Sad to see invasive species problems caused by carelessness

Common Toadflax, wild boars, goldfish, and more like to destroy our ecosystems

As I was typesetting the Alberta Agri-news this week, the subject of a dangerous invasive species of plant, the Common Toadflax, brought instantly to mind a few experiences I’ve had in my career with stories like this.

Common Toadflax is a very serious threat to agricutlre in Alberta. The invasive species doesn’t like to play nice with other plants, and if it gets its roots into an agricutlrual operation, big trouble is coming. The sad part is, Common Toadflax didn’t blow in on an ill wind, it was actually brought to North American by Europeans because they admired its beauty. Somehow the predatory weed got loose.

The most recent similar experience but the one I’ve had the least experience with is goldfish getting into water bodies. The fish aren’t native to Alberta and can steal habitat from local species; they’ve even been showing up in ponds in urban areas and its suspected people have been dumping them into water bodies intentionally. Dumb.

A humorous experience I had with a released species occurred while working at The Mountaineer newspaper in Rocky Mountain House. A lady called me stating she saw a peacock flapping around the neighbourhood. More than a little skeptical, I went looking for it, and sure enough, got a photo of the big blue bird jumping over someone’s house, giant azure tail on display. The Fish and Wildlife officer said it wasn’t the first report of a peacock they got, and he told me they suspect someone in the area had peacocks in their yard, and the birds either escaped or were intentionally let loose.

Another invasive species I became familiar with working in Rocky Mountain House is the wild boar or feral pig, a serious nuisance that the government has had trouble controlling. Originally raised on farms for specialty meat markets, the boars apparently escaped or were intentionally let loose, adapted and have established themselves in certain areas of the province, taking resources away from native wildlife.

But probably the most familiar situation to Common Toadflax that I’ve seen occurred while I was working as a reporter at the Macleod Gazette in Fort Macleod, near Lethbridge. A dangerous invasive species called Purple Loosestrife was found establishing itself along the banks of the Oldman River in the 1990s, despite the fact biologists thought it was under control.

Purple Loosestrife, again brought to North America by gardeners who thought it was pretty, is a dangerous predator that does not tolerate other plants in its neighbourhood; it tends to kill off anything around it, obviously devastating the ecosystem. Luckily, the outbreak along the Oldman River was brough under control.

It’s thought outbreaks like the Oldman River event were caused by gardens or greenhouses that had Purple Loosestrife in them, and the buildings were either abandoned or simply ignored, and the weed escaped. It’s a shame the carelessness of a few can force all of us taxpayers to spend a lot of money cleaning up problems.

Recently, I’ve been learning more about the threat Quagga and Zebra mussels pose to water bodies in Alberta. The mussels aren’t native to Alberta, and get into our lakes and streams by sticking to boats that travel a lot, but don’t get cleaned often (or ever). The invasive species destroy ecosystems if they get a chance. If the mussels get established here, its estimated it’ll cost millions of dollars to fix the problem. If you enjoy angling, this should be a very serious concern to you.

So all you boat owners who travel out of Alberta, make sure you clean the hull off as often and as carefully as possible.

Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.

Stu.salkeld@pipestoneflyer.ca