June 23rd, 2024

MLA Hunter to lead invasive species task force

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on May 17, 2024.

Herald file photo A provincial task force aims to stop zebra and quagga mussels, as well as other invasive species from entering Alberta.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter has been put in charge of a provincial task force aimed at stopping zebra and quagga mussels as well as other invasive species from entering Alberta.

The Alberta government says the task force will work to improve border protections and find ways in which to strengthen existing programs and rules.

“The team will also assess whether stronger penalties, restrictions, additional inspections or other actions are needed to better protect Alberta,” says the province in a release.

“”Our province faces increasing threats from invasive species. By establishing a task force to combine expertise, resources and dedication, we will work more effectively to prevent the spread of invasive species and safeguard the health of our water bodies for generations to come,” said Hunter.

Alberta is presently free of the mussels which are not a species native to Canada and which can wreak havoc on ecosystems where they are introduced.

The Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force will look at ways to improve inspection, detection and education to prevent the mussels being introduced here.

The government says it has already added inspection stations and inspectors and called on Ottawa to stop invasive species from entering the country.

Two boats have already been intercepted this year entering Alberta that were carrying mussels. They are often introduced to waterways by watercraft crossing borders.

The province estimates they could more than $75 million in damages annually to irrigation infrastructure. The mussels spread rapidly, clog waterways and upset native ecosystems.

Boat inspections have been mandatory here since 2015.

Joining Hunter on the task force are Martin Shields, Member of Parliament, Bow River; Kelly Carter, chief executive officer, Alberta Wildlife Federation; Megan Evans, executive director, Alberta Invasive Species Council; Patrick Hanington, associate professor, Environmental Health Sciences, University of Alberta; Bradley Peter, executive director, Alberta Lake Management Society; Richard Phillips, vice-chair, Alberta Irrigation District; Richard Stamp, president, Stamp Seeds; and Jay White, director of the Alberta Water Council.

Parks Canada recently banned non-motorized watercraft from outside park boundaries from Waterton National Park. Non-motorized craft include windsurfers, sailboats, kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards, paddle boats, belly boats, drift boats, catamarans and other amphibious craft.

Last year, the province inspected 8,818 boats, of which 19 were carrying mussels. Of those boats, 17 came from Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. The others were from Minnesota and Michigan.

Of those 19, 11 were headed to B.C., seven to Alberta and one to Alaska.

For the 2024 boating season, Alberta will utilize seven fixed stations and one crew that will rove. The number of dedicated water inspectors is being increased to 50 from 35 in 2023.

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