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Invasive species threaten natural habitat across Canada  

June 24, 2013 Global TV globaltv.ca

According to Environment Canada, there are hundreds of invasive species in Canada. Unless something is done to curb their spread, the result could be a change in wetlands and wildlife across the country.

Several species of plants and animals threaten Canada’s natural habitat and many organizations are seeking help to get rid of the pests. “The impact of invasive species can result in economic losses for people,” said Dan Kraus, Manager of Conservation Science and Planning with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, Ontario Region. “There are some invasive species which are major pests for forests, which can be a problem if you’re harvesting forests. Some invasive species can be a problem for agricultural crops. Some can even impact human health…like giant hogweed… [invasives] can lower property values.”

Kraus said that invasive species degrade our biological diversity and threaten our rare species. “Globally, invasive species has been identified as the number two threat to nature, with habitat loss being the primary issue. So it’s a big issue, not only in Ontario, but around the world.”

In Ontario, zebra mussels, as well as the round goby — a bottom-dwelling invasive fish — are the main threats to the Great Lakes, though Kraus said that there has been a definite improvement in cleaning up the lakes. Both of these species came in from ballast water from ships travelling from the Caspian Sea.

“The good news is that, federally, in both Canada and the U.S., there have been new regulations around ballast water that seem to be working because we haven’t had any new aquatic species identified since about 2006,” Kraus said.

Asian carp is another concern for the Great Lakes. They are filter-feeders and filter out small plants and animals that live in the lakes, therefore affecting the other species that feed on the plants and animals. The fish have travelled from the southern United States up to the northern states. Chicago has electrified fencing to prevent any Asian carp from getting into the Great Lakes. If the fish did make it, Kraus said, “It could totally change our fish communities.”<

Plants as invasive species

Other threats to Canada’s natural habitat are plants such as the tenacious and invasive phragmites, a perennial grass that has caused severe damage to wetlands and waterfronts across Canada. In 2005, researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada called it the country’s worst invasive plant. The plant spreads rapidly and competes — and oftentimes wins — with other plants for water and nutrients.

Earlier in June, volunteers with the Nature Conservancy of Canada worked across parts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, digging up glossy buckthorn in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, as well as woodland angelica in Kingston, New Brunswick. Both of these are two examples of invasive plants threatening the natural habitat in the Atlantic provinces.

“We need to keep an eye out for these invasive species coming in and control them when they do,” said Paula Noel, Program Manager for New Brunswick’s Nature Conservancy of Canada. “That’s always the key.” “Whether it’s in one person’s property or looking provincially or federally, the key is to detect things early and then control as quickly as you can,” Noel said.

What makes an invasive species so invasive is its ability to spread quickly. And when these foreign species come into Canada, they oftentimes face no natural predators, making it easy for them to thrive.

Invasives: A national threat

Garlic mustard, which had been a major concern for Ontario, has now also spread to New Brunswick.

Invasive aquatic species targeted in Manitoba  & Invasive caterpillar found in Fraser Valley (sidebar)

In Alberta, rock snot algae (yes that’s actually what it’s called), otherwise known as didymo, attaches itself to rocks and plants in rivers and streams. They cover the stream bed and then attract insects, thereby reducing the quality of spawning habitat and food available to fish.

The oxeye daisy has invaded pastures in Alberta, competing with natural species. If cattle graze on oxeye, it results in an odd taste in milk, a concern to dairy farmers.

According to the Invasive Species Council of British Columbia, blueweed, a short-lived perennial plant, is a concern across the province, including Cariboo, Kootenay and Okangan. The plant produces 2800 seeds per plant, but can be spread by animals as well. The plant invades pastures and rangelands and can result in economic losses to farmers.

Environment Canada estimates the canola yield losses and treatment costs for Canada thistle — an invasive species — to be $320 million a year.

In Manitoba, leafy spurge cost the province an estimated $19 million per year in protecting the land, including grazing and public land.

The role we play in spreading invasive species

“A bark beetle…has been spreading through Nova Scotia and was just found a couple of years ago in Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick, which was a huge jump for it and they think it was brought in on fire wood,” Noel said. “Because people will go camping one spot and then throw the wood in their trunk and they don’t realize there are beetles in the fire wood.”

“It comes down to raising awareness,” said Noel. “There’s been a lot of effort to get people to just clean their boats and fishing gear. Because there’s another big threat to salmon rivers, like this algae that grows like a green slime that carpets entire river bottoms and grows really well in clear, salmon rivers.” This is a big threat to the salmon fishery in the Atlantic provinces.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada tries to remove invasive species from its own property. The events they hold aim to educate the public about invasive species and how they, too, can identify and remove them.

Many provincial governments are raising awareness of invasive species in an effort to stop their spread. They are encouraging boaters and those who fish to wash their boats and fishing gear, in order to prevent the spread of an invasive species that might be on them.

Another thing that people can do is to plant native species in gardens. A quick check with your local gardening store could provide you more information on local native plants. People are also asked not to rid themselves of unwanted pets like turtles or snakes into the forest, but rather to find a local reptile rescue society.

In today’s day and age with worldwide travel and shipping, it may be impossible to keep all foreign wildlife out of Canada. But, Canadians can do their part in ensuring that invasive species aren’t easily spread. Because if we don’t, there may be long-term repercussions. Kraus said, “We are seeing changes in the ecosystem and I think we’re not really sure what’s going to happen in the future.”

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