Perhaps it is all just ‘water under the bridge’ now, but I believe the case of Dr Eilish Cleary, former Chief Medical Officer for Public Health for the Province of New Brunswick, is still worth a review. In my opinion, there’s a story here within a story. And that is the story of how the media handled, or mishandled, the whole episode. There’s more to this than fracking, or glyphosate, and much more than the supposed ‘muzzling’ of a public servant.
Consider the following:
If you follow the news or social media in New Brunswick you might have the impression that white-tailed deer are vanishing from this Province. These ‘disappearing deer stories‘ are usually associated with condemnations of current and past forest management policies in New Brunswick. If you are interested in forest management, the 2008 Erdle Report provides a comprehensive review of alternative forestry management policies. Timber harvests from Crown land in New Brunswick are considered to be at or near maximum sustainable levels, despite intensive silviculture operations. Although management of Crown forest lands in New Brunswick might be far from optimal, the evidence that those practices are having a decisive impact on deer populations is mixed. Data available from the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and published by the CBC show that deer populations in the 1970s are similar to those that we have seen in more recent years:
Note that the title in the CBC story referred to above is ‘New Brunswick deer herd down 70% in 30 years, DNR numbers show’; it could just as well have been titled ‘Deer populations revert to 1970s levels, DNR numbers show’. That would have been less-alarming and generated fewer clicks, I suppose.
In recent years, there has been a great deal of discussion with respect to forestry management policies in New Brunswick. That should not be surprising, given the historical importance of the industry to many communities in the Province and the impacts of closures of sawmills and pulp mills on those communities. A significant factor in forestry management discussions has been the tension between the goals of employment (and tax revenue), wood/fibre production, sustainability of production in ‘working’ forests, preservation of ‘old growth’ forests, and conservation of flora and fauna in those forests. These issues are not unique to New Brunswick; in particular, declines in employment in the forestry sector have been a national concern.
The New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources has commissioned a number of panels and reports over the years which touch on all of these aspects, and I recommend that anyone interested download and review the relevant documents. One key point I found in these documents is that the issue is not just one of pitting the ‘corporate evil-doers’ against the ‘little guy’ but that even the ‘little guys’ are guilty of mismanagement of the forest resource. Our forests (both public and private) have been treated by too many of us as a mine, rather than as a sustainable resource. For additional perspectives, the video documentaries of Charles Theriault may be of interest. I am not an expert in forestry management – far from it – but, as I have stated before, I am neither a fan of the sudden shifts that we have seen in forestry policy in recent years, nor am I convinced that we are managing our natural resources in our long-term interests.
The quality of drinking water in New Brunswick has received quite a bit of attention recently, particularly with respect to the threat posed to water quality from hydraulic fracturing (fracking), either from drilling activities or disposal of waste materials produced during the process. Several reviews have called for collection of baseline water quality data so that any adverse impacts of fracking on water quality can be assessed. However, water quality issues in this Province pre-date fracking, despite the mistaken belief held by some that water in N.B. has always been ‘pristine’, pure and safe. It wasn’t that many decades ago, after all, when many municipalities (not to mention industries) dumped sewage and processing waste into the St John River with little or no treatment.
Given that the Provincial government estimates that there are over 100,000 private water wells in N.B., the safety of groundwater should be of concern. If you live in rural N.B., when was the last time you had your water tested – not just for bacteria, but for chemistry? Urban centres now are surrounded by sprawling rural 1-acre lot suburbs; each house has its own well and septic system. How well is water quality being managed in these locations?
For that matter, if you live in an urban area, how much do you know about the water testing and reporting done by your municipality? Sewage treatment plants dump treated wastewater back into the environment, usually into the nearest watershed; how much do you know about the quality of the grey water released?
It’s my opinion that these questions all pertain to baseline water quality, and that quality should be of concern to us all. In this post, I will review some information available on a number of topics relating to water quality in N.B. and pose a few questions.