Pesticides another hitch against CN Rail

B.C.’s Ministry of Environment is reviewing claims that CN Rail improperly sprayed pesticides directly adjacent to the Skeena River between Terrace and Prince Rupert.

Photographs taken along the river near CN tracks show what appears to be a line of dead vegetation that crosses creeks and waterways, according to the environmentalists who documented the more than 100 kilometre stretch of treated area.

The pictures of dead vegetation running along the riparian zone taken by Prince Rupert residents, Luanne Anne Roth and her husband certainly suggest that some bad ass spraying took place, and it’s particularly galling to learn that the spraying seems to have taken place over an area measuring 100 kilometres.

Many years ago now the Skeena Society to Oppose Pesticides (SSTOP) and Kitsumkalum First Nation took on the Federal Pest Management Institute (FPMI) over the latter’s program to test then subsequently register a number of pesticides that, pending their successful registry, would then be available for use by forest companies, highway departments, and railways all over this nation.

Though we were mightily concerned with the potentially pervasive use of newly formulated poisons, SSTOP’s opposition to the FPMI’s herbicide trails was specifically concerned that the trials were to be conducted in prime salmon habitat downstream of Terrace.

The Kitsumkalum are salmon people. The Second Nations peoples of the Skeena Valley are too. Local foresters, fishers, enviros, sportsmen, hunters and trappers got behind the cause. Protesters occupied the islands of the lower river, provincial and national news media covered the story. The giant multinational chemical companies who profit from poison production decided they didn’t need the hassle. The bureaucrats at FPMI came to the same conclusion, tucked their tails between their legs, and slinked off to their dens back east.

We’d won. Because we had, the coalition that was SSTOP shrivelled. Just before it lapsed into quiescence, CN announced plans to spray their right-of-way from Smithers to Rupert. It seemed to the few of us still holding regular meetings of SSTOP that there were better ways to manage brush along the salmon-rich Skeena Corridor than nuking it with poison. The tiny quorum decided we should object to CN’s plan in front of the Environmental Appeal Board (EAB). I was nominated for the task.

Only a short way into my research, I learned that winning this fight, because it was going to be fought in what amounted to a court of law rather than a court of public opinion, was going to be exceedingly difficult.

When I appeared before the board, an assemblage lawyers and government appointees, its chairman was quick to let me know that if my appeal would be confined to the instructions on the labels affixed to the pesticides, which, he added, had already been approved for use in Canada.

I knew this. I knew too that this factor was the reason that not a single appellant had won a case before the EAB concerning herbicide applications. Despite the narrow confines of the appeal, I had some hope for, Tom McMillan, then Federal Minister of the Environment, had recently complained about inadequate registry trials and the need for more rigorous standards.

I invoked words of the honourable minister to cast doubt on the credibility of the labels on the herbicides.

When I was finished, Don Ryan and Glenn Williams of the Gixaan joined Nisga’a and Tsimsian spokesmen to make it clear to the board that they weren’t fond of the railway at the best of times, and that if poisons were going to be applied on their territories everything up to and including track removal was on the agenda.

The board huddled and ultimately ruled in our favour, telling CN that it had to find alternate means to get rid of brush. It was a seminal win. The CN began brushing alongside their tracks.

In fairness to the rotten corporation that took over what was once — and should still be — our railway, they are bound by part of a federal act that demands they get rid of brush, but other than ballast weed, they can do this by hand, a much more salmon friendly way of performing that task. If they aren’t doing so, it is because there are probably new chemicals now whose persistence and mobility are superior to their progenitors, and because they want to save money. In other words, profit trumps salmon and all the creatures that benefit from their largesse.

Considering the massive damage done to the salmon resource by construction of the railway, in terms of alienating formerly ultra productive salmon habitat and doing next to nothing in over a century to fix that damage, you’d think the CN would be doing everything to cultivate a good corporate image.

You’d think they’d be removing the culverts that bar the passage of anadromous fish. You’d think they’d make little gestures like building overpasses in places like Kalum Street to make it easier for south-siders to get to town over the rail yard that shouldn’t have been built in the centre of town in the first place.

Nope.

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