It was a strange morning. After falling in with the herbicide sprayers, and running out into the block through a lingering mist of VisionMax to film the helicopter in action, a Canfor silviculture employee was at our doorstep to discuss a nearby block they said they weren’t going to spray but were. We invited him in and chatted for an hour about the whole thing.
He was going on about how it was all a necessary part of our forest industry. “If we didn’t spray to knock back the aspen and birch, the pine and spruce would get choked out. It’s an obligation we take very seriously.” I was throwing everything I had back at him. I brought up the research that showed forests are healthier when we leave the aspen and birch, and mentioned its toxicity to amphibians. “I don’t have any regrets about what we’re doing,” he responded. “I don’t have any problems sleeping at night.”
I wondered if he had ever been sprayed. After a week of trying to catch the spraying crews at work I finally caught up with them. I grabbed my camera and tripod and leapt out into the cutblock, racing for the treeline and the block beyond where the helicopter was laying down its blanket of glyphosate-based VisionMax.
Lingering amidst the pockets of spindly aspen, blueberry bushes and grasses of the young forest, the toxic vapour was noticeable immediately. Within seconds I could feel a smoky, acrid sensation in my nose, mouth, and throat that hung there like syrup. The mist pervaded everything, and no creature, big or small, could escape it. It smelled faintly of burnt plastic, rubber, and pepper. It was a completely unique smell that I could only describe as chemical.
Making my way out of the aspen thicket and into a clear spot in the middle of the block I set up my tripod and began filming. The helicopter banked and swerved over the block. It came in low with its nozzles flaring, the mist coming down in sheets. At one point he made a run straight at me, the spray coming down within a dozen metres of me. The biting, ammonia-like sting was noticeable again.
Whether or not this was safe at this point became a big question mark. Up to then, I kind of assumed it was largely non-toxic to humans, an oft-repeated message I was willing to believe. Getting sprayed changed all that. This chem-burn affected me immediately, and bothered my respiratory tract for four days. Even now, a week and a half afterwards, it still lingers. Of all the chemicals I’ve ingested, inadvertently or not, this cocktail was the harshest. I have no doubt repeated exposure is not healthy. Anything that burns like that in such low quantities can’t be.
And what of the birds, frogs and bugs? What must they think? Well, they’re much more sensitive than my whiskey and smoke-seared throat, old knife that I am. It probably kills them, as extensive research says it probably does. The things we do to this planet and its creatures, I thought. Maybe the Canfor guy was right. No sense losing sleep over it.