The Canadian National Railway Co. has been fined $2.5 million under the Fisheries Act for spraying pesticides on a rail corridor that runs along the Skeena River in British Columbia.
It marks the second fine over the same incident for the railway. In May 2021 the company was penalized under B.C.’s Integrated Pest Management Act for spraying in August 2017 without having an approved Pest Management Plan and damaging nearby vegetation along the track.
CN’s Pest Management Plan had expired in May 2017, but the company still used a spray truck to mist herbicides along 150 kilometres of its tracks in August 2021 without a new plan in place. The actions led to a $100,000 fine.
The fine amount drew the attention of Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Taylor Bachrach, who posted on social media that, “if CN was a person earning $50,000 per year, the equivalent fine would be 36 cents […] for spraying pesticides into the tributaries of the Skeena,” addressing the railway’s billions in annual revenue.
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When incorrectly applied, herbicides (a type of pesticide) can migrate to watercourses and adversely impact fish and fish habitat. The larger recent fine addresses the potential harm to aquatic ecosystems within the Skeena River, as the rail corridor where the company sprayed pesticides runs along it and over many tributaries and wetlands, some of which are key fish habitats, Environment and Climate Change Canada said in a statement.
In 2018, CN rail officials initially argued that as a federally-regulated interprovincial railway company, they were not required to submit a Pest Management Plan. Officials added that they still intended to “carry out its activities in keeping with the high standards in place in B.C.”
Previously, a B.C. fisherman’s union suggested that even small doses of commonly used pesticides could harm salmon’s sense of smell, making it difficult for them to find food and mates along the Skeena corridor.
CN also has an obligation under the Railway Safety Act to ensure that vegetation on or immediately adjacent to the railway roadbed is controlled. The company says that most of the spraying occurs around the ballast section (or graveled area) which is 4.9 to 7.3 metres wide, leaving about 13 metres of right of way on each side of the ballast.
According to CN Rail, the active ingredients in its herbicide under its latest Pest Management Plan are: aminopyralid; bromacil; chlorsulfuron; clopyralid; dicamba; diuron; flumioxazin; glyphosate; imazapyr; metsulfuron-methyl; picloram; triclopyr; 2,4-D Amin.
Most of the railway’s initial fine will go to the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation for the purposes of wildlife and habitat restoration in the area. The second fine will go towards the federal Environmental Damages Fund.