How should we be attacking invasive species?

By MPP Toby Barrett

Long Point country comprises hundreds and hundreds of acres of healthy wetland habitat. Now, much of that is phragmites. The same is true at the mouth of the Grand, and in other wetlands, waterways and ditches across Ontario.

A tall, invasive reed, phragmites spreads by both seeds and a hardy root system. It’s now the predominant plant species in ditches across southern Ontario. That’s how this plant works – it crowds out native species creating a monoculture. Monocultures aren’t good for the diversity of plant and animal life.

At Queen’s Park we are again debating the Invasive Species Act — a good concept that in some ways doesn’t go far enough. The bill needs teeth to tackle some of the problems — not take the easy way out.

But there is also concern among landowners they would be targeted and held responsible if they end up unwittingly harbouring some of these plants and animals. The proposed legislation will put the weight for eradication on landowners. But I question where the tools will be to deal with these invasives?

I know from personal experience the difficulty with phragmites – they have invaded my pond. I didn’t want it, but it’s there. I have done my utmost to try to remove them. There’s been some success in knocking the plants down and then spraying with herbicides such as Round Up. But spraying glysophate over water is not legal. We need to work on some practical techniques to assist landowners, farmers and road crews to control phragmites and other invasives.

I think back a few years when purple loosestrife was the main plant invasive. In collaboration with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, crews were formed to manually remove the plants. But today, Ministry of Natural Resources, and Ministry of Transportation staff don’t have the resources or tools to do the job.

That’s where I have hope for the Phragmites Working Group, which is co-chaired by Norfolk resident Janice Gilbert. This group has been calling for phragmites to be listed as a noxious weed. This has been supported by southwestern Ontario MPPs Bob Bailey, Jeff Yurek, Monte McNaughton, Rick Nichols and myself.

This working group has priorities for phragmites:
1) Controlling along roads, municipal drains and ditches
2) Approving proper herbicides for use over water
3) Educating the public, including adding phragmites to the noxious weed list
4) Funding from both federal and provincial governments
5) Creating a phragmites management plan

I would welcome further ideas at

There is another invasive that could create an apocalypse for our multi-billion-dollar sport and commercial fishing industry.

Following several high profile busts, I advocated Asian carp coming into Ontario for food be eviscerated. My fear was if a truckload of carp was involved in a collision, the fish could escape into a ditch, and eventually find their way into rivers and lakes. If fish coming in were gutted, and definitely dead, there would be no fear of that.

Although the government didn’t act on this, it is covered off in new federal invasive species legislation. The federal government is also funding a new lab for Asian carp research.

Stay tuned on the on-going invasives debate.