The province of B.C. carried out a forest fertilization program last fall in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD), including around the Pemberton area.
Helicopters distributed a substance over forested areas in early November as part of Forests for Tomorrow, a provincial initiative that aims to increase the yield of forests as well increase the rate of carbon sequestration of B.C. forests.
"Forest fertilization helps increase the growth rates of the plants and trees and it helps mitigate timber supply impact [from the mountain pine beetle infestations]," explained Ann Wong, a forest investment specialist with the province.
Fertilization is undertaken to address nutrient deficiencies that are widespread through B.C. forests, with coastal forests shown to be lacking in nitrogen, said Wong.
A total of 385 hectares of forest were treated with fertilizer in the Pemberton area. Of that, about 30 hectares was treated in the Owl Ridge area, according to the province. The McKenzie area (north of Pemberton) and a woodlot northwest of Pemberton were also treated.
Wong said that workers primarily targeted Douglas fir and Western red cedar that were between 15 and 80 years old.
According to the province, fertilization has been used widely in B.C. since 1981, and the Forests for Tomorrow program treats approximately 20,000 hectares annually. In a release, it said that within 10 years, a single fertilizer treatment can add about 15 cubic metres of wood per hectare in an interior forest and 30 cubic metres per hectare in a coastal one.
Wong added that for every hectare of forest that is fertilized, the net greenhouse gas benefit can be up to 65 tons.
Large-scale forest fertilization treatments are conducted using helicopters, which distribute small pellets (about two millimetres in diameter) to the forests below.
But Owl Ridge resident Stacey Rogansky is raising concerns about the environmental impact of the fertilizing initiative.
"No one knew that they were ... spraying on the mountains," said Rogansky, adding that she is concerned that the "the chemicals are going to infect the ground and ultimately the people and the animals" that use it.
In response, Wong explained that the fertilizer is regulated by Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and is safe for humans, plants, animals and the environment. The province also conducted water quality monitoring to detect any significant changes in water chemical composition that may negatively impact biological productivity.
Rogansky also raised concerns about the way that the helicopter replenished its fertilizer, questioning the pilot's decision to land on Sweetwater Lane to do so.
"This is a neighborhood that's full of livestock," she said. "The helicopter literally dropped itself down on the street."
Wong said that any refuelling was governed by the Transport Canada regulations and was conducted in a safe manner.
"Generally the helicopter company avoids flying over areas with livestock," she said.
Asked if the public was notified of the fertilizing initiative, Wong said that the SLRD and First Nations were informed.
"During aerial fertilization, the contractors did post personnel at the bottom of the McKenzie Basin Forest Service Road and the Blackwater Creek Forest Service Road to inform the public," she added.
(In a statement, Harriet VanWart, director of lands and resources for Lil'wat Nation, said that the nation was consulted on and approved the fertilization program. A spokesperson for the SLRD also confirmed that the regional district was notified about the program.)