Noxious weeds in crosshairs of new website

HELP WANTED 
New program needs organizations to start mapping their data, and volunteers to confirm species identification

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There’s a new weapon in the war against noxious weeds.

The Alberta Invasive Plants Council has launched a website in a bid to battle plant invaders.

The website features EDDMapS, the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System, developed by the University of Georgia Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health to document the spread of invasive species. Essentially an online, ever-changing database of real-time information, the easy interface allows users to submit their sightings of invasive plants. Users can visit www.eddmaps.org/alberta to register or simply learn how the system works.

Kelly Cooley, owner of CoolPro Solutions Environmental Consulting near Pincher Creek, served as project lead for getting the initiative off the ground.

“We were very excited to get the project up in Canada,” said Cooley, who has been part of the invasive plant community since the 1990s.

“The vision of it was always a truly North American system and I think that’s still what they’re trying to do.”

Streamlining detection between Canada and the U.S. should help to co-ordinate timely responses to new threats. Cooley said the biggest challenge was giving the program Canadian context for its application in Alberta (which is the first province to develop its own EDDMapS version).

“You had to make sure that everything was in the political and legal speak of Canada and Alberta rather than the U.S. model. The political systems are obviously quite different,” he said.

Fifteen species were selected as targets for the pilot project: Eurasian Watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus), Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), Hoary Alyssum (Berteroa incana), Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica), Meadow Hawkweed (Hieracium caespitosum), Mouse-Eared Hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella), Orange Hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum), Medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae), Pale Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacoris), Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), Salt Cedar (Tamarix spp.), Sulphur Cinquefoil (Potentilla recta), and Yellow Starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis).

Some species are here already, some may be here, and some have not yet arrived. All are considered a serious threat to ecosystems. To report a sighting, users enter information into an online form, which then allows more information and even photos to be entered. The real-time and interactive mapping feature allows observers to obtain a realistic sense of the range, spread and speed of an invasive species as it moves into a new area. This has the potential to allow landowners, governments and organizations the chance to get the upper-hand on an infestation before it becomes entrenched.

Cooley said anyone is welcome to use the system, but groups and organizations with an interest in the problem are especially encouraged to become involved.

“People that are involved in the organizations that are there to protect the native ecosystem or a special place like a park or a natural area,” he said.

To ensure the integrity of the system, all submitted data must be reviewed by verifiers to ensure the sightings are accurate. The Alberta Invasive Plants Council is still looking for knowledgeable volunteers to help with verifying data.

“We would certainly welcome anyone that has plant identification knowledge. They don’t have to be a botanist, but somebody who has reasonably decent skills in plant identification would be a welcome volunteer,” Cooley said.

More information on the Alberta Invasive Plants Council can be found at www.invasiveplants.ab.ca.

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