Left to right: Barb Phipps

Greenways happy with progress against invasive species in 2014

A look back on the year with Greenways resident invasive species expert, Sandra Milligan

  • Jan. 1, 2015 5:00 a.m.

It’s been a good year for Campbell River in terms of fighting back against invasive species, but one good year won’t cut it.

According to Sandra Milligan, a biology professor at North Island College and Greenways Land Trust’s resident invasive species expert, Greenways reexamined their methods in dealing with invasive species a few years ago after she attended a “salmon enhancement workshop,” and realized the strategies they had been using in the past were somewhat inefficient.

They’ve set out to remedy that.

“I realized that our current strategies weren’t really effective and we should be learning from other communities who have been doing this kind of thing for a longer period of time,” Milligan said. “The major finding originally was that when you want to improve an area and get rid of an invasive species, it’s a multi-year commitment.”

That means that it’s not a matter of just going in and removing the plants causing the issues, Milligan said.

It needs to be a removal effort combined with the planting of new native plants, and it needs to be a process that happens over time. “You need a multi-year plan for each site to change the species over,” she said, “so that really changed how we had been doing things and gave us a lot more knowledge to proceed forward in a way that will actually produce long-term, sustainable change.”

The first things that needed to be done were the prioritizing of the sensitive areas, making an inventory of areas of concern and taking on the issue of community education and awareness – which is an extremely important aspect of what they’re doing because until people stop dumping random wheelbarrows of yard waste in places it doesn’t belong, it’s hard to make any gains.

Milligan feels they have been making those gains, however, especially in terms of getting people to recognize the issue itself.

“Number one was getting the city to adopt an invasive species policy,” Milligan said of their 2014. “Greenways was really instrumental in working with (Sustainability Manager) Terry Martin at the city to write that up, and city council accepted it and implemented it, and put their money where their mouths were, and made a financial commitment to deal with invasive species.”

That city funding saw Greenways receive $5,000 to deal with knotweed.

“That was a great deepening of the relationship between Greenways and the city,” Milligan said, “and I know that the city is really happy about that, as well.”

They should be happy. Not dealing with Knotweed could get pricey.

Knotweed, according to Milligan, can take over huge areas of land in a very short time. “It can cause foundation problems, rip up roads, rip up buildings,” she said, because it reproduces using underground rhizomes that can spread long distances.

These rhizomes are the same reason that the soil in which Knotweed grows is considered toxic waste, or “biological pollution,” according to Milligan.

“I’m most concerned about the estuary,” Milligan said. “(Knotweed) erodes banks, so the roots don’t hold soil very well and as soon as you get a high-water event, the whole bank collapses and then the rhizomes travel downstream and create more infestations.”

This bank erosion is extremely damaging to salmon spawning habitat, and failure to keep the Knotweed in check would create a vicious cycle that would obviously be extremely detrimental to the overall marine environment in the area.

“It costs a lot less money to treat if you get to it early,” Milligan says.

A good portion of that cost is because the only way to eradicate Knotweed is to cut it down to just above the ground and then inject the stems with high-concentration Roundup, which then seeps into the roots. That has to be done by a paid professional who is qualified to handle the pesticide – so it can’t be volunteers who perform the removal – and it needs to be done every year for at least three years.

Moving forward into 2015, Milligan said one of Greenway’s primary goals will be to encourage proper funding of the Campbell River estuary, especially in regards to dealing with another invasive species, Yellow Flag Iris.

“Baikie Island (in the estuary) has been a capital funding project for the past five years now, but the capital funding is finished now,” says Milligan. “We need to move towards it being operational funding. Courtenay spends something like $10,000 per year on their estuary and we need to be investing in our estuary, too.”

If we don’t get the Yellow Flag Iris problem under control in our estuary, there will be bigger problems down the road, according to Milligan. We need to not only learn from regions who have been successful in their approaches to invasive species, but especially from those who have not.

“There are examples of estuaries in Washington State that have been completely covered in Yellow Flag Iris, and they’re spending millions of dollars a year just to keep it at bay to not lose nearby estuaries, as well,” says Milligan.

The other focus of the organization will be to continue the public education process to make their job easier in the future, as well as saving community resources by preventing future infestations and outbreaks.

“Every time we stop a wheelbarrow from being dumped in the wrong place,” Milligan said, “we can save ourselves hundreds of hours of work, and save the community thousands of dollars.”

Check out greenwaystrust.ca for more on what the organization is doing within the community.