Invasive species merit redirection of awareness and funding

By MPP Toby Barrett
The recent discovery of two Asian carp in a pond in Toronto stands as a stark reminder of the potential cost and the need for education with respect to the ongoing problem of invasive species.

Exactly how those two fish ended up in an enclosed pond might never be known, it’s a good bet they were put there by a human. This activity is not only illegal, but also puts the entire Great Lakes watershed, a multi-billion-dollar fishing industry and a boating-related tourism industry at risk. Studies have shown it would take as few as 20 Asian carp to form a reproducing population.

Worldwide the cost of invasive species is estimated in the billions. In Canada, invasive plants alone cost the farming and forest industries an estimated $7.3 billion annually. The impact of zebra mussels in Ontario is between $75 and $91 million a year.

Getting back to Asian carp, the largest threat of this species entering the Great Lakes remains through the Chicago Area Waterways System. In the wake of the report of the Great Lakes Mississippi River Interbasin Study, the US Army Corps of Engineers continues to block access through the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal at the Brandon Road lock.

While clearing brush on my farm this summer, I came to realize the significance of another invader – the common buckthorn.

Common buckthorn is native to Eurasia and was first brought to North America as an ornamental shrub in the 1800s. Its use wasn’t just in gardens, but also in farm fencerows and windbreaks. It soon spread into woodlots. It is spread both through the large number of seeds it produces and when birds eat its berries. The problem arises when it forms dense stands and crowds out native plants. It also hosts agricultural pests such as oat rust and soybean aphid.

Phragmites is the largest worry currently with invasive plants. Although it can crowd out native plants in wetlands and wet areas, many people are not aware of the significant hazard it poses even though it lines our provincial highways. Eradication will take a massive effort that will cost millions of dollars.

Will buckthorn or Japanese knotweed be the next phragmites? Let’s step back in time and imagine the lack of problems if these plants had been controlled when first discovered.

In Haldimand, wild parsnip has been discovered along the Grand River. When established, it can also crowd out native plants and its sap contains a chemical that can cause a reaction to sunlight in humans – as does giant hogweed.

The province’s invasive species web site is a great tool – – in fact I use it often.

Other measures to combat invasive species need be considered. Bringing back the province’s junior ranger program to southern Ontario and having its members tackle issues like buckthorn and phragmites could be an option. Norfolk County has its Norfolk Environmental Stewardship Team or NEST, formed in the wake of the cancellation of the junior ranger program.

Getting rid of an invasive alien species is no easy task. Speed is of the essence, coupled with public awareness and funding, when tackling invasive threats – This is something researchers and experts preach on both sides of the border, and hopefully the message is getting through in both countries.