B.C. designs Web tool to weed out invasive plant information

The B.C. government is using a Web-based tool to tackle invasive plants that could save the province millions of dollars annually as well as help reduce the use of chemicals, according to Forests and Range Minister Rich Coleman.

The Invasive Alient Plants program is a system for mapping and entering data about weeds and how they are treated. It is the first of its kind in Canada, officials said.

Coleman said in an interview that using the program, staff at the various ministries, including his, that deal with invasive plants can share information far more readily. Making it Web-based was crucial, he said.

“That way, we can prevent unnecessary herbicide applications and protect investments already made to manage invasive weeds,” Coleman said. “People can share the information so we’re not duplicating.”

About 200 people from industry and local weed committees, as well as staff in the ministries of Forests and Range, Transportation and Highways, Environment, and Agriculture and Lands, will use the system to enter, edit and query invasive plant information such as treatment methods and data, monitoring information, site details and weed inventory.

Use of the entire program is restricted to those involved in fighting alien plant species. However, the public will have unrestricted access to the B.C. map displaying the data.

The program includes a tutorial to help members of the public use the map, which allows users to zoom in to any part of the province to discover, among other things, where invasive plants are and what kind of treatment has been used on them.

About 140 species of invasive plants are estimated to cost B.C. $50 million annually, Coleman said, through the damage they do to crops, livestock, forests and wildlife habitat. They can even reduce property values.

In contrast, the new program, developed in-house, cost just $500,000 to produce, Coleman said.

“I think it’s going to save money and increase efficiencies in our whole action plan to deal with invasive weeds,” he said.

The province is planning to boost its annual spending on fighting invasive plants to $8 million by next year.

Coleman said he hopes that B.C. will exchange information on invasive plants with its two immediate neighbours.

“I think eventually we’ll see other jurisdictions like Alberta and Washington State also share information with us on successes that they have, because this is something that we’re all facing,” he said. “We do try and stay ahead of it, but invasive weeds are like another blight on the landscape.”

A large portion of B.C.’s economy relies on native plants, especially through forestry.

According to the latest provincial budget update, released by Finance Minister Carole Taylor on September 14, revenue from forestry is expected to bring $1.246 billion this year to government coffers.

Without their natural insect predators or plant pathogens, alien plant species can aggressively outgrow both crops and native plants.

Their impact is both economic and ecological. By displacing native vegetation, the weeds reduce forage for both wildlife and livestock. They can damage native ecosystems and threaten biodiversity. Invasive alien plants can reduce water quality and hurt fish habitat, and even increase the risk of wildfires.

Weeds are spread by humans, and to a lesser extent by water, livestock, wind and wildlife. Once widely established, they are impossible to eradicate.

The government’s invasive plant program relies on an “Integrated Pest Management” approach, which uses a combination of chemical, biological and mechanical methods to control invasive plants.

Comment: sschick@itbusiness.ca

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