A little bug is causing a big debate amongst government officials and citizens in the Halifax municipality. The little pest in particular is known as the brown spruce longhorn beetle, and this beetle, native to Europe and believed to have arrived on a container ship about a decade ago, is threatening to ruin Halifax’s largest and busiest park, and could have the potential to ruin all of Nova Scotia’s, and even Canada’s, vast forest is action is not taken.
In order to hault the infestation, the Federal Court has given the Canadian Food Inspection Agency permission to cut down as many as 10 000 red spruce trees, many of which are not yet infested at all. Environmental activists such as the Coalition known as “Friends of Point Pleasant Park”, greatly oppose this idea, and have raised the issue of scientific uncertainty.
The question of scientific uncertainty is a predominant issue in the fierce debate towards the cutting. In particular, even though the beetle may have arrived as much as a decade ago, it’s harmful effects have only been recognized recently. There simply has not been enough research done to see if the beetle is a problem or if cutting down a whole park is the way to solve it. There is no guarantee that the beetle will cause that much harm or destruction. Sure, scientists would like to better understand the situation, which would require long term studies, but these studies are impractical and almost impossible to perform. We simply can not wait a year to see the effects (if any) the longhorn beetle has, because as with any infestations, humans find it difficult to sit on their hands and watch: especially when a major natural resource, such as trees, is involved.
Another scientific uncertainty is that nature is diverse, and understanding is always tentative. Since Point Pleasant Park is isolated in its location by being surrounded by water on three sides and the city on the fourth, it is unlike almost all other forests in the nearby area. Perhaps stronger trees in the wild are better able to cope with the beetle, and also the fact the forest contains more beetle predators, like woodpeckers and other birds, unlike the unique conditions that prevail in the park.
An additional scientific uncertainty lies in the fact that the scientists analyzing the park’s situation all work for the government, meaning they are going to say what the government wants to do. Many scientists outside the government claim that there is no proof the beetle is the serious threat to the park’s red spruce that authorities claim, and that the prevention measures are futile.
Besides the high level of scientific uncertainty, other factors that are going to influence the outcome to this conflict can be found on economic, environmental, and political levels. Economically, the federal government would be wasting an incredible amount of money in cutting down 10 000 trees, an amount that many people argue could be better spent in other areas such as healthcare. Also, once the trees are cut down, who is going to finance the planting of new trees? This question has yet to be answered.
Environmentally, how will the loss of 10 000 red spruce trees affect other plants and animals in the park? The cutting has the potential to cause a chain-reaction effect, as animal’s habitats would be altered immensely.
Politically, the impact of cutting will affect everybody who lives near the park or visits it. With cutting down 10 000 trees, there will be a lack of privacy for houses located on the fringes of the park, as before, they provided a year-round natural barrier from busy sections of the park. The park would loose much of it’s beauty if the trees were cut, and this one-time “sanctuary” would be turned into an inhospitable grasslands.
Obviously, additional research will solve this problem of scientific uncertainty, yet, as some scientists have stated, this small bug has the potential to ruin one of Canada’s largest natural resources, so it is unlikely that long-term research will be performed. The decision to cut may not be a popular choice by activists, yet this little bug could put the province’s billion dollar forest industry, and possibly Canada’s, in jeporady.