Invasive Species Council to focus on public education 

Findings in Squamish and Whistler show rapid proliferation of noxious plants

Following a forum with landscapers and horticulturists, the Sea to Sky Invasive Species Council (SSISC) has a busy winter ahead putting the ideas from the forum into action.

Coordinator Kristina Swerhun will be working over the winter with local governments, landscapers, nurseries and others to put into place systems for tracking and handling invasive plant species, as well as working to ensure that the species are kept out of the corridor as much as possible.

For example, the forum identified a need for a safe disposal system for invasive plants that are discovered and uprooted.

"Carney's (Waste Sytems) and the new landfill manager in Squamish were at the meeting and discussion, and now that we know what the landfill community is really wanting - an affordable, safe disposal site - we can move ahead," said Swerhun.

At this point it's unknown what that may look like. Some invasives can be composted with other plants without the risk of spreading, while others have to be completely destroyed.

"It's really species-dependent," explained Swerhun. "Some species, like Japanese knotweed in Squamish, reproduces with less than a gram of root material, so you don't want to grind it up."

Some options include the landfill when a plant is not in seed and an incinerator in Burnaby for "the most horrible stuff." Swerhun said, "If it's not in seed, maybe a plant can go to green waste."

However, the best approach might be to keep things simple and treat all uprooted invasives the same way to avoid confusion or mixed messages.

Another initiative to come out of the forum is education. Most local governments are already on board and are not planting any invasive species, although they admit to making mistakes in the past. However, several invasive species are still available at local nurseries and are legal to buy and sell.

Swerhun says it is possible for local governments to ban species. For example, there is a B.C. Weed Control Act that lists species that cannot be planted on any land, public or private. However, she says the Act is out of date and doesn't include many of the priority species for the corridor.

"We can create our own bylaws through the Community Charter that wouldn't be specific to invasives, but more a part of environmental bylaws," said Swerhun. A potential problem, she said, is that the same bylaws would need to be adopted by governments in Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton and the SLRD. Both Whistler and Squamish are moving ahead with the bylaw, said Swerhun.

She said they may have to make allowances for some invasives.

"If plants are cared for and they're not allowed to escape then it's not invasive," said Swerhun. "Indoor plants are not invasive. And nurseries still make a lot of money selling invasives and most of them are looked after.

"So at a local and regional level (the bylaws approach) is really sensitive. We hope to get people to voluntarily do their best, and not shove it down people's throats."

Public education - such as updating the SSISC website, creating a best practices document for landscapers and producing a brochure for the public - are considered to be the best approach. As well, the SSIC is putting together a list of alternatives to popular invasives that people can purchase.

If people understood the issues, Swerhun says, they would be more inclined to get involved. For example, one of the more surprising discoveries this summer with her work crew - a temporary group funded by a federal jobs program - was hogweed in the Squamish area.

"We didn't know there was Hogweed in Squamish," said Swerhun. "The thing about hogweed is that it has really toxic sap, and if you get any of the sap on you it reacts with the sun and can cause horrible burns. It's a big public safety issue. We knew it was in Lions Bay, but we didn't know it was in Squamish - but then five different sites popped up. Our crew went in there with the white Hazmat (hazardous materials handling) suits and cleaned it out, and now we're going to be monitoring those areas."

None of the sites were in well-used areas - two were on private land, two were in the Cheekye Fan near the First Nations reserve lands, and one site was on B.C. Hydro land. However, hogweed could easily spread to populated areas.

In Whistler, crews also found touch-me-not plants, which are known for their exploding seeds.

"What was surprising there was a plant that we kept our eye on had doubled in size within a year, and how successful it was," said Swerhun. "That was also a success for us because the crew was able to go in and take it out. It will take a few years of control to make sure that it's gone."

A summary from the forum is available on the SSISC website, and the organization is hosting its annual general meeting in March. For more information on the SSISC and invasive plants in Sea to Sky, visit




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