Head-on crash kills three

David Basque never got to see his second child.

Basque, 45, was one of three people killed in a three-vehicle crash in Inkerman Ferry on the Acadian Peninsula late Friday night. He left behind a young daughter and his pregnant wife, Renée.

Police are expected to release the names of the other two crash victims today.

Jean-Albert Chiasson remembers Basque as a hardworking, much-beloved member of the Lamèque community.

He owned blueberry fields and a machine shop, Chiasson said, and would clear people’s snow in the winter with his tractor.

Chiasson owns Garage Central Lamèque, which is where the crumpled vehicles now sit.

“The trucks are gone, the car is gone, everything is gone,” he said. “That’s the worst accident I’ve ever seen.”

In the days since the accident, hundreds of people from all over the surrounding area have gathered at Chiasson’s garage to see the wreckage.

Standing solemnly in the rain, members of the community have tried to piece together what happened.

The investigation is ongoing, said Const. Jean-Francois Dulac. Official details should be available in about a week.

But from what Chiasson’s gathered, Basque was driving along Route 113 in his 4×4 Dodge Ram that night, following a dark car towing a trailer. The trailer held a box of bees and a forklift.

At around 10:30 p.m., they came to a curve and became involved in an accident with an oncoming vehicle, also a Dodge Ram, carrying a man from British Columbia who was working at a wind farm in Lamèque.

Basque and the driver of the other Dodge Ram died, as did a man in the vehicle towing a trailer. A women in that vehicle was taken to hospital with injuries.

When Dulac got there, he said the air was filled with buzzing bees, with a thousand more dead on the road.

Dulac said about 30 people, including firemen, police, paramedics, a gas station attendant and other community members, gathered on the road to help and watch.

In Lamèque, which has a population of about 1,500, people are really feeling the pain of losing a member of their community, said Dulac. Everyone knew Basque, he said.

“It’s very tough for the community.”

Previously published June 20, 2011; Telegraph-Journal

Heavy reliance on potatoes puts agriculture in peril: prof

A researcher of rural economies warns that a lack of diversity in the industry is steering New Brunswick agriculture toward a crisis.

Susan Machum, the Canada research chair in social justice and a professor at St. Thomas University, said the reliance on potatoes in New Brunswick’s agricultural sector is a disaster waiting to happen.

Farmers have pressed toward crop specialization for years, in the interests of cost efficiency and economies of scale, Machum said. But those actions have built up to produce a grim 21st-century situation.

“It’s like you’re driving down the highway,” she said, “it’s been going fine, and then suddenly up ahead we’re seeing major crisis. There are big major potholes in the road and the road is washing away,” Machum said.

“It took us several decades to get here, and now it’s like ‘hmmm, this is not a good road to be on.’?”

Potatoes are the province’s largest agricultural commodity, spanning 200 farms and 50,000 acres. In the 2006 census, New Brunswick farmers reported working 375,590 acres of cropland.

Machum said when there is so much weight placed on a specific crop, a single disease can wipe out an entire growing season.

For example, the mad cow crisis on British cattle farms had catastrophic economic impacts on the industry. Even poor weather during the planting season can affect the entire year’s profit.

Joe Brennan agrees that having more variety spreads out dependence and lowers risk. He is the chairman of New Brunswick Potatoes, a producer-driven organization.

He said potato farming is a market-driven industry and there isn’t really a long-term plan to deal with a sudden drop in global demand or an unexpected shortage in supply.

“It’s not an ideal situation,” he said.

Most farmers educate themselves on the best way to protect their crops from agricultural diseases such as late blight, and a jointly-funded crop insurance program creates something of a buffer, but Brennan said there’s always risk.

If something were to come along and decimate the potato industry, said Brennan, it would hit the province hard. And it wouldn’t just affect potato growers, It would trickle through the economy, toppling various sectors like dominos.

Brennan added that more crop diversity is not only better for economic protection and stability, but it also means healthier soil.

Lots of people have decided to just ignore the problem and assume someone else will fix it, Machum said.

“We’re on this path. How do you get off? … ?We’re caught.”

She said that there is hope in an emerging younger generation committed to sustainable farming.

But once you’re on a certain trajectory, it can be very hard to stop it, she said.

Previously published June 20, 2011; Telegraph-Journal

Organics: the natural way to keep ’em down on the farm

The face of farming is getting younger.

With the traditional, family-owned farm continuing on a steady decline as farmers age and find it increasingly difficult to convince younger generations to take over, observers have noticed a surprising trend: Twentysomethings are jumping eagerly into the field.

As young people learn about the chemicals used to grow produce for mass consumption, more of them are starting organic farms, says Beth McMahon, executive director of the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network, or ACORN, and has been tracking the shift.

She said that at the ACORN organics conference in March, approximately 40 per cent of participants were under 30 years of age. A few years ago, there were just a handful of eager individuals, she said.

Mike Hadfield was one of those early few. When he and his two buddies – Luke McLean and Katherine McCord – decided to start an organic farm in 2006, they were all between 21 and 22 years old. As they grew their quarter-acre plot of land in Bayfield into the sustainable farming operation it is today, Hadfield said they’ve also noted more organic farms popping up around the province.

According to the 2006 census, New Brunswick lost 257 farms in the space of five years. In the same period, the number of certified organic farms increased by 68 per cent.

“Farmers have said to their kids, ‘Don’t go into farming! Run! Get a real job!’,” McMahon said.

But these new entrepreneurial enthusiasts, many with little background in farming, mean an influx of fresh perspectives and approaches to the field, she said. They are exploring new strategies such as agricultural tourism and social media as a marketing tool.

“The face of agriculture is changing,” Hadfield said.

For a province in which the average farmer is almost 60 years old and often “stuck in their ways,” organic farmer Jesse Vergen said, “it’s really a renaissance.”

Vergen, 32, runs a successful, 14-acre organic vegetable farm in Quispamsis with his wife. He supplies a variety of Saint John restaurants, including the Saint John Ale House (where he is executive chef) and the Smoking Pig Real BBQ, which he owns. He is proof there is a market for the produce grown by young organic farmers. But he cautions that it is in no way a “get rich quick” business.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” he said.

Claude Berthélémé is an organic development specialist at the New Brunswick Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries. She said she thinks the influx of young people will be a positive renewal for New Brunswick.

“It’s not a fad, it’s not for hippies, it’s something real,” McMahon said, and it’s not only spreading in the province, but also across Canada and the world.

Still, notable growth aside, organic farms make up only approximately 1.5 per cent of New Brunswick’s agricultural land, McMahon said. The ratio of organic to non-organic farms is similarly polarized.

“It’s a tiny drop in the bucket … but it’s growing,” she said.

According to Berthélémé, there are about 45 certified organic producing farms in New Brunswick and another 12 processors.

Previously published June 17, 2011; Telegraph-Journal

New Brunswick star attraction needs repairs

The big water wheel on the iconic lumber mill at King’s Landing Historical Settlement has ground to a halt and the devastating rainstorms that hit New Brunswick in December are to blame.

Officials at the site say the mill can’t be repaired in time for this summer’s tourist season, but there are plans to fix the wheel and the dam.

Alain Boisvert, executive director at King’s Landing Historical Settlement, said the lumber mill was due for reconstruction under a three-year infrastructure plan.

But when the wintery floodwaters continued to rise until they spilled over the dam, the infrastructure became even more damaged.

The damage isn’t necessarily visible to the untrained eye, Boisvert said.

But an engineer or heritage maintenance officer could detect the warped planks or little pieces of lumber that affect the curve of the all-wooden structure, and the safety issues therein.

Because of these instabilities, the bridge crossing the dam will be closed for the summer, but visitors will still be able to poke around the old grist mill and sawmill, Boisvert said.

He said the many stakeholders involved – the settlement’s board of directors and federal partners among them – are looking for engineering solutions and sources of funding.

Boisvert said while it’s too early to say what the reconstruction will end up costing, at least $500,000 was estimated in the initial planning.

“Here at King’s Landing, we stretch a dollar like no one does,” he said.

However, others have argued that the total will be much more. In the end it will depend a lot on what type of partnership is made, Boisvert said.

“This is why we will knock at many doors, including Engineers Without Borders and partners at UNB.”

Some engineers and maintenance crews have already visited the site to assess the situation.

He said many factors will need to be considered during the reconstruction, including environmental concerns surrounding the health of the pond beside the dam.

Boisvert said he can’t say when the big wheel will start churning water again.

He said the grist and lumber mills are icons.

The rustic setting is one of the most photographed scenes in the province and region, and it has graced the face of stamps.

The reconstructions will be exact replicas of their typical 19th-century forebear, Boisvert said.

The dam – which is crucial to the operation of the mills – is a cribwork, earthen, rolling dam.

The last time the dam was reconstructed was in 1973, from notched cedar logs, clay and rocks.

“We have the blueprints in hand for the way it has to be … this is the beauty of it, the authenticity of it.”

Previously published June 15, 2011; Telegraph-Journal, the Daily Gleaner

Devastating disease threatens bat population in province

Karen Vanderwolf & Don McAlpine; Telegraph-Journal Archive

New Brunswick could lose its entire bat population in a few short years, researchers say, because of the devastating white nose syndrome that is ravaging caves from Nova Scotia to Oklahoma.

The fungus, whose scientific name is almost self-explanatory (geomyces destructans), was first detected by researchers in a cave in Albert County on March 15.

At that point about a quarter of the bats in the cave were dead, said Karen Vanderwolf, a University of New Brunswick graduate student. The cave floor was littered with dead bats and the air “smelled of death and rotting carcasses,” she said.

Dressed in HazMat suits, she and her research supervisor Don McAlpine, the zoology curator at the New Brunswick Museum, returned to the cave in late April. In little over a month, mortality had jumped to almost 90 per cent.

“And that’s a minimum,” Vanderwolf said, “A lot of the bats on the wall that we counted as alive were probably dead.” Half of them already had visible signs of the fungus.

The fact that Vanderwolf and McAlpine were able to go back at all is unusual. Many jurisdictions are prohibiting any human entry to the caves, to help prevent the disease from spreading.

“It’s a good thing we went back in because otherwise we wouldn’t have realized how serious a problem it is,” said Graham

Telegraph-Journal archive

Forbes, who is co-supervising the research. Forbes is a professor at the University of New Brunswick.

On June 29, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it may add two bat species to its endangered species list because of white nose syndrome. One of those species – the northern long-eared bat – is one of New Brunswick’s most common bats.

Forbes, who also serves as a co-chairman for the committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada, said there has been preliminary discussion of whether Canada should follow suit.

Luckily, the disease doesn’t seem to have spread to other parts of the province, Vanderwolf said. But she expects that will have changed by next winter.

Forbes said New Brunswick is on the verge of losing a species that has traditionally been one of the province’s most plentiful creatures. And if that is the case, he said it could be up to 50 or 60 years before the population recovered. This is because bats are the slowest reproducing mammal in the world for their size, often bearing only a single baby per year.

If bats were wiped out, there is the possibility that its main food sources – mosquitos and moths – would multiply to irritating and dangerous levels. Crops could suffer from higher populations of harmful bugs, Forbes said.

The fungus works by seeping into the skin, irritating the tiny creatures into wakefulness during their hibernation period. More time awake means using more energy, and the bats’ fat stores soon run dry. Vanderwolf said researchers so far know the disease to attack nine different bat species, including the common small brown bat.

Vanderwolf said there is no chance white nose syndrome could spread to people because the fungus favours colder host habitats that fall below the human body temperature.

Previously published July 5, 2011; Telegraph-Journal

Coastal communities fighting back against effects of global warming

coastal erosion; Telegraph-Journal archive

Communities along the Acadian Peninsula are slowly washing away.

The more frequent storm surges have caused problems with erosion all along the New Brunswick coast. Now a three-year plan has been put into action to help combat the effects of global warming.

The small New Brunswick towns of Bas-Caraquet, Le Goulet and Shippagan all sit on the northern shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Each has suffered property damage from intense flooding and shoreline erosion.

But a plan is in the works to save the little villages from drowning.

Sabine Dietz is the provincial co-ordinator of the New Brunswick Regional Adaptation Collaborative. She’s working on a project that is part of a three-year, $30-million cost-sharing federal program geared towards preparing communities for change brought on by global warming.

The Acadian Peninsula project, which began in 2009, aims to assess high-risk areas, map out future erosion and sea level rise, and give the communities the information needed to make smart future zoning decisions.

The provincial Department of Natural Resources, the Université de Moncton (Moncton and Shippagan campuses) and the coastal zone research institute Inc. in Shippagan are working together on the project.

This is the first of its kind in Atlantic Canada, Dietz said. The idea is to focus on places that are already experiencing issues and find solutions that can be shared.

“They feel like they’re getting very little help,” she said, “but they’re not the only ones.”

Le Goulet, a small fishing community with a population of 950, is low-lying and relatively flat. These two features make it particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, and flooding from storm surges have become more frequent over the years.

For example, in the last 15 years, four major floods resulting from coastal storm surges have affected up to 30 homes in the village. The big concerns are drinking water contamination by the salt water, overflowing septic tanks, and flooded roads. Many people are still dealing with contaminated drinking water and mould issues, the report stated.

Le Goulet plans to adapt in three main ways: relocate homes and roads away from potential flooding, erect houses on pilings to accommodate rising sea levels, and build sea walls, dikes, beach nourishment and wetland restoration.

Jean-Marie Gionet, the deputy mayor for Bas-Caraquet, said things aren’t looking good. In his community, the issue at hand is mostly erosion. Cracking winter ice is leading to higher tides earlier in the season, and time is running out, he said.

Some people have lost 20 feet off their land, he said.

“The ocean just took it away,” Gionet said. “You can’t fight against Mother Nature.”

The hope, Dietz said, is that once they find an approach that works in these specific communities, it can be transferred to other communities throughout Atlantic Canada in similar geographic situations.

Previously published July 11, 2011; Telegraph-Journal, Vancouver Sun