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Macleod threatened by weed infestation

Spotted knapweed will be the main target of volunteers Saturday during a ‘weed pull' in River Valley Wilderness Park.

Common burdock is another weed of concern in Fort Macleod.

It’s been said that a weed is just a flower growing in the wrong place.
With that in mind, anyone with a hand in good picking order, and some kind of digging tool, is invited to come out and pick flowers that are growing in the wrong place on Saturday, June 18 at River Valley Wilderness Park.
“Everyone is welcome,” Ronda Reach of Fort Macleod’s Environment Committee said. “Service clubs, town residents of all ages and backgrounds, students to seniors, outdoor and recreational enthusiasts, naturalists and conservationists and not just those interested in helping maintain our park and ecosystem along the waterways, but those interested in gardening who want to learn about noxious weeds as well. They may be growing in your own garden.”
Neighbouring communities such as the Piikani Nation and Blood Tribe as well as residents of the MD of Willow Creek are also invited to join in.
Much of Wilderness Park was under water when regional weed co-ordinator Kelly Cooley viewed it recently, but he said there are definitely areas with weed infestations.
“I haven’t conducted a comprehensive inspection, but did do a walk through two weeks ago, and found isolated weeds along the parking area and walking trails,” Cooley said. “The worst area runs along the gravel road that borders the river and the park.”
Cooley will attend the weed pick Saturday to help people identify the culprits.
“Spotted knapweed will be the main target,” Cooley said. “Secondary concerns include common burdock, leafy spurge, common toadflax, and blueweed. There may be other species present, but much of the park was underwater when I did my walk through.”
Weeds left unchecked pose a serious threat to the environment, Cooley said. He warned that several of the weed species are capable of spreading throughout and beyond the Wilderness Park boundaries. They’re unpalatable to livestock and wildlife species, and end up choking out desirable vegetation, including native species as well as managed pastures and crop land.
Some, such as knapweed and leafy spurge, are capable of forming dense monoculture stands that exclude all other vegetation.
In fact Cooley likens the weed problem to an alien invasion with an agenda to take over.
“They are invasive plants, and they are eating up ground in and around Fort Macleod at an alarming rate,” Cooley said. “Desirable vegetation in the community is slowly being choked out by plants often mistaken for pretty wildflowers. Many were actually introduced by unsuspecting gardeners as ornamentals plantings.”
Cooley said people who make their living by agriculture, particularly ranchers who raise stock on native rangeland have been fighting invasive species for years — sometimes losing the battle.
“These producers have come to understand the bitter lesson that comes after a small infestation over time turns into a huge, expensive problem that drastically reduces the productive capacity of their land,” Cooley said. “There are numerous cases in Canada and the United States where formerly productive lands have been rendered completely useless, where creeping rooted perennial invaders like leafy spurge and knapweed have established a monoculture on hundreds of thousands of acres, and the horrendous long-term control costs have forced land owners — and municipalities — to abandon these areas altogether.”
The weed pick at River Valley Wilderness Park is a new venture in Fort Macleod organized by the Environment Committee, and they’d like to see it become an annual event.
“To my knowledge this has not been done in recent years,” Reach said. “We hope to encourage awareness of invasive plants, and we want it to be ongoing – not just a one day event. We’d like to see it happen each year.”
“The Environment Committee is supportive of building awareness for all members of the community,” Reach said. “We want everyone to be more aware of our local environment and what can be done to promote biodiversity and native plants.”
People are invited meet at the parking lot at River Valley Wilderness Park north of Mackenzie Bridge by 10 a.m. June 18.
People should dress comfortably and come prepared to ward off mosquitoes and too much sun.
“I recommend that people wear long sleeve shirts, pants, a hat, and please bring a pair of gloves and insect repellent,” Reach advised.
The weed pull has been financed with funding from the Oldman Watershed Council, the Town of Fort Macleod, and the MD of Willow Creek.
The Town of Fort Macleod, recognizing weed control is an issue that requires immediate and ongoing attention, has entered into an agreement with the MD of Willow Creek’s agricultural service board, which will help town staff combat invasive plants within town limits throughout the spring, summer, and fall.
For more information on the weed pull please contact Linda Ripley at 403-553-3871 or Ronda Reach at 403-553-4731.
For more information about invasive plants contact southern Alberta weed co-ordinator Kelly Cooley at kcool@platinum.ca.
To learn more about invasive plants, visit the Alberta Invasive Plants Council Web site at invasiveplants.ab.ca.

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