NATURE WISE: Learn the costs of alien species growing in the RDOS

Is the B.C. government taking invasive species seriously enough?

Thanks to the work of local biologist Lisa Scott and the RDOS program to combat invasive weeds, most readers should be aware of the vast number of alien species of plants now growing throughout the South Okanagan and the huge economic and environmental cost of those invaders.

The list of invasive species is growing annually if not monthly. Many of these invasive species arrived here accidentally  (e.g. cheat grass) but an equally large number were actually purposely introduced — some as garden ornamentals which rapidly expanded outside people’s gardens (e.g. baby’s breath).

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency estimates that just invasive plants alone cost the Canadian economy about  $7.5 billion per year and that cost is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

One of the more recent and deadly invasive species is West Nile virus. It first appeared in New York City in 1999 but is now found pretty well everywhere in North America. So far this year the U.S. has reported almost 100 deaths attributed to West Nile. Canada has apparently so far escaped any deaths this year, but Ontario has reported about 90 cases of the virus. No cases have been reported in the Okanagan this year.

Quagga mussels, and the closely related Zebra mussels, cost the Ontario economy millions of dollars per year. With no natural predators, these mussels grow so fast they literally clog the intake pipes for power plants and other industrial plants. It is feared that if they ever get established in B.C. waters, they could wreak havoc on our hydroelectric power plants.  Recently a boat from Arizona was found in Shuswap Lake with mussels attached to its hull. We dodged a bullet when it was determined that the mussels were dead.

I’m not sure the B.C. government is taking invasive species seriously enough. For example, this spring I travelled from Nevada into Idaho where at the border entering into Idaho there was an inspection station and every vehicle towing or carrying a boat was required to pull over and be inspected for invasive species.  We are certainly not doing anything like that here and yet the cost of inspecting incoming boats is probably a small fraction of the costs that will be incurred in trying to fight the invaders.

To learn more about about invasive species in B.C. visit the Penticton Museum to see the exhibit Aliens Amongst Us which runs until Nov. 17.

The naturalists’ club resumes monthly meetings on Sept. 27 when Lisa Scott will present a program on invasive species entitled Mussels and rock snot and snakeheads, oh my.  The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Penticton United Church.   Everyone is welcome.

Bob Handfield is Vice-president of the South Okanagan Naturalists’ Club but the views expressed here are his.

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