A conference was recently held in Lacombe aimed at preventing the further introduction of invasive species into the province.
Delinda Ryerson, executive director of the Alberta Invasive Species Council, said there are many foreign species already in the province, and in most cases, once they arrive — they are here to stay.
“They aren’t invasive species unless they fit certain criteria: One is that they are not native to Alberta, and two, that they cause serious detrimental damage to either our environment, our economy or our human health,” Ryerson said.
One invasive species the council is working hard to keep outside Albertan boundaries is aquatic invasive mussels.
“If they arrived in Alberta, it would be absolutely devastating. These things thrive in irrigation canals and it would be billions of dollars to fix,” Ryerson said.
Ryerson said there are large animal invasive species such as wild boars in the province, but the majority of species are often agricultural weeds.
“They cause tremendous damage to farmlands, and once they take off, they have invasive characteristics. They can produce rapidly and often can reproduce by more than one means,” she said.
One of these rapidly reproducing plant species in flowering rush, which is a European aquarium plant that has infested the Bow and South Saskatchewan rivers, as well as Lake Isle near Edmonton.
The plant is often sought after by aquarium owners because of its pretty pink colour and alluring smell.
“It is getting worse all the time, and this stuff chokes out everything else. It is associated with swimmer’s itch and you can end up instead of having a slough, pond or a lake even — you can end up having a flowering rush meadow,” she said.
Closer to home, Prussian carp — a relative of the common goldfish — has infested many bodies of water, from Lacombe all the way to the U.S. border. Ryerson said the council suspects this infestation may have started with someone releasing a pet into the wild.
“These things wreak havoc,” she said. “They eat everything in sight and they are very tolerant of low oxygen levels. They muddy the water up, which results in warmer water with less oxygen.
“They can even actually go through a process called gynogenesis. They can basically reproduce themselves using the sperm of a different fish species.”
Ryerson said the majority of invasive species are caused, unfortunately, by humans who are unaware of the consequences.
“Someone releasing their fish is not someone intentionally wanting to destroy the environment. They just don’t understand the ecological implications,” she said.
The council focuses on educational campaigns, but the province does have punitive legislation in case problems persist, she said.
The council and the province are researching how to remove invasive species without destroying the entire ecosystem, but generally, the only way to protect the environment is to prevent first contact.
“We are trying to do educational things through activities. For example, I am trying to educate about Prussian carp by having a Prussian carp fishing derby, with families getting outside and having fun, but once something like that gets in the system, it is like cream in your coffee — you can’t remove it,” she said.