The City of Edmonton website lists invasive species as “the second biggest threat to biodiversity,” which naturally begs the question, what’s number one?
“The biggest threat is actually habitat loss,” says Qiting Chen, integrated pest management program coordinator for the City of Edmonton. “With all of the development and expansion of cities, we are pretty much getting rid of a lot of our natural areas. So that’s why it’s the biggest threat to biodiversity.
“But invasive species are also a huge concern worldwide, just because of how competitive they are and their lack of natural enemies,” she adds.
As with many ecological processes, habitat loss and the spread of invasive species tend to feed into each other to create a positive feedback loop that spells trouble for native plant species. It’s a vicious cycle that is top of mind for city conservationists, and it’s also one of the driving forces behind a pilot project combining fun in the sun and the fight against invasive species.
City of Edmonton Plant and Pulls are a brand new collaboration between the City’s Root for Trees initiative and the ‘Spot it. Report it. Remove it.’ weed management campaign. The outdoor events first kicked off on July 10, and as the name suggests, they bring together eager volunteers for an afternoon of weed pulling and tree planting at city parks and green spaces.
“The intent here is to combine both the Root for Trees program with [the] weed pull events, so really having a focus on biodiversity, both in increasing our urban forests through planting of smaller trees and shrubs [and] occasionally wildflowers as well,” says Community Greening Coordinator Lydia Fialka.
And although the pilot project is still just getting started, the strong volunteer feedback from the first few events already bodes well for the budding initiative.
“A lot of the feedback I get is, ‘I’ve done tree planting, but I never knew that the city does volunteer weed pulls,’” says Chen. “And I was like, ‘Great! That’s the whole purpose of why we are doing these integrated events.’
“I’m really happy that a lot of people are getting exposure to the importance of removing invasive species and how it’s helping the tree planting events as well.”
The format of Plant and Pulls is fairly straightforward, with volunteers signing up for upcoming events through the project website. Sites are chosen in advance by City of Edmonton employees and equipment is provided to volunteers upon arrival, with the exception of masks and closed-toed footwear. Volunteers are also equipped with identification guides to help spot common non-native species like Canada Thistle, Himalayan Balsam and White Cockle, although you may be surprised to find one infamous flower curiously absent from the list.
“[Dandelion] is a huge concern for a lot of people, but it’s actually not listed in the Alberta Weed Control act,” says Chen. “It’s more like a horticultural problem than anything — or people find it annoying in terms of aesthetics — but it’s not a concern that we are actually doing a lot of control on because we have more higher priority species.
“Those species, in general, have the ability to outcompete native species, they form a huge monoculture … and they also alter our ecosystems so that they make it difficult for our native species to come back without human interference. So those are the ones that we are really focusing on.”
Reinstating native species in Edmonton’s green spaces is of course the first priority of the Plant and Pull pilot, but the hope is that the events can also be a fun outdoor activity, as well as a chance for volunteers to learn more about community conservation.
“Where our programs come in is building that community capacity, providing that education and those opportunities [for volunteers] to learn about their environment, how they can contribute and how they can make a difference,” says Fialka. “And it’s not just in one way. There’s a variety of different ways that residents can contribute to a healthy and climate resilient city, whether that be at their own residence in monitoring to make sure that there are no regulated weeds that are coming on there, or in our parks and open spaces.”
The next Plant and Pull event will be on July 23, with future dates being posted on the project website. Links to register as a volunteer can also be found on their website.