Alien lifeforms are taking root in our community

The aliens are here. Yes. They are among us even now. But, wait! I’m not taking about space aliens or illegal aliens but the alien plants and other species that have, for years now, been making themselves at home in BC. Among them are these Himalayan orchids which are flourishing along the back road to the Eastern Access. They have also been found thriving in many area gardens. But their days may be numbered as the Columbia Shuswap Regional District takes steps to control them — and all the other alien plants and animals showing up in our region. Revelstoke Current file photo


By David F. Rooney

The aliens are here. Yes. They are among us even now. But, wait! I’m not taking about space aliens or illegal aliens but the alien plants and other species that have, for years now, been making themselves at home in BC. But their days may be numbered as the Columbia Shuswap Regional District takes steps to control them — and all the other alien plants and animals showing up in our region.

Juliet Craig, who organized a meeting in Revelstoke about invasive plants this autumn, said Sunday that the CSRD has supported the establishment of “a non-profit society for invasive species management in the region.”

“At a meeting last week, the CSRD Board of Directors, in its incarnation as the CSRD Weed Committee, voted in favour of delivering their program through such a society and providing annual financial support,” said Craig, a biologist with Nelson’s Silverwing Ecological Consulting. “The next step is to officially form and register the non-profit society. Some representatives of organizations indicated that they would be available to attend meetings and they will form the initial Board of Directors (some will have alternates as shown). They are:

  • Hamish Kassa or Darcy Mooney, CSRD
  • Catherine Macrae or Dave Ralph, MFLNRO
  • Sarma Liepins, BC Parks
  • Gregg Walker, Parks Canada
  • Joyce deBoer, Wildsight Golden
  • Member from City of Revelstoke, City of Salmon Arm,  or Town of Golden
  • Member from RDCK elected Director
  • Rhonda Kariz, BC Hydro – tbc

This is an important development because the number of different invasive species showing up here is escalating. The chances are excellent that — if you, dear reader, live in Revelstoke — you have walked past some distinctly alien and highly invasive plants in the past year. Some of them may even have thrived in your garden this summer.

There are all kinds here now: Himalayan orchids (also called Himalayan balsam), Himalayan blackberry, marsh plume thistle, spotted knapweed, blueweed, hawkweed, leafy spurge. To many people they may just seem annoying. However, all of these can — and will if given the opportunity — displace native plants. Some are also poisonous and there is at least one very toxic plant on its way here — giant hogweed.

Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is a perennial and currently distributed in the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, Gulf Islands, and

Giant hogweed sap can produce burns and blisters similar to those from a third-degree burn. Photo courtesy of the National Invasive Species Working Group

central to southern Vancouver Island.
 Giant hogweed, which appears similar to cow parsnip and has been called giant cow parsnip by some, has been moving east for the last few years. It can grow up to five metres in height at maturity and is highly competitive due to its vigorous early-season growth, and its tolerance of full shade and seasonal flooding.  It’s also prolific. Each plant can produce up to 100,000 winged seeds (typically 50,000) that remain viable in the soil for up to 15 years. Plants generally die after flowering. But here’s the really nasty part: giant hogweed stem hairs and leaves contain a clear, highly toxic sap that can burn, blister and permanently scar your skin if you come in contact with it. The effects can last as long as six years.

So. What’s being done about this and the other invasive plants? Not much beyond a few weed-pulls organized by the Illecillewaet Greenbelt Society, North Columbia Environmental Society and Engineering and Public Works employees.

But that may be about to change with the CSRD’s agreement to support action by a non-profit society.

A meeting of organizations concerned about invasive plants and other species met in Revelstoke a couple of months ago to discuss the possibility of forming an invasive plants committee in the CSRD.

The groups from all over the Kootenays, Okanagan and the Cariboo met at the Community Centre at the end of September to share their experiences and to help guide people interested in forming a similar group for the district.

The CSRD already has a noxious weeds committee which is comprised of the region’s directors but it is mainly focused on the impact of noxious weeds on agriculture. It also has an environmental services coordinator, Hamish Kassa, and a deputy manager for environmental and engineering services, Darcy Mooney. However, it doesn’t have a public-based committee that looks at invasive plants and animals (Yes, animals.). Nor does it have inventory of all the alien life forms that have taken up residence in the region.

Kassa said he would take the proposal to form a CSRD-wide invasive species committee to the board in November. If it gets a green light it would likely be supported by local committees that have the manpower to take an inventory of the invasive plants and animals that have gained a foothold in their communities.

There is currently nothing like this in Revelstoke. The Illecillewaet Greenbelt Society and the North Columbia Environmental Society are both concerned about invasive plants and have conducted a few weed pulls over the last few years. But they operate pretty much in isolation. A CSRD-supported action group should be able to take a proper inventory of invasive plants and animals and develop strategies for getting rid of them.

There is a distinct advantage to using an existing governmental structure over forming a stand-alone, public committee. As Marty Hafke of the East Kootenay Invasive Plant Council pointed out at the meeting in Revelstoke two weeks ago, “finding enough dollars and resources is a major challenge.” And that money is important. Without enough cash you can’t hire — or keep — a coordinator to actually run the day-to-day operations.

The NCES has a coordinator, Hailey Ross, and a director for conservation — Roland Bell — but no one who is specifically tasked with monitoring invasive plants and animals.

The Illecillewaet Greenbelt Society does not have a coordinator nor does it have anyone who specifically looks out for invasive organisms in the 22-acre Greenbelt along the Illecillewaet River. Its directors frequently walk the Greenbelt and do keep an eye out for obvious invaders.

Laurel Corrigan, a foreman with the City’s Engineering and Public Works Department, said she and her co-workers pull invasive plants when they spot them on City property but there is no consistent monitoring program in Revelstoke.

Parks Canada’s Gregg Walker is very concerned about incursions by alien plants and animals in Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks. He and Parks staff use all the tools at their command, including chemical pesticides.

Nationally, Parks Canada spends between $3 million and $3.9 million a year on invasive fauna and flora. However, only about $20,000 of that is spent in our local nation parks each year. And that includes, salaries and goods and services.

The lack of any kind of coordinated monitoring program is good news for invasive plants and animals.

They can be stopped but only if we act to eradicate them when we find them.

Click here to learn more about invasive species in BC.

Click here to see an excellent Royal BC Museum online presentation about alien species.