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'It'll wreak havoc for wildlife': An invasive plant is threatening Canada's northern wetlands

Reference: CTV News

TORONTO -- Recognized as Canada's worst invasive plant over a decade ago, the Nature Conservancy of Canada is warning that phragmites are starting to threaten the country's northern wetlands, raising concerns for species that live in these habitats.

Eric Cleland, director of Ontario’s Invasive Species Program at the Nature Conservancy of Canada, said phragmites are prevalent across Eastern Canada, all the way to Alberta, and now threaten Canada's North.

"Canada is such a large country and there's so much expansive, pristine wilderness in our northern part of our range of the country," Cleland said in an interview with CTV's Your Morning on Monday.

"If this plant gets into our wetlands and our lakes in northern Canada, it'll wreak havoc for wildlife, and really get to the point where eradication is simply impossible."

Cleland explained that phragmites are a type of invasive plant that spread quickly and out-compete native species for water and nutrients by releasing toxins from their roots into the soil to kill surrounding plants.

They usually grow in wet environments, but since their roots can grow to extreme lengths, they can survive in relatively dry areas as well, he explained.

Phragmites were recognized in 2005 as the country’s worst invasive plant by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Cleland said they're difficult to eradicate because of their root system.

"The plant is so aggressive and has such an aggressive root system that it requires a multitude of different techniques to get rid of including, in many cases, an herbicide," he said.

However, Cleland said the plant has continued to spread in Canada because the country had not approved an herbicide for use near water until this year.

To get rid of the plants, the Nature Conservancy of Canada's approach involves first burning the dead plant material in the winter, and then spraying the plants with an herbicide in the early fall.

The process can be costly for cities, which is why Cleland says it is important to take precautionary measures now. He said early detection and rapid response is key to protecting the region.

"It's much cheaper and much more reasonable an effort to control this plant when it's still young and small and in early infestations in these areas," Cleland said. "When it becomes very prolific, like it has in southern Ontario and Quebec and other parts of eastern Canada, we're talking millions and millions of dollars to remove this."

Cleland says phragmites are Canada's most invasive plant for a "number of reasons."

"It impacts… our environmental values so habitat for wildlife, species at risk and these important areas of wetlands and such that these animals need to live and survive," he said.

Cleland said the plant also impacts Canadians directly by disturbing infrastructure and access to waterfronts... Read More