Nature Conservancy okay with careful Cockburn Garlon use

By Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

COCKBURN ISLAND – Hydro One has announced that it will be applying herbicide along its right-of-way on Cockburn Island to control brush, with the spraying having begun earlier this week and running until the end of next week.

“On Cockburn Island, highly-trained technicians will be applying the product to select vegetation that could become hazardous and compromise system reliability and safety, largely along Hydro One corridors. Garlon is not applied near waterways and is contained to the site of application,” read a statement from Hydro One spokesperson Richard Francella.

An ad placed in this newspaper starting last week stated that Hydro One was seeking to manage its non-compatible vegetation (woody brush) in the Township of Cockburn Island using brush saws, backpack sprayers containing Garlon RTU and off-road tracked vehicles that will minimize the brush’s ability to re-grow.

The ad also stated that crews would make every effort to preserve ‘compatible’ low-growing vegetation to help reduce future maintenance. This time of year was chosen so crews could ensure the lines remain reliable in advance of the winter season.

Earlier this year, the Nature Conservancy of Canada purchased an additional 1,400 acres of land in the heart of Cockburn Island, bringing its sum of protected land on that island up to 26,514 acres (10,730 hectares). Its ownership of more than 60 percent of Cockburn Island is intended in part to protect one of the largest in-tact hardwood forest ecosystems in Ontario.

Although herbicide use might at first glance appear to conflict with the conservancy’s efforts to keep the land pristine, the organization said it can actually complement its conservation work.

“We prefer that any invasive species like buckthorn is taken out. We actively take it out on our property and we hope they do as well,” said Vince Deschamps, program director for Midwestern Ontario with the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

“Given the remoteness of the island, it’s almost preferable that they would go in and spray like that, rather than bringing in heavy machinery. Because then the invasive species risk is higher because seeds from other sites on the island or other islands can lead to the introduction of garlic mustard, buckthorn, phragmites or other toxic invasive species that spread quickly,” he added.

Although the ad stated that Hydro One would be using off-road tracked vehicles, Mr. Deschamps said he understood that the transmission line right of way is quite wide and mostly has an established trail for off-road vehicles. Therefore, they would not have to cross through any pristine sites.

“Hydro One has always been a good neighbour. We always look forward to working with them and all our neighbours on Cockburn Island. All the projects are vetted through the community. The Cockburn Island Sports and Conservation Club are incredible partners with us, as are the residents. We keep looking forward to doing what we do together in joint success,” said Mr. Deschamps.

Several Manitoulin municipalities have previously objected to entities such as Hydro One and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) using herbicides such as Garlon and ClearView, including Assiginack, Tehkummah and Central Manitoulin. Others, such as the Northeast Town, Billings and M’Chigeeng have cleared its usage in past applications.

A group of Manitoulin residents has been vocal against the use of these such herbicides, a group that includes Little Current’s Zak Nicholls. When contacted by The Expositor he said his main concerns were whether any work would be done at the Manitoulin-based Wolsey Lake feeder station because he was unsure that Cockburn Island was connected to that station. He was still waiting on contact from Hydro One to address that question by press time.

He also said he has asked Hydro One to provide a schedule of upcoming spraying on its rights of way, but never received a response.

Careful pesticide use has proven to be effective and relatively safe in other brush control projects, such as the Manitoulin Phragmites Project which uses the measured application of Roundup Weathermax to control the aggressive and extremely invasive phragmites plant in an effort to manage the species and cause a net benefit for the Island.

Hydro One is required to follow provincial and federal guidelines that apply to the application of herbicides.