River systems and hay the most potent vectors for invasive species in Southern Alberta; Vigilance key
By Tim Kalinowski
While invasive species tend to follow many different pathways and arrive in southern Alberta from many different vectors, says Delinda Ryerson, executive director for the Alberta Invasive Species Council, they have one thing in common: Early detection and eradication is key to preventing widespread contamination.
“Sometimes it is almost too late before you notice,” says Ryerson. “Landowners, farmers and ranchers, are lucky because they have an eye on things— I would really encourage them to know what we are worried about (at the council).
“Some invasive species are introduced because they are a contaminant in agricultural feed products, or they are a contaminant in hay or forage,” explains Ryerson. “Even in contaminated soils that are brought in.
“Other things surprise me: Like Downey brome— you think of that as a grass which is quite prevalent in the United States and our short grass prairie too— my understanding is that was introduced through ballast water (in boats). So you can’t always necessarily tell the vector from looking at it, and they were not all brought into the province willingly.
“Unfortunately with something life flowering rush— that was brought in intentionally. We didn’t know it had invasive characteristics at the time. It’s a beautiful pond plant that was brought in through the ornamental industry.
“This thing is now choking out the Bow River, some of the South Saskatchewan River system now— we don’t want that to get into our irrigation infrastructure because it would wreak havoc.”
Of particular worry in southern Alberta are invasive species which are spread through irrigation, riverways and streams, says Ryerson. In a landscape as prone to drought as southern Alberta, she states, the waterways are the key to life. They are often key to invasive spread as well, she adds.
“Water is one of the main (invasive) highways for southern Alberta,” Ryerson confirms. “Things like zebra mussels and flowering rush pose a major threat that way, and to make things even more complex it is kind of a circle. Water is scarce; so it is that much more important to protect it.
“And these invasives are travelling in aquatic environments— it is very difficult to try to eradicate or control these things once they get established because they are near water and there aren’t very many control or treatment methods we can use to be able to get rid of them.
“Another thing which makes them so successful,” she adds, “is these invaders tend to have a whole bunch of characteristics like being able to reproduce quickly and very tolerant of sub-optimal conditions. A lot of them are so successful in southern Alberta, in particular, because they are so drought tolerant.”
Drought and water scarcity are also often the doorway to further vectors for invasive species as well, says Ryerson— when they are brought in through feed.
Even with various chemical and manual control methods available to control these invaders, (the Invasive Species Council also released 120 different types of bio-control agents in 2018), the best cure still remains early detection and prevention, says Ryerson.
“We are starting to get through to people that time is of the essence,” she states, “and prevention is always the best thing. So if we don’t have them; look at all the money we are saving in not having to deal with these things? We have a whole suite of fact sheets on different invasive species. Just have a look at those, and look at field guides.
“We also have an app out now where you can go to a website; it’s called ED Maps Alberta which stands for Early Detection Mapping System.”
The ED Maps app is a particularly valuable tool, says Ryerson, and she hopes farmers will take the time to download it.
“It’s basically a digital field guide,” she explains. ”There are pictures and descriptions of all the different invasive species, and we (the AISC) are kind of responsible for running that.
“You take a picture of what you are looking at. You upload that picture and it gets sent to us. We verify it is in fact what you think it is, and then its gets mapped and you can track things.
“We are just trying to populate a database so we can see how serious the issue is with respect to some species, and hopefully we can handle it before the problem gets too big in a given area,” she adds.