Plans to plant trees around schools 'just a PR stunt'

Sharon Labchuk challenges effectiveness of plan by P.E.I. Potato Board

Steve Sharratt
Published on March 19, 2016

Earth Action co-ordinator Sharon Labchuk says a Potato Board plan to plant trees around Island schools to block pesticide spray, including here at at Donagh regional, is nothing but an opportunistic stunt.


©Guardian photo by Steve Sharratt

DONAGH - A plan to plant trees around Island schools to block pesticide spray is nothing but a public relations stunt using children as pawns, says an outspoken P.E.I. environmentalist. 

Sharon Labchuk challenges the effectiveness of a plan by the P.E.I. Potato Board to plant trees as a way of protecting students from pesticide sprays on nearby farm land. 

“It’s nothing but a scheme and a stunt because there is no evidence that planting a strip of trees between schools and potato fields will lessen the damaging impact of agricultural pesticides on children’s health,” said Labchuk. 

“It’s an opportunistic public relations stunt using children as pawns.”

Labchuk’s Earth Action produced a report almost 20 years ago documenting the proximity of schools to sprayed agricultural fields and found that 80 per cent of rural children attended schools within one-and-a-half kilometres of sprayed fields.

“Nothing has changed,’’ she says, pointing to an aerial map of Donagh regional school in eastern P.E.I., which shows the school surrounded by fields on three sides.

It’s not the only school either. 

Earth Action claims schools should not be anywhere near agricultural fields.

The P.E.I. Potato Board is undertaking the tree-planting effort in conjunction with the he P.E.I. Watershed Alliance and the Department of Agriculture.

“We initiated a conversation with provincial environment staff about ways we could support planting trees in green spaces around Island schools,” said potato board manager Greg Donald. “We see the benefit for enhanced green spaces between school grounds and adjacent properties, including agricultural land. Our next step will be to approach the schools to see if they’d like to participate this spring.”

Donald said the board was not seeking any publicity and is surprised that Earth Action is opposed to their plan. 

Labchuk says it is a myth that planting trees and buffer zones make a difference.

“The sheer intensity of pesticide use in P.E.I. means children are exposed to highly dangerous chemicals simply by breathing. No strip of trees is going to change that,” she said.

Donagh principal Jason Kielly said the tree boundary at the school offers protection from wind and spray.

“A couple of years ago our home and school planted more trees to act as a wind barrier in the cold winter months,” he said. “Up to this point in time I haven’t had any parents inquire about the field or spraying of crops.”