Canadian Artist/Activist Working To Save B.C. Forests From Glyphosate
When James Steidle isn’t photographing the landscapes around his British Columbia home, or creating some practical piece of wood art, he’s applying his creativity toward another, passionate cause. Founder of the website, Stop The Spray, B.C., Steidle has made it his personal mission to inform people of the damage glyphosate- the active ingredient in Roundup- is causing to the forests of B.C.
1. Your interest in glyphosate began a year ago, when a helicopter carrying pesticides landed on your parents ranch in Punchaw, BC. Can you tell us about that experience?
My dad and I were rebuilding the old house when we heard the helicopter. We’d been expecting it. The forestry folks had informed us they were going to spray clearcuts around our ranch and we’d requested they not spray up to our property line, so there was a bit of a dialogue going on. But it wasn’t until this helicopter was sitting there in the field with his convoy of support trucks full of chemicals that it really struck home. These guys were going to spray a bunch of young forests where I used to play with a bunch of chemicals. It was one thing to log it but quite another to watch a vast swath of vibrant, young green forest whither and die in a matter of days. That’s how powerful this chemical is. For the following week I watched and listened to several helicopters spray this heavily logged area in Punchaw, north of the Blackwater River. This area is probably the most heavily logged area in British Columbia right now, a concentration of clearcuts larger than the Bowron Clearcut- and now they had to spray it all. I drove through the aftermath. Miles and miles of dead forest. I had been aware of herbicide spraying but never had I witnessed it so closely.
2. What have you since learned about glyphosate that has made you so passionate about stopping it from being sprayed in the forests of British Columbia?
Calling up foresters and scientists, I quickly learned that few people who put a lot of thought into this matter thought it was a good idea. It was one negative thing after another. I learned that, contrary to claims of the forester who visited our ranch, it was toxic to wildlife, and frogs in particular. A Ministry of Environment literature review quite clearly said so. Yet no studies had been conducted in B.C. The sensitivity of nine out of eleven B.C. frog species to glyphosate herbicides remains unknown. Provincial environmental agencies appeared to be negligent, or at best highly incompetent. They often pointed out that glyphosates are regulated by a federal agency, Health Canada, as if that absolved them of taking the concerns seriously. Yet Health Canada’s position was based on research provided by Monsanto and academics who have accepted Monsanto funding. The fact that they would authorize the spraying of a known toxin on our public forests where the possibility it kills frogs is highly likely struck me as extremely irresponsible. Further discussions with forest scientists on an entirely different topic further cemented my passion. It turns out that herbicide spraying doesn’t improve conifer growth, the very reason they are supposedly sprayed. Evidence is even suggesting they can damage conifer growth and long-term forest sustainability. Herbicides simplify forests, reducing stand complexity. This affects wildlife populations since mixed stand forests have far greater biodiversity than conifer monocultures. Also, conifer monocultures, unsurprisingly, are more vulnerable to insects and disease. They are more likely to burn. They will also impoverish the soil. Birch and aspen are critical to maintaining healthy soils, as is the presence of frogs. I was struck by how willfully we would eliminate whole classes of tree and plant species, denying habitat and life to so many species, and endanger the lives of frogs, with such poor reason to do so.
3. Do you see a change in public attitude toward pesticides now that they’ve been banned for residential use in many Canadian provinces?
Herbicide spraying in our forests has persisted for thirty years largely out of ignorance and its distance from people’s lives. It is partly the outcome of the puerile idea that we can grow conifer trees faster by killing everything else. This idea has been around for a hundred years or more and is deeply entrenched in Canadian forestry policy. I hope that attitudes towards domestic pesticides will spillover into forest policy, but the forest industry and the rules that govern it are not easily modified. My fear is that herbicides are banned but some other method is employed to kill a forest’s diversity and deny life to its many species.
4. Has being an artist and writer influenced your activism…or vice versa?
Nothing captivates me like a grove of aspen and a field of grass with a creek running through it. A great love of forests and nature has remained with me throughout life and inspires me in all things I do. I would hesitate to call myself an artist, writer or activist. Above all I am a lover of nature, held in complete awe by its beauty and magnanimity.
5. What do you suggest the people of British Columbia do to stop the herbicide destruction of the Canadian forests?
People can print off the petition on www.stopthespraybc.com and get others to fill it out and send it to the address I have on there. People can also write their MLA’s, write letters to their local newspapers, or send letters to Health Canada. I have pamphlets on my website that people can distribute. Getting people to know about this seems to be the major hold-up. Once people know about the issue, they want it to stop. It is the human desire to live and let other things live that will see this activity stopped.