17 October 2012
‘Once you’ve tried everything, where do you go?’:
Changing Tactics in the Campaign against Biocide Forestry in Nova Scotia, 1976-84
Mark Leeming, Doctoral Candidate, Department of History,
Coming to Dalhousie via St. Francis Xavier University and MacMaster, Mark Leeming is an environmental historian and an active participant in NICHE – the Network in Canadian History and the Environment.
The spruce budworm had not been a stranger to Cape Breton. In the 1950s an increase in the spruce budworm population with its accordant effects on forest production and health had been allowed to pass without major intervention and in a few years the problem had declined through natural factors. However in 1975, when a similar infestation threated, Nova Scotia Forest Industries had sought permission to spray. Although initially rejected for that season, the following year permission was received and over the objections of the Department of Lands and Forests the government granted permission to spray. However a medical researcher at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax had linked spraying to Reyes Syndrome and this was reported in the Cape Breton Post under an inflammatory headline linking death and spraying.
In his discussion of the groups against the spray and their actions to oppose it, Leeming identified different approaches to environmentalism in Nova Scotia. As the effective window for spraying was seasonal and small, the threat of court action and the lack of political will to approve permits initially was an effective environmental action against the spray. Delay meant spraying would be impossible. Other activists preferred direct action such as blockading and picketing spray sites.
The trajectory of Elizabeth May’s career, from her arrival in Cape Breton in 1974 as a waitress at her family restaurant to becoming a crusading lawyer, provided some illustration of the changes in the movement. Changes also occurred in the staffing at the Nova Scotia Department of Lands and Forests, who had initally emphasized the role of chemicals in forestry while diminishing the voices of those who advocated what would now be characterized as sustainable practices in contrast to industrial forestry. While the legal message was that playing by the rules did not produce the desired environmental result the spray program ultimately died as it became politically difficult to justify.