‘Everyone has a role to play’

Big Lakes County ag fieldman Sheila Kaus was first to speak at the workshop. She says it is the county’s job to inspect all private and public areas.

Invasive species a serious threat to Alberta’s environment

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

Everyone can play a part.

It was a message repeated over and over at the Invasive Species Workshop at Faust May 13.

About 50 people from resort owners to government officials attended the informative workshop, which stressed that everyone has a role to play in ensuring invasive specials do not enter the local region and damage ecosystems.

The workshop covered both land and marine species, and what citizens and governments can do to protect the region.

What is an invasive species? It is simply defined as a non-native plant to Alberta that damages the environment and/or economy or human health.

Big Lakes County ag fieldman Sheila Kaus was first to speak. She said it was the county’s job to inspect all private and public areas.

“It’s the landowner’s responsibility to destroy prohibited weeds and noxious species,” she said.

Often, the county and its weed inspectors are seen as the “bad guys” but that is not the case, says Kaus.

“We want to start a conversation with you,” she says.

The conversation would be how to control and/or destroy weeds so government does not have to come in with a heavy hand to deal with the problem. She stressed cooperation is the key.

Kaus cited five species of concern in the county including pale yellow iris and Himalayan Balsam.

Often, such plants are brought into the area by mistake and spread like wildfire.

“Why do they have to be so pretty?” quipped Kaus.

She showed several examples of pretty flowers, and while they do look nice, they are very harmful to the local environment, often taking over and choking out native grasses and plants.

One example she cited was a favourite.

“All daisies are bad daisies.”

And the big deal? Kaus cited three reasons.

  • to protect the lake;
  • economics, invasive plants lower tourism revenue;
  • environmental, invasive plants harm the local water source.

As a result, the county has foraged a partnership with the Lesser Slave Watershed Committee to protect the resource.

Delinda Ryerson, executive director of the Alberta Invasive Species Council, says their goal is to increase awareness of the damage invasive species can do to the environment.

Her main concerns were black carp in water, and feral pigs and spotted knapweed on land.

However, the three species are only the tip of the iceberg.

“There are 52 invasive species in Alberta,” she says.

“Invasive species are a major driver in biodiversity loss,” she adds. “It is the Number 1 threat to the extinction of amphibians, reptiles and birds.”

The problem with such plants is they adapt rapidly to their new environment and produce at alarmingly high rates because they have no natural enemies to stop their spread. They also often have more than one reproductive strategy making them hard to control.

“And they are very tolerant,” says Ryerson.

As for feral pigs, they were introduced in Alberta in the late 1980s for hunting, and have become a huge problem in some areas.

She expressed disappointment that Big Lakes County had a bounty on the animals, saying bounties are not effective. She preferred trapping – the meat is also delicious – because the animals are smart and learn quickly to avoid humans.

As for plants, she urged everyone to be on the lookout for such species as orange hawkweed, field bindweed, oxeye daisy, and scentless chamomile [mayweed].

She agreed with Kaus on a previous stance.

“Always work with your ag fieldman.”

And, she says, never use wildflower mixes at home. Many are not tested and contain invasive species.

Nicole Kimmel of Alberta Environment and Parks, spoke on aquatic invasive species and provincial priorities. Above, she brought along a Russian Carp for display. It’s a very dangerous fish that eats all vegetation in lakes and river with its voracious appetite, especially since it has no natural predators to control its population.

Another huge concern are Zebra mussels and Quagga mussels.

“That’s why we created our boat control inspector program,” she says.

“We’re intercepting boats that look clean but they’re [mussels] in the nooks and crannies.”

To do your part, follow the simple rule of clean, drain, dry all boats and equipment every time you leave the water.

Both mussels reproduce at incredibly furious rate and overtake a habitat. A great myth is spreading that they are beneficial and clean up lakes.

“This is a myth. This is not what we want.”

The economic impact lone is estimated at $75 million each year in Manitoba so it’s vital to keep it out of Alberta.

Other species of concern include flowering rush, black bowhead, the giant African land snail, and American bullfrog.

The best solution, she says, is to do everything possible to not let any invasive species in the region.

“We will never introduce an invasive species to control an invasive species,” she says.

The fact alone should tell you how dangerous any invasive species is.

The all-day informative workshop was sponsored by the Lesser Slave Watershed Council, Big Lakes County, Alberta Invasive Species Council, and the Government of Alberta.

Share this post