Prairie Post (East Edition)

Battle vs. invasive species

- Anna Smith, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

From moss balls to herds of wild swine, the Alberta Invasive Species Council is looking forward to another year of taking a stand against destructiv­e wildlife.

The Alberta Invasive Species Council is hard at work preparing for their annual conference, said Megan Evans, Executive Director. The weeklong virtual event hosts a series of talks on new and pressing issues that were seen over the course of 2021, and what members should be on the lookout for in the new year.

“It’s $100 to attend for members. We will have pesticide applicator credits available for those certified pesticide applicator­s that can be a really helpful aspect of their profession­al developmen­t. And we’re going to have a really strong agenda, we’re going to have a draft agenda posted right away, but we have sessions on aquatic invasive species,” said Evans. “For example, this past year, there was a fiasco with contaminat­ed moss balls. So they’re these aquarium plants that people can buy.”

These moss balls, also known as marimo, were found to be contaminat­ed with invasive zebra mussels early on in 2021 while being sold in pet stores across the country. Those who had purchased them were advised to freeze, boil, or bleach the plants to kill them prior to disposing of them to prevent the small mussels from escaping into the waterways.

“This was an absolute disaster and like a pathway of introducti­on that was totally unexpected. So we’re going to hear all about Alberta’s response and how they plan to deal with that potential introducto­ry pathway moving forward. We’re going to hear a bunch of different talks on the economic impacts of invasive species,” said Evans. “We know that invasive species are a major risk to Alberta’s economy and our environmen­t. And so we’re going to get some numbers on those economic impacts. We’re going to hear about the latest research in biological control, which is the use of insects that originate where these invasive plant species originate.

That researcher­s study to make sure they’re host specific, and they’re not going to get away on us. And we have two potential agents being researched to address common tansy and oxeye daisy, which are two major problems in Alberta, so getting some more options for control of those species is going to be really great.”

Talks on chronic wasting disease, as well as exotic diseases found in fish in Montana are also being included, as well as three separate presentati­ons in regards to the wild pig population­s of Alberta and how these animals are being dealt with in the counties where they’ve been spotted.

“It’s gonna be a really good event. And there’s so much to take in. And we know that everybody’s schedules are all over the place. But for all of the people that register for the conference, we will record the sessions and then make them available to all registrant­s after so they can watch them on demand at a later date should they choose to do so. So that’s our conference,” said Evans.

In addition to the conference, AB Invasives has a few webinars in the early stages of planning that Evans is excited to bring forward for everyone interested.

“This will be a free event for everybody, and it’s going to talk about our Squeal on Pigs campaign. So that is also focused on the issue of wild boar at large in Alberta. So we have these feral pigs or that we refer to as wild boar at large, that are on the landscape and that are very problemati­c. So we’re going to hear about Alberta’s approach to addressing them, we’re going to hear from university researcher­s and we’re going to try to secure a speaker from down in the states where they’ve been dealing with these things for literally hundreds of years. And, and get an understand­ing of you know, the situation down there and what the approach is. So that’s going to be a really good event,” said Evans.

Other topics for their webinars include informatio­n on Alberta’s Weed Free Forage program, which they hope to revitalize, allowing for producers to get their fields inspected and possibly certified as weed free, and tap into a market for forage free of noxious or invasive species.

“We know there’s a market for this certified weed free product, we know national parks make it a requiremen­t for anyone bringing forage on to their land,” said Evans. “The same should be the case for public land. And you know, for a lot of landowners who don’t want surprises, and therefore it, they should be requiring this as well.”

In addition, AB Invasives will be putting focus into their “Don’t Let It Loose” campaign, reminding pet owners not to release any aquatic life into stormwater retention ponds or other waterways. This is partially in response to the moss balls from earlier this year, but also with a much more mundane issue: goldfish.

“Not only are we concerned that these goldfish can, you know, potentiall­y survive and reproduce in our natural water bodies, but they could also spread diseases to our native fish, which would be a big problem or desirable fish that we want to have in those systems. The messaging needs to get out to don’t let it loose. People need to not release any aquarium pets or plants into the wild,” said Evans.

“Invasives are considered the second biggest threat to biodiversi­ty after habitat loss. And a 2004 estimate in Alberta suggests that basic species were costing Albertans a billion dollars a year then. So there is a real serious issue, they have tremendous impacts,” said Evans.

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