Wednesday, 22 March 2017 14:17

Early detection rapid response key to invasive species eradication

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Kelly Cooley, who owns CoolPro SolutionsDisturbances, said disturbances can come in many forms, including people using the backcountry in less desirable ways, which can cause invasive species to spread more easily or take hold in an area. Kelly Cooley, who owns CoolPro SolutionsDisturbances, said disturbances can come in many forms, including people using the backcountry in less desirable ways, which can cause invasive species to spread more easily or take hold in an area. Photo by Rose Sanchez

If there’s one message that a former agricultural fieldman, but now a consultant on invasive species prevention, could offer producers, it’s that controlling an invasive species when it is a single plant is much easier than waiting for it to become so problematic that it can be seen by the public.

Early Detection Rapid Response (EDRR) is the key for dealing with invasive species, said Kelly Cooley, CoolPro Solutions Environmental Consulting, who spoke at the March 10 Environmental Stewardship on the Farm event in Medicine Hat hosted by the South East Alberta Watershed Alliance.
When a new species is introduced to an area, about 10 per cent can become invasive.
“By the time they start to explode — that’s when people start to notice them,” said Cooley. 
Invasive plants are weeds that are not only out of place, but out of their country or region of origin. They are introduced, highly aggressive, and can overwhelm the native and desirable plants.
The government definition of a noxious weed is a plant that is harmful to agriculture, environment and human health.
“We’re transporting goods and people — and invasive species — all over the world like we never have before,” said Cooley. “We’re sitting on top of something (on the prairies) that is just as complex and just as connected. Little bits of management change can have quite a bit of an effect.”
One example of an invasive plant is leafy spurge. It was first introduced in North America in 1827 and has since rapidly spread across the U.S. and Canada infesting nearly three million acres in 29 States and at least four provinces.
Factors that can affect how invasive a plant may become include climate, soil, water and elevation, but also other overlapping disturbances.
“We are the biggest vector of invasive spread,” pointed out Cooley, about humans.
He showed images of invasive species hitching a ride underneath trucks, being brought in on watercraft and even the ability for seeds to transport on the bottoms of muddy shoes.
“Overlapping networks are spreading these species from place to place. Everybody on the farm is feeling a little closer to their neighbours than they used to due to the country residential development that is happening.”
Farms and ranches aren’t immune to invasive species spreading due to animals consuming them and then contaminating an area with their excrement as well as transference on farm machinery from plot to plot if equipment isn’t cleaned thoroughly.
“Prevention is important,” said Cooley. “We need to be scouting all the time (for invasive species). Especially areas we use hard.”
Producers need to practice vigilant weed scouting near fencelines; roads and trails in fields; in gathering and holding areas; places that are used for feeding, watering and salt blocks; shelter areas and field intersections.
Cooley recommends using clean, weed-free seed as well as weed-free gravel and soil and weed-free hay.
He suggests a campaign that has been rolled out in the U.S. and Canada needs to be shared more widely called “Play Clean Go.”
“We need this to be our Smoky Bear,” he added.
Tips offered by Cooley included cleaning equipment before entering or exiting rangeland; being familiar with species features; carefully managing routine disturbances and having a comprehensive inspection and monitoring program in place.
Early Detection Rapid Response (EDRR) is the best way to deal with invasive species. Success stories of this method include Norway rats in Alberta; phragmites found in the County of Newell; Ox Eye Daisy found in the County of Forty Mile and a Spotted Knapweed infestation found in the County of Warner.
Cooley suggested producers get themselves a pocket guide to invasive species and learn what they look like in all their stages of development.
“Monitoring and documenting what you find is really important,” he added. “If you don’t record and check an area afterwards, you might miss the next generation.”
While herbicide applications are worth considering in problem areas there are other methods that can be combined to help eradicate invasive species such as hand pulling, insect biocontrol and multispecies grazing.
“EERD will help us get ahead of some of these species,” added Cooley. “Really, it’s about how we take care of our ground, if we can do a better job with that ...”
Cooley finished his presentation with a quote by Dr. Richard Old, with XID Services Ltd.: “When dealing with invasive species, our failures are obvious and our successes invisible.”

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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