More than a thousand people from northern Ontario signed a petition this summer to stop the spraying of glyphosate herbicides, according to environmental groups in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Glyphosate herbicide is used by the forest industry to reduce the growth of plants that compete with trees grown for logging and is deemed safe by Health Canada.

However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, deemed the chemical “probably carcinogenic to humans” earlier this year.

“The bottom line is these are public forests, local people don’t want the spraying and we do have alternatives,”  said Julee Boan, the Boreal Program Manager for Ontario Nature.

Citizens for a Sustainable Planet, the group that launched the petition, is now calling on the province’s Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, as well as Resolute Forest Products, to address the local concerns.

“We’re looking ultimately for the elimination of these herbicides, these chemicals, in our public forests, like has happened in Quebec,” said Paul Berger, a member of the citizen’s group.

Glyphosate herbicides were banned for use in forestry in Quebec in 2001.

“Resolute has been saying recently [in a national ad campaign]

that the people of the boreal forest need to have a voice,” Berger added. “The people of the boreal forest, through this petition are speaking  and we need Resolute to hear that loud and clear.”

An email to CBC News from Resolute spokesperson Seth Kursman said, “while continuing to monitor research, Resolute is confident that our use of herbicides, as part of our forest management strategy, is appropriate and evidence-based.”

The company’s spraying is also in compliance with provincial regulatory regimes, Kursman notes.

Citizen’s for a Sustainable Planet is also pushing for changes there, asking the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Bill Mauro, to immediately address the public concerns.

Banned for lawns, not forests

Many of those concerns, expressed by written comments on the petition, relate to the impact of glyphosate on the local blueberry crop.

Allowing herbicides to be sprayed on a food source, while banning it for use on lawns and gardens in Ontario, doesn’t make sense, Boan said.

“We feel if the ban was deemed necessary for the backyards of Toronto seven years ago, why is it still being used in our forests where we hunt, fish and forage?” she asks.

A spokesperson for the Ministry said glyphosate “has several advantages that make it a good choice for forestry operations” and that less than 0.2 per cent of Ontario’s “productive forest” is sprayed in any given year.

The environmental groups were hoping the petition would launch a dialogue about the use of herbicides in the region.

The ministry spokesperson said the schedule for next year’s spraying will be available for viewing in mid-March and “the Ministry encourages interested people to get involved early in the public consultation.”