After a trail of dead vegetation was discovered along CN Rail’s tracks near the Skeena River in the fall of 2017, the railway company said while it plans to abide by herbicide restrictions, it will not submit a Pest Management Plan for 2018.
A PMP outlines the planned activities and methods of removing vegetation and other pests near train tracks, as required by B.C.’s Integrated Vegetation Management Act. Since CN operates on public and private land across the country, it also must follow the Railway Safety Act.
“As a federally-regulated interprovincial railway company, CN is of the view that it is not required to submit a Pest Management Plan (“PMP”) for its 2018 vegetation management activities to the province… however, CN fully intends to carry out its activities in keeping with the high standards in place in B.C.,” CN’s coordinator of legislative affairs, Monika Pezdek, wrote in a letter to the province on May 23, 2018.
“We were shocked,” Luanne Roth said when she read the letter. Roth, who is a North Coast estuary campaigner with T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation, originally filed the complaint with the Ministry of Environment. She was driving along Highway 16 when she saw what looked like herbicide use near salmon-bearing streams. After receiving her complaint, both the Ministry of Environment and Environment and Climate Change Canada opened investigations into possible violations of federal environmental laws. CN’s most recent PMP had expired in May 2017, and a new one had not been filed by the company before the spraying.
When Roth saw CN’s response she said she found it unbelievable. “It’s a requirement under B.C. law, so they should be submitting one … This is very strange because, for 20 years or more, they have been applying, writing the Pest Management Plan, sending them into the provincial government. So this is totally new.”
CN states, in its letter to the ministry, that the company doesn’t need to write a new Pest Management Plan. CN is regulated by the federal government through the Pest Control Products Act and the Pest Control Products Regulations, which dictates its use of pesticides.
But the province said that isn’t the case. The company is required to have both a Pesticide Use Notice Confirmation and a Pest Management Plan, which requires public consultation and First Nations engagement, said David Karn, the spokesperson for B.C.’s Environment and Climate Change Strategy.
“Inspections of pesticide applications conducted by any party in B.C. may be inspected for compliance with the IPM Act and Regulation, and any non-compliance determinations will be assessed according to the Ministry’s Compliance and Enforcement Policy and Procedures,” Karn said in the email.
“From the contents of the recent letter from CN, it is clear that they disagree with this position.”
Roth said regulations on both a federal and provincial level are necessary.
“The B.C. pest management law is not just a pest management plan. There’s a lot of parts to that plan that are there to protect salmon,” she said. “That’s what we’re worried about.”
Small doses of commonly used pesticides can affect salmon’s sense of smell — making it difficult for them to find food and mates.
“In the past, the fisherman’s union was able to go to the B.C. environmental appeal board under B.C. law and were able to stop them from using two really toxic chemicals along that Skeena corridor.”
In an email, CN’s manager of Western Canada media relations, Kate Fenske said, “CN fully intends to carry out its environmental activities in keeping with the high standards in place in British Columbia, including restrictions on the use of herbicides near waterways. We are fully committed to performing vegetation management activities safely and in an environmentally and socially responsible way.”
The investigations by Environment and Climate Change Canada and the Ministry of Environment are ongoing.