Gaps in the spray program

Russell Wangersky
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The alders just go brown and then black and eventually drop their leaves, leaving the sticks of their branches behind.

The raspberries? Right now, their leaves are all curling inside-out, the fresh green of their tops hidden inside the paler funnels of what used to be the undersides of the leaves.

It’s funny how seeing broad areas of dying things affects you, and makes you think that something’s terribly wrong, even if you know exactly what’s going on.

By the end of last week, it was easy to see the swatches of brush that were sprayed with chemical defoliants on Aug. 9 starting to die. It was at the top of the Burin Peninsula highway, just past Goobies heading south.

The orange tape is the first clue: tied between two stakes, the lines of tape and the spray-painted arrows show where the spray starts and stops, starts and stops.

And it starts and stops a lot.

Then, there are the fluttering white warning signs that give the date of the spraying, and describe the chemical used: a 2,4-D and picloram combination called Tordon 101. Its makers describe it like this: “For nearly 50 years, Tordon 101 has been trusted and proven to provide long lasting effective control of weeds, shrubs, and trees.”

It’s also one of the herbicides banned for household use by the province — one the environment minister classes as one of the “big five” problematic chemicals.

The province has hired an outside contractor to spray miles upon miles of highway where brush was manually cut last year. It’s a program the government undertook this year without so much as a news release, an oddity for an administration that issues releases when its ministers do something as simple as attending a play.

Transportation and Works Minister Tom Hedderson has said the spraying is being done to keep highway sightlines clear, and the department has argued that, without the spray, highways workers would have to regularly travel the roads and clear brush to keep those lines open, particularly so that drivers can see and avoid moose.

Walk the shoulder, and it’s easy to see why you’d want as much visibility as possible: there are fresh moose tracks literally every few metres along the road, and in some places, different fresh tracks overlap each other.

You can see where the big animals have come up out of the ditch and walked — sometimes run — along the shoulder of the road for the length of a football field. In other places, the hoof marks dig in deep where the animals have come up at speed and headed directly across the road.

But if easily keeping sightlines open is the argument for spraying, if anything, the work at the top of the Burin Peninsula highway casts doubt on that argument.

Why? Well, because like on a lot of the Avalon Peninsula, that part of the highway is bog and streams and freshwater seeps, and the spray flags mark the stop-and-go spraying every 50 metres or less. You can’t spray Tordon 101 near water sources — and Hedderson has said his department has stretched out the recommended buffer zones to better protect waterways.

The result? There are areas where the brush is being burned back with chemicals — immediately followed by long areas where brush will grow up unimpeded. Sightlines will still have to be regularly checked, and brush will still have to be regularly cut.

Maybe the argument makes sense in some places. On the Burin, it looks like a false promise of security from moose for drivers, many of whom, let’s face it, are clearly driving far too fast for the road conditions.

There are a lot of things that don’t make sense about the province’s spray program, but nothing seems to stop it from continuing.

Two pickup trucks were staking out the Trans-Canada on Saturday, heading towards Paddy’s Pond. The checkerboard squares of barren, chemically blasted ground and lush growth around water and bog marches on.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: Trans-Canada

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Recent comments

  • William Daniels
    August 21, 2012 - 22:40

    On VOCM Open Line the Minister actually compared this chemical to table salt. Guess he should have read the MSDS first before sticking his foot in his mouth. Would like to see Hedderson put this stuff on his steak.

  • W Bagg
    August 21, 2012 - 07:40

    kinda funny....................they'll give you a ticket for driving an ATV on a bog but they can unleash chemicals all around one.