There ought to be a law against invasive species

By MPP Toby Barrett

Mention invasive species and we envision zebra mussels, or Asian carp jumping out of a  river. But, invasive species have a much longer history – something I am aware of when I look out my front door.

As I look to the west, to my pond, I see phragmites forcing out my cattails. I have been in an  all-out war with phragmites for 15 years now. When I was Parliamentary Assistant to the  Minister of Natural Resources, our government organized a fight against purple loosestrife.  While it hasn’t been eliminated, its presence is diminished. I feel government could do the same for phragmites.

If I look to the left of my house – English ivy climbing 40-50 feet up my black locust. Locust is another species brought up by United Empire Loyalists from south of the border. Below the trees, goat weed, overtaking my rock garden – looks nice, but I can’t see the rocks.

Across the lane, periwinkle, heading out into the bush towards the trilliums across the road. And beyond that garlic mustard – who brought that from Europe 100 years ago?

And this time of year, sparrows come to my door. House sparrows were introduced in Brooklyn in 1851 and are so common today, most people don’t think of them as an introduced species. Sparrows are known to displace native birds, such as bluebirds, and steal food from robins.

It was the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway that allowed sea lamprey new access to the Great Lakes. Zebra mussels are a huge problem for not only fish but also for municipalities that find these mollusks clog their water intakes. Round gobies, spiny water fleas quagga mussels – the list goes on and on.

The attention given to Asian carp of late is certainly warranted. If these massive invaders become established in the Great Lakes, they will literally wipe out the bottom of the food chain. The multi-billion-dollar Great Lakes fishery, boating and tourism industries will be decimated.

Last month, government introduced The Invasive Species Act 2014. If passed, this bill will make Ontario the only province with stand-alone invasive species legislation. The concept has been endorsed by scientists, environmentalists, business and sportsmen’s groups with some caveats.

The province has partnered with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters to offer the Invasive Species Awareness Program. I commend the federation for effectively delivering this program, but it does not have enforcement powers. As well, there doesn’t appear to be any new funding for the act.

As of yet, there has been no input from the forest and bait industries. One measure of success will be how the government works with its businesses and partners.

Technically speaking, an alien species is a plant or animal occurring outside of its native range and becoming established in a new area. This introduction can be accidental or intentional, and is usually caused by humans. The species is considered invasive if its establishment in a new environment displaces native species and causes harm to the environment, economy or society. Part of the problem is that a balanced ecosystem contains controls, or predators, which are often the missing factor for invasive species, letting them grow exponentially.

The ultimate measure of success will be how well this bill tackles the ongoing invasion.