Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee Opposes Ban on Aerial Herbicide Spraying for Forestry, then Opposes Establishing a Maine Citizen Forest Advisory Board

otes cast today by members of the Maine Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) revealed the tentacles of corporate capture in Maine policymaking. Disregarding the mountain of science about the environmental and human health effects of glyphosate and other herbicides commonly used in plantation forestry operations, a majority of the committee sided with industrial forestry corporations, supporting an amendment to gut LD 125 – An Act To Prohibit the Aerial Spraying of Glyphosate and Other Synthetic Herbicides for the Purpose of Silviculture and maintain status quo — nominally increasing established buffer zones around bodies of water. In some cases buffer zones would increase by 50 feet, in other cases by 225 feet. Rep. David McCrea (D – Fort Fairfield), who offered the amendment, explained that the recommendation came directly from the regulated forest industry.
It’s clear that powerful plantation forestry corporations such as the foreign company J.D. Irving (Maine’s largest landowner) have exerted their influence over the democratic process. Senate President Troy Jackson (D – Aroostook), a logger who has been working for multiple legislative sessions to ban the practice of aerial herbicide spraying, has expressed frustration with discussions in the ACF committee, noting that members had opted to attend a forest industry tour of the North Woods rather than a tour that he had organized. Jackson noted in his testimony, “My role is to speak out about things that aren’t right. I’m a voice for people who can’t do that. People say forest landowners have all the control, and they do. They think we’re disposable.”
Proponents of the ban noted that the amendment would have no effect on current practices and would not address problems of pesticides drift.
“Two hundred and fifty feet is not even the length of a high school soccer field,” said Heather Spalding, deputy director of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. “While we appreciate Rep. McCrea’s efforts to find a path forward, this approach will do nothing to curtail the aerial herbicide spraying of roughly 15,000 acres of Maine’s forest land each year. Nor will it help with Maine’s ambitious goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions as the soil disturbance and decomposition of organic matter caused by clearcutting and subsequent herbicide spraying actually leads to net carbon emission, which can last for up to 15 years.”
As MOFGA-certified growers know from experience, pesticides can drift much more than 250 feet and in some cases for miles. Even if sprayed on target, chemicals may volatilize, becoming airborne again, and drift off-target. Jim Gerritsen, of Wood Prairie Family Farm farms in an Unorganized Township next to Bridgewater. He shared that his family is extremely troubled by the unacceptable risks of chemical trespass and off-target spray drift, having lost his organic certification for three years due to insecticide drift sprayed for spruce budworm control. “Residents like us on the edge of the Maine Woods deserve protection by the state,” said Gerritsen. “Get rid of clearcutting and you get rid of the reason to spray. We support Senator Jackson’s aerial herbicide spray ban. If the forest industry sprays us again, we’ll be forced out-of-business.” 
ACF members justified their votes based on low human populations of the North Woods, completely ignoring the welfare of those who do live and work there and disregarding science showing the devastating effects that glyphosate has on wildlife from invertebrates to mammals. Even the Environmental Protection Agency now acknowledges that glyphosate threatens 93% of animals on the endangered species list. And just this week a peer-reviewed study from the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and the University of Maryland Department of Entomology revealed how pesticides pose a grave threat to organisms critical to healthy soil, biodiversity and soil carbon sequestration. The report, entitled “Pesticides and Soil Invertebrates: A Hazard Assessment,” was published in Frontiers in Environmental Science and reports negative effects across all studied pesticide classes, showing that, as a set of chemical poisons, pesticides pose a clear hazard to soil life and are incompatible with healthy soil ecosystems.
Adding insult to injury, a majority of ACF members proceeded to oppose LD 1549 – An Act To Establish the Maine Forest Advisory Board, which proposed to organize a board in the spirit of many other Maine state entities, and would ensure that advice going to the Department of Forestry and other administrative departments would include input from stakeholders with demonstrated interest in forest ecology. It is clear that the level of discussion about forestry practices in Maine needs to evolve so that environmental health and well-being garners as much, if not more, consideration as do short-rotation industrial business interests.
Maine’s Environmental Priorities Coalition expressed hope for passing the original intent of the two bills when the full House and Senate take them up in session.
“Maine has a clear and present opportunity to make systemic change for good,” said Beth Ahearn, of Maine’s Environmental Priorities Coalition. “We must stop industrial forestry corporations from: dousing our North Woods with deadly poisons; hindering efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and destroying essential wildlife habitat. With glyphosate and other synthetic herbicides out of the picture, Maine can focus on building healthy and resilient communities, providing incentives for forest landowners to improve yields and the value of their trees, and helping to restore the health of our northern forest ecosystems.”
These bills will come before the full House of Representatives and Senate during the next two months.

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