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July 29th, 2015 ~ Vol. 85 No. 30
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Community groups unite to fight weeds in Hillcrest
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Ezra Black Photo
Volunteers gathered in Hillcrest July 23 for a community weed pull. About 18 volunteers from a variety of community groups gathered 90 bags of invasive weeds.
EZRA BLACK
Pass Herald Reporter
In the lead up to the war in Iraq Condoleezza Rice said, “We need a common enemy to unite us.”

Those words rang true last week when eighteen volunteers from a coalition of local organizations met along the Crowsnest River in Hillcrest to see off dangerous threats including scentless chamomile, toadflax, tansy and spotted knapweed.

Brought to North America from the old world for its ornamental value, spotted knapweed escaped gardens and yards and is now threatening agricultural fields. It’s allopathic, which means it can take over whole fields by releasing an enzyme into the soil that will kill other plants.

“It’s chemical warfare among weeds,” explained the municipality’s agricultural fieldman Bill Hnatiuk.

Because there are only limited infestations in the province, it is now classified as prohibitive noxious species, which means it’s still eradicable but if it spreads and becomes a bigger problem it’ll be reclassified as noxious, which is the government’s way of throwing up its hands and acknowledging that it’s here to stay.

“Eventually it’ll go the way of the dandelion,” said Hnatiuk. “This stuff needs to be eradicated.”

Dandelions can go great in a salad. They can also be used to make wine and livestock will graze upon them but spotted nap weed doesn’t have any economic value, said Hnatiuk.

Also on the weed pullers hit list were burdock, common mullein, oxeye daisy and blue weed.

“Weeds are opportunistic,” explained seasonal weed inspector Ashley Lema and they like to use the river, the highway and the railway to transport their seeds, which can cling to recreational vehicles, clothing and pets.
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“We’re the vector for everything east of us, so we have a huge responsibility to keep weeds under control for the rest of the province,” said Lema. “We’ve got all sorts of invasive species coming in from B.C. and heading to our agriculture fields to the east.”

As the volunteers removed weeds along the riverbank, riparian technician Ashley Hynes explained that herbicides can’t be used in riparian zones, which makes the work a mechanical process of hands, shovels and garbage bags.

A riparian area is the zone between the water and the water table, so basically the riverbank, and it’s an important habitat essential to water quality and control.

“We’re improving the riparian health and all the species that live here and we’re keeping the integrity and biodiversity of the area because the invasive weeds start to replace native species,” said Hynes. “It was nice to see members of the community engaged and wanting to keep this area healthy.”

Farmers around Lethbridge have a huge interest in keeping their fields weed free and usually the province responds by giving the Agricultural Services in the Pass a healthy budget but Alberta Transport cut this year’s weed control budget along Highway 3 by 50 per cent.
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A July 21 report by CAO Sheldon Steinke said that Canadian Pacific Railway has also reduced funding to do weed control along the railway. The report said requests for additional funds have been sent out to both agencies.

But the Pass’ Agricultural Services have made do and among the three of them, Hynes, Hnatiuk, Lema and a handful of dedicated volunteers have pulled up two tons of weeds, this spring and summer. They’ve reclaimed 1.5 kilometers of riparian area and cleared 1.6 hectares of land. They’ve also educated the public on the dangers of invasive weeds.

Agricultural Services would like to thank the Blairmore Lions for bringing food to last week’s event and Atco Gas for bringing the barbecue. They’d also like to thank Copy Magic, Riversdale Resources, the Community Peace Officer, members of the Fire/Rescue Department, Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy of Canada, the Crowsnest Conservation Society and citizen volunteers.
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July 29th ~ Vol. 85 No. 30
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