Of apples and alders, of gleaners and poison

By Tom Read

Gleaned apples and an alder branch symbolize the food-versus-herbicide conflict that’s common elsewhere, and now could come to Texada Island if spraying goes unchallenged.

Gleaned apples and an alder branch symbolize the food-versus-herbicide conflict that’s common elsewhere, and now could come to Texada Island if spraying goes unchallenged.

Yesterday I missed my self-imposed posting deadline because Linda and I were out gleaning apples and pears. Texada Islanders are fortunate to have inherited a legacy of a few dozen century-old farms and orchards, some of which lie abandoned today. Typically, the farm buildings have vanished, and formerly productive fields now lie quietly under a canopy of alder and Douglas fir.  You have to know where to look to find these old farm sites.

But the orchards remain.  Sometimes they’re engulfed amid towering Douglas firs and thus rarely bear much fruit, but yesterday we were fortunate to find a bounty of heavily-laden heritage apple trees ready for picking, and so we gleaned. In some cases permission is required to glean, and in other cases the old orchards are publically accessible.

We obtained permission as needed, and took home fruit that otherwise would have fed a few deer or rotted on the ground. Today, we’re busy making apple and pear sauce, jam, and fruit leathers. There’s a delectable aroma in the house today, and a feeling of well-being as we prepare a supply of locally-grown goodies to last until next summer.

Alas, today — even as I write these words — something quite different is happening to about 20 acres of young alders which happen to grow under the 500-kilovolt power lines that cross Texada’s midriff. This is the day those young alders will begin to die, as they are girdled with a herbicide, sprayed one “stem” (tree) at a time. This is the doing of British Columbia Transmission Corporation (BCTC), a spin-off of BC Hydro that’s now responsible for maintenance of high-voltage transmission lines, among other things.

The herbicide, a poison that targets only broadleaf trees, is advertised by BCTC as harmless to other plants, animals and ground water. It is being applied by an off-island contractor, supposedly all in one day. BCTC claims that it will not be necessary to apply further herbicides on this acreage for up to 30 years, except for some minor touch-ups next spring.

Something had to be done to those alders now because they were growing too close under the powerlines. BCTC acknowledged that Texada’s Official Community Plan (OCP) contains language opposed to spraying herbicides or pesticides on this island. Most other organizations that regularly engage in maintenance of roads, gas pipelines and the like have respected Texada’s OCP.

After some prodding by our regional district, BCTC seemed at first to respect local opinion on this issue when it belatedly invited proposals for alternatives to spraying, such as manual and machine removal of the trees. The corporation actually received just such a seriously thought-out proposal last week from a local logging contractor qualified and willing to do the work. And local loggers sure do need the work, with logging itself at a near stand-still.

Obviously, the corporation chose spraying instead, albeit very targeted spraying in an out-of-the-way location that most Texadans won’t ever see. But there is a connection, in my opinion, between what is happening to those alders and our island’s gleaning tradition. I knew, as I picked apples, that nobody had sprayed any poisons anywhere nearby. If we let BCTC and others start spraying here unchallenged, will we still find it possible to grow clean and healthy food on our island a few years from now?

We need to do better in the future.

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September 2009
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