re walking through and make their own decisions,” said Michael Lee, Samantha’s partner. 

While safety data sheets can be found online for both Clearview and Garlon XRT, information from these sheets such as chemical concentration or hazard identification are not included on the signs used by NB Power.

Active ingredients noted by NB Power include aminopyralid potassium, metsulfuron-methyland triclopyr.

The matter was especially concerning for the family because the said both Lee and their son are immunocompromised.

They spoke with NB Power representative Rick Doucett about possible ways to improve the signs. 

CBC News spoke to Doucett, who said he was unable to conduct an interview unless authorized by company media relations. 

NB Power’s 2021 spray schedule began in July and will continue into August and includes areas like: Boiestown, Fredericton Junction to Lake Utopia, Miramichi to Bathurst and Fredericton to Doaktown. (NB Power)

Requests for an interview were declined by NB Power. 

In an emailed statement, NB Power spokesperson Marc Belliveau said, “NB Power announces our spraying program and the areas impacted on our website and newspapers in both official languages more than two weeks before work begins. This gives the public an opportunity to contact us with concerns or questions.”

CBC News followed up with NB Power regarding the frequency of those newspaper ads, but the company said it would make no further comments.

Lack of understanding of rural communities

During the initial phone call with Doucett, Lee said he brought up the issue of unreliable Internet access and a lack of technology available to the people living in the community.

For Thorpe, the spraying highlights a fundamental lack of understanding of how people in rural communities rely on the land. She also worries about the effects of spraying the day before a heavy rain.

“We’re directly taking the chemicals from that runoff in the rain and watering our vegetables with it. That seems kind of unfair that they had to wait until the week before the beginning of blueberry season to go and do all this.”

The pair would like to see a shift away from spraying herbicides, but Lee said if they must spray, they need to be more aware.

“I’m not saying nobody should spray… I’m just thinking companies should account for what we do.”

“I would like to see NB Power step up and be an example instead of posting the bare minimum. When I asked them about their signage. … They said, well, that’s the signs we’re provided and my first question is, do you own a printer?,” Lee said.

“Put up a sign that says do not work in this area if you insist on doing this spraying.”

The family has leaned into a lifestyle of foraging and growing their own food both on philosophical and practical grounds.  

During the pandemic, tasks like going to the grocery store are worrying for the family, especially with Lee’s immunocompromised condition. 

“We do not eat a meal that doesn’t contain at least one forage item,” said Lee, adding that almost 70 per cent of the food they eat is foraged. 

Pictured here is a lobster mushroom being held by Thorpe’s daughter Lillianna. It is one of many items the family has been able to forage. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC)

Herbicides and the big picture 

Christopher Edge is a research scientist with the Forest Service and Natural Resources Canada, who specializes in forest ecosystem ecology. 

Edge said in an interview that there needs to be broader and more transparent discussion about how herbicides are deployed in the province.

“I think it’s great that people are concerned about this and I do think that in some cases, industry, public groups, NB Power could do a better job communicating with people. … It would foster more of a collegial, collaborative atmosphere around this issue.”

While the answer isn’t clear for Thorpe and her family, she hopes the conversations had with NB Power can prompt change. 

“I also understand that there needs to be maintenance done in these areas. But I think it’s one of those things where a lot of people need to put their brains together and try and find an ideal solution in the end for everybody involved.” 

Boiestown, N.B., family pushes for better warnings about herbicide spraying

In mid-July, Samantha Thorpe and her family were alerted by a neighbour that NB Power had sprayed the area they rely on for food and where they forage regularly. 2:09

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