Invasive plant council expands focus to include animals

Watching wildlife Organization says need to monitor aquatic invasive species led to new, broader mandate

The Alberta Invasive Plant Council has blossomed into the Alberta Invasive Species Council, with a change of name and an expanded mandate.

Council chair Oscar Anderson said the name change addresses a gap.

“There seemed to be kind of a hole with the aquatic invasives, zebra and quagga mussels especially,” he said.

The freshwater mussel species, native to Asia, are well established in the United States and slowly spreading north and east. A concerted effort is underway to keep them from becoming a major problem in Canada.

Anderson said the council’s name change is also part of a national trend.

“All the other plant councils in the country seem to be going to ‘species’ as well, and we thought there may be opportunities for more funding, grants and such if we branched out further.”

The council plays an educational rather than a control role when it comes to unwanted plants and other species. It maintains a list of invasive plants on its website and encourages people to watch for them and notify officials if the species are found in Alberta.

Anderson said the list will soon be updated to include zebra and quagga mussels and possibly rats and wild boar.

The council is also exploring concepts for a spotter’s network, which would involve more people in the search and identification of unwanted species so they can be eliminated before they become established.

“It’s kind of at concept level right now,” Anderson said.

“We’re trying to get that out onto the ground, in that we have knowledgeable members of the public looking for weeds in an early detection, rapid response sort of thing.”

Part of the plan involves the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System, which is already available in Canada.

Anderson said he wants to implement the system’s smartphone application to make it more convenient for users and increase the chances of early detection and eradication of unwanted species.

The list of invasive plants on the council website is long, but not all of them have been found in Canada. Rather, it is a list of species the province wants to keep out.

Anderson said it is hard for the council to measure the success of its efforts to engage the public in identification.

Is reporting on certain weeds lacking because those species do not exist in the province or because people are not identifying and reporting them?

“We’re thinking of throwing a couple test species on (the list), that we know are in the province, and see if people are using the EDDMaps system,” said Anderson.

He anticipated it will be an interesting year for the council, in part because the aftermath of 2013 flooding could bring more invasive species to areas that didn’t previously have them.

“(Floods) make habitat for weeds. They take existing vegetation away, and there’s a void there that usually gets filled by invasive species.”

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