Mink Industry Pollution

Anonyme, Wednesday, April 15, 2009 - 10:22

John Halley Horton

I live in Forest Glen , in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. Every day I watch the Carleton river flow by, and I wonder how long it will take for my river to die.

Green Algae in the Tusket River Chain!
I live in Forest Glen , in Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia. Every day I watch the Carleton river flow by, and I wonder how long it will take for my river to die. I only started paying serious attention a few years ago, when a new waterplant became obvious: an aggressive blue green algae which rapidly spread out through the main trunk of the west branch of the Tusket River. But what woke me up was the seriousness of the stories told by people at a meeting in Carleton to deal with this new "green slime". About 100 taxpayers told of their own efforts to figure out , identify, and obtain information from government officials. Barrie MacGregor of the YMCA told of how for the last two summers Camp Wapomeo has been forced to evacuate their own lakefront facilities and walk the kids to nearby Mink Lake, which is clear. After 100 years, Lake Fanning had become unfit to swim in. A lady who recently invested in a lakefront campground expressed concern for her new business because her sandy beach now gets covered with green slime. Mothers told of children getting a rash after swimming, some with serious consequences. More than anything nobody had a single good story to tell about being successful in learning anything about it. What is it? What causes it? What is its source? What treatment is possible? It seems concerned citizens have been trying for some time to get government officials to do something about it: and government officials don't seem to be doing much of anything. My conclusion after leaving this meeting was that nothing was about to happen. So I bought one of those green topographical maps and started looking ....... upstream.
I was surprised to find that the Tusket river system actually far north as to be about 10 miles from Weymouth. Brooks and streams in communities like Southville and Hilltown form the headwaters for the Wentworth, which flows south to the Carleton river, and becomes the Tusket before reaching salt water. Water flows north , south and west from the HIlltown area ... to the Sissiboo and the Meteghan RIvers as well. That makes it a watershed, doesn't it?. There's a heavy concentration of mink farms between New Tusket and Hassett, and considerable related industry spinoff. Mink farming is a big business in Nova Scotia, and you can see the prosperity through your windshield as you tour the area in your car: industrial equipment, steel buildings, trucks and new highly visible investment in production. Steel roofed mink pens lined up by the dozens: actually there are acres and acres of mink pens in the area.
It's the most concentrated area of mink pens I have ever seen. Problem is, these mink ranchers are polluting our waterways. Almost all of them.
If you share a concern for the health of your waterways, then take a drive to the Hilltown "loop", and spend some time looking at how mink farms handle-or fail to handle-their effluent. Check out the roadside streams, take a sample of water from the ditches. Notice the green algae. These ranches are allowing the unrestricted flow of effluent from acres and acres of open-air mink excrement. Every mink ranch I saw uses the standard commercial practice of keeping their mink in cages inside long narrow metal roofed pens. The mink droppings fall through a steel wire floor onto open ground, accumulating rows of manure which is handled by machine. Snows, rains or the nightly dew all contribute to the leaching process carrying water-soluble bio-waste into nearby brooks and streams.
Open-air manure management means acres and acres of mink excrement exposed year round to rains and runoff.
It means that all the waters of the main river are well "fertilized ", creating an ideal environment for the blue-green algae.
It means that you can follow a path of green slime right up the river to it's place of origin.
And it means that kids for miles downstream must be careful about where they choose to swim.
For the river contains more than just elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. Unfortunately, a mainly- fish diet for mink brings with it unnaturally high levels of heavy metals, especially mercury and lead. Also present are unquantifiable traces of veterinary medicines , antibiotics , synthetic hormones, bleach , detergents, and related chemicals of the industry.
A lot of damage has been done.

Mink ranching began over 50 years ago in western Nova Scotia, when a few thousand critters was a lot. Sure, they polluted, but it didn't seem like too much and nobody was complaining. But in recent years the sheer numbers of mink have overcome the capacity of the industry to deal with it.. now there are millions, and still no system in place for the industry to handle its own mess.

Herein lies the problem; we have an industry that is doing a lot of damage to the environment and nobody seems to even be aware of it, let alone acknowledge
the problem.
How about the leaders of the industry, the old timers, the successful ranchers who can afford the investment to change things? Is there even one ideally-operated mink ranch that leaves no nasty environmental footprint? Is even one ranch "doing it right"?
In researching the subject I learned of only one local farm that runs its manure through a leach field. This has to change, and change soon, before the complete river system dies.
Excrement must be completely contained and processed through a leach field or other suitable treatment. We don't allow humans to throw their manure out in open fields to watch it rot and leach away. It's even more important that we do not allow the effluent from millions of mink to drain into our water system. Not even a little bit.

Mink ranchers keep a low profile, and they've learned to avoid exposure through the media. This unwritten policy has enabled many offenders to maintain the status quo, and contributed to worsening conditions on rivers like the Tusket. The damage done is greatly understated: large salmon runs have been gone for years, eel populations are desperately low, gaspereaux numbers are endangered, and smallmouth bass have replaced brook trout as the most common sportfish.

It's NOT OK to let our industrial waste pollute our rivers, and our lawmakers, politicians and bureaucrats must immediately acknowledge and remedy this problem. Thousands of people are living downstream and depending on the Tusket, along with other local rivers, for the quality of their lifestyle. Taxpayers are worried about property values and parents are worried about their children swimming.

We have a serious problem!
And mink ranchers must stop their unrestricted open drainage into our water systems.
Every day that we do nothing our river will be dying; and so will our quality of life.

Forest Glen, NS

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