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Invasive plants are everyone’s problem

Invasive plants are non-native plants threatening the integrity and economic value of eco-systems across Canada.


November 19, 2007
By Donna Fleury

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Invasive plants decrease land productivity, displace native plants, reduce
bio-diversity, damage wildlife habitat and diminish aesthetic values. Losses
to the Canadian agriculture and forestry industries from all alien invasive
species, including plants, are estimated to be $7.5 billion. The recently formed
Alberta Invasive Plants Council (AIPC) intends to help protect Alberta's eco-system
by providing credible information about Alberta's invasive plants and to foster
co-operation among stakeholders.

Kim Nielsen, AIPC co-chair and agricultural fieldman for the Clearwater County,
has been involved with invasive plants for the past several years, particularly
with other municipalities and stakeholders in the eastern slopes of the Alberta
Rocky Mountains in an area of forestry, recreation, rangeland and cropland.
"We've worked together to address concerns of invasive plants in unsettled
areas to the west moving east into crop lands and disturbed areas," he
says. "We're pleased to be involved in expanding these efforts into the
development of AIPC. Through the collaboration of the wide range of stakeholders
we have brought together, we're able to provide a co-ordinated effort into provincial
invasive plant strategies."

"The formation of AIPC is added recognition for farmers and adds support
to something they've known all along," says Tim Dietzler, agricultural
fieldman with the Municipal District of Rocky View and AIPC director representing
the Alberta Association of Agricultural Fieldmen. "Agriculture has always
addressed invasive plant issues, but now we're starting to see more societal-wide
recognition that these things are important." Hopefully the prevention,
early detection and rapid response to invasive plants, will occur in urban areas
and other lands to help support what farmers have always been doing.

In Alberta, and across Canada, many natural and urban areas, and areas of other
jurisdictions other than farmland, are significantly being affected by invasive
plants, which has an impact on agricultural land as well. "AIPC brings
stakeholders together to start implementing good integrated weed management
practices on all lands," explains Dietzler. "Agriculture is already
using scientifically correct practices, including integrated weed management,
where as many other sectors of society are not." The increased awareness
may help relieve the societal concern of the use of pesticides on significant
invasive plants, which would be positive for farmers.

"Other than expanded efforts to controlling invasive plants outside of
agriculture, there isn't much new for farmers and shouldn't be any impact on
how they do business," says Dietzler. "We're not trying to limit the
diversity of introduced agronomic plants that don't have an impact on the environment.
However, we may have to look at new ways of dealing with agronomics that have
impacts off of agricultural sites."

Invasive plants can be pretty, but problematic
Caraway is an example of an agricultural crop that has escaped into the native
grazing and forest areas in Alberta, causing a lot of problems. "I see
caraway as the next biggest threat to pastures and hay fields in Alberta. It
will easily encroach onto hay fields and as a contaminant of hay, caraway can
readily hitch hike to tame and native range as feed is moved around. This very
adaptable plant can take over a piece of good quality native range very quickly,"
says Nielsen.

Caraway is extremely invasive and can replace grass in a couple of years. Chemical
control is very difficult on many grazing lands and livestock will not graze
it until after a frost. Examples of the other invasive plants of concern include
leafy spurge, toadflax, spotted knapweed and scentless chamomile.

"One of our partners, Sustainable Resource Development, has developed
an invasive plants strategy that addresses those elements including proper control
measures," explains Nielsen. The measures may include herbicide application,
or more preventative aspects such as requiring all reclamation and other equipment
to be cleaned before it goes into a site and scrutinizing seed testing certificates
to make sure there is nothing coming on with seed mixes.

Another important initiative is that Alberta Transportation has hired, for
the first time, a reclamation specialist to work with all of the big construction
reclamation projects in terms of addressing local eco-system and bio-diversity
needs, ensuring correct plant species are being replanted and other issues.
Efforts are also addressing off-road and other recreational users coming onto
grazing and protected areas to prevent the transfer of invasive plants back
and forth between areas. "The weed-free forage program is another good
example which promotes weed-free forage to back-country horse riders that go
into our fragile eco-system on trail rides and weekend vacations," says
Nielsen.

Currently in Canada, Alberta and British Columbia are the only two provinces
with formal invasive plants organizations. AIPC recently made a presentation
to the Manitoba Weed Supervisors Association, who are looking at the issues.
"The impetus for AIPC, the British Columbia associations and others in
the US came from the North American Weed Management Association (NAWMA),"
says Dietzler, who was vice-president of NAWMA in 2000 and president in 2001.
"NAWMA has provided significant opportunities for the issues of invasive
plants to become public, and to look at some real practical on the ground management
practices for invasive plants." NAWMA has members from Mexico, US and over
30 full members from across Canada.

AIPC will be hosting the September 2006 NAWMA Conference in Calgary. The 2001
NAWMA conference was held in Lethbridge. "We're pleased to be able to bring
a lot of high powered expertise from the US to the conference," says Nielsen.
"With the Canadian Invasive Alien Species Strategy initiated by the federal
government, it's also a good time for us to bring awareness to that initiative,
particularly the terrestrial plants and plant pests component. We're excited
to be able to showcase some of these Canadian projects that will be at the implementation
phase at the 2006 NAWMA conference." The conference is open to anyone who
is interested, with a particular focus on practitioners of weed management,
including agronomists, land managers from various agencies, agriculture, urban
and native lands and other sectors.

The AIPC is a not-for-profit association comprised of representatives from
governments, industry and grassroots organizations. AIPC is dedicated to raising
awareness about the ecological and economic problems caused by invasive plants.
The goals of the council are to increase Albertan's awareness of the impact
invasive plants have on the environment, economy and society; foster and facilitate
co-operation among invasive plant stakeholders; and provide expert advice and
guidance to public, industry and government on invasive plant issues. For more
information about AIPC and the NAWMA 2006 Conference, go to: www.invasiveplants.ab.ca
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