Town and County dealing with purple loosestrife at Sunshine Lake

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A Sturgeon County weed inspector cuts the flowers off some purple loosestrife Tuesday afternoon. The invasive noxious weed was discovered at Sunshine Lake over the weekend by a resident cycling around the lake. – Stephen Dafoe Photo

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By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – A Morinville watershed received an assist from Sturgeon County weed inspectors Aug. 27. Castell van Paridon, a weed inspector with Sturgeon County, was at Sunshine Lake with two other workers Tuesday afternoon to do some damage control on some purple loosestrife growing along the shoreline.

“A couple Morinville residents came in and had noticed there might be some purple loosestrife out here at the pond,” Van Paridon said. “We thought we’d come check it out and, sure enough, there was purple loose strife here.”

Van Paridon said the weed is a prohibited noxious weed, according to the province’s weed control act, one that can multiply rapidly. “They produce about 2.5 million seeds per plant, so they take off pretty quick and can really take over a pond like this. We thought we would do some damage control from here and cut off the flower heads so it’s not spreading.”

The Sturgeon County weed inspector said given the population of the plant at Sunshine Lake, she does not believe the weed has been present long. How it got there is uncertain. The weed expert said seeds could enter the area through the air, be carried by birds or even be tracked on someone’s boots. Van Paridon said the weed could easily triple by next season if left unchecked.

Weed looked out of place

Morinville resident Cliff Haryett came across the plant on a bike ride around the pond Aug. 25. “It was easy enough,” he said of spotting the plant. “It was purple and it was not a native plant.” Haryett said he has been observing Sturgeon County’s weed of the week message on their road sign, an ongoing initiative that kept invasive plants in the forefront of his mind. “We looked it up in noxious weeds and believe it was this,” he said of the tall purple plant.

Haryett and his partner Linda Lyons contacted Town of Morinville Administration and Council Sunday to let them know of what they found. Lyons said they David Schaefer, Morinville’s Director of Corporate Operations, replied on Sunday and Councillor Sheldon Fingler responded the following day. The former indicated he would have the Town’s community peace officers look into the matter. The latter said in his email reply he hoped there would be some quick action on the matter. “That’s the last we heard from anyone,” Lyons said Tuesday afternoon, adding the lack of response prompted her and Haryett to take the plant to the County’s Ag Services Department.

The couple is disappointed with the lack of fast action. “If you suspect that it’s not just a noxious weed, but it’s prohibited and the CPOs took all the courses, I would have thought that they would have come down to look at it and email me to say they checked into it,” Lyons said. “Nothing. Not a phone call. Not an email. Nothing. I’m disappointed. These girls [County weed inspectors] thanked us three times and they were on it.”

Councillor not pleased with response time

Councillor Sheldon Fingler said he was appreciative of the couple making the Town aware of the prohibited weed’s presence around Sunshine Lake. He said he felt immediate action was needed on the matter. “This isn’t the type of weed from what I read on the government website that you wait for,” he said. “You have three peace officers that didn’t take immediate action. Immediate action was required. We have three peace officers that, according to my information, have recently completed the weed inspection course. To me, that would trump looking for blurred license plates.”

Action was taken, administration says

Morinville’s Director of Corporate Operations said after Tuesday night’s Council meeting that the Town had obtained verification the weed was in fact purple loosestrife and that there are a number of techniques used to control the weed. “As a result of that, we are following up with the province to find out the best way and the best timing with which to do so,” Schaefer said, adding the Town did not receive notification from the County that they were on site cutting out the plants.

“Administration has not been given the time to pursue this properly and another jurisdiction has taken steps that we were not aware of,” he said.

Chief Administrative Officer Debbie Oyarzun said she is familiar with the province’s Weed Control Act from her previous work with the province when she participated in the rewriting of the act. “We have calls into the province because there used to be funds available to the municipalities in order to bring in the necessary manpower to do it,” Oyarzun said of properly removing the plant. “The seeds are one thing. In fact, percent germination of those seeds is quite low. It’s actually the root structure that creates the problem.”

Oyarzun said though grateful for the County cutting the flowering heads, she does not know who gave them the authority to do so. “They need to be hand pulled and bagged and burnt,” she said. “There are other disposal techniques and requirements that need to be addressed here. It needs to be a bigger eradication plan.”

The CAO said this particular weed species would take approximately three to five years to eradicate and encouraged residents to make the Town aware of the weed’s presence should they encounter it. “We need to put an eradication plan in place because that’s going to be something that we are going to need to have summer students engaged in over the next three to five years, if we are lucky,” she said. “I’m glad we caught it when we did.”

County decision was to help and to help prevent spread

Sturgeon County’s Acting Agricultural Services Manager Angela Veenstra said purple loosestrife is not common in Sturgeon County and that their weed inspectors were naturally alarmed to learn of its presence
“Because Purple Loosestrife is common in and along water bodies, control options are very limited,” Veenstra said. “We were alarmed when the resident brought the specimen to us because we have never seen this weed in the County; early detection and rapid response are key in preventing prohibited noxious weeds from spreading and establishing.”

Veenstra said ideally, the County would have simply notified the Town of Morinville about the weeds, but the inspectors, who are extremely passionate about what they do, ended up handpicking an entire garbage bag. The noxious weeds were located near the Manawan Drainage System, which runs through a large portion of Sturgeon County. “If Purple Loosestrife seeds get into this drainage system, there is a huge potential for the infestation to spread rapidly and negatively impact multiple wetlands,” Veenstra said, adding the invasive plant is known to degrade wetlands by competing with native plants.

County working hard on weeds

The County began an ongoing public awareness campaign last year and the discovery of purple loosestrife was the direct result of it. The Weed of the Week campaign provides County residents with information to identify and detect noxious weeds on land all around them. It was that campaign that ultimately raised Morinville Resident Cliff Haryett’s awareness the purple plant may be a noxious weed.

“The Weed of the Week campaign has given County Weed Inspectors additional tools with which to inform the public about the impacts of noxious weeds and the municipality’s role in eradicating them,” said Sturgeon County’s Corporate Communications Manager Calli Stromner. “We have been very methodical in our approach with this education campaign and it has paid huge dividends; the purple loosestrife case is the crown jewel in our campaign and really demonstrates that public education and information doesn’t stop at any particular municipal boundary.”

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4 Comments

  1. Instead of getting our knickers in a knot over the County working in our Town how about a great big THANK YOU !!

  2. OK folks, either this stuff is a problem – or it isn’t…

    Either way, there was absolutely NO call for our illustrious Director of Corporate Operations’ abrupt and very rude comment to the citizen who first reported this situation – We all realize you don’t work 24 hours a day Mr. Schaefer but, assuming this to be the serious challenge our provincial government says it is, even you must realize that a delay of 48 hours (+) is unacceptable. It is most unfortunate that your lead Community Peace Officer hand only returned from holidays Monday, but with two other ‘qualified’ CPOs in your stable could you not at least have sent one of them to check out the problem? Ooops – forgot – you don’t live in Morinville, do you? So why should we expect you to have any sense of urgency with respect to any problem which may arise in OUR community?

    So our CAO, based on her experience, thinks it should take three to five years to eradicate this problem. I definitely do not agree but I can certainly understand how a dedicated and dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrat can think this way. For those of you who might not be fully aware of how and why Alberta thinks this stuff is so nasty, check out this website:

    http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$Department/deptdocs.nsf/all/prml3969

    Here are a couple of ideas for consideration (not that I expect Administration to even contemplate that which does not emanate from their hallowed offices)… And I’m really sorry you have not had time to hire a consultant to point the way to a solution, but sometimes you just have to get off your butt and, in the words of the immortal Larry the Cable Guy: “GIT ‘ER DONE!!)

    Idea Number One. Why not use this as a sort of test for our new Emergency Management Bylaw? I realize that this might not exactly fit the parameters of an “Emergency” but might this not be a reflection of our preparedness to handle a real emergency should one ever arise?

    Idea Number Two. Use this situation as a form of ‘team-building’ exercise for our Administration staffers. Section off Sunshine Lake in accordance with the size of each of our Administrative departments, issue the staff with a bunch of shovels and garbage bags and, once again: “GIT ‘ER DONE!!).

    Idea Number Three. In conjunction with Idea Number Two, call for volunteers to assist our Municipal Administration staffers in this endeavor. I’m pretty confident that residents – particularly those who live on or near Sunshine Lake (or ANY body of water in Morinville for that matter!) should be willing to help out. Hell, for that matter turn the whole exercise into a “Community Picnic” (Festival Committee – take note!)

    Simplistic as these approaches might seem to be, I truly believe this stuff could be eradicated in a matter of days – NOT YEARS!

    Have a nice day folks.

  3. MEA CULPA!

    I have just been advised that MY original ‘deduction’ (which assumed prompt and massive intervention respecting this infestation) that eradication could be a matter of days, vice years is quite probably WRONG!!

    It would appear that eradication depends very much on the status of seeds dropped by the plant, which MAY sit in the water for a number of years before germinating.

    CAO… my apologies.

    However, I still believe that a much quicker response in removing the EXISTING plants is key to REDUCING the potential of spreading this pestilence.

    Have a nice day.

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