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Great Lakes Article:

Cordova - Battle against loosestrife continues
By Mark Hoult
Community Press Online
Posted April 25, 2005


Purple loosestrife was introduced to North American by early settlers close to 200 years ago and spread quickly across the continent. But it was only within the past 15 years that an effective method was found to stem the spread of the attractive but deadly plant that has infested wetlands and even agricultural land, to the detriment of native vegetation, says Dawn Hutchinson, of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.

Hutchinson, who is part of the federation’s Invading Species Awareness Program, spoke to more than 50 area woodlot owners during the Annual Spring Workshop of the Upper Trent Valley Chapter of the Ontario Woodlot Association held April 16 at the Cordova Community Centre.
“We’ve been controlling purple loosestrife successfully for more than ten years now,” Hutchinson said.

However, because purple loosestrife has been brought under control doesn’t mean the threat has entirely vanished, she said, stressing that the plant must still be managed. Unfortunately, the plant and its threat to local habitats have for the most part dropped from the radar of the Canadian media, Hutchinson said.

Which makes educational initiatives such as the Invading Species Awareness Program and Project Purple Week, all the more important. Project Purple Week, to be held this year August 1 to 7, is an educational initiative that often involves enlisting the services of organizations such as the Scouts and Guides, who are called on to co-ordinate events and discussions, Hutchinson said, stressing the need to keep an awareness of purple loosestrife “in the public eye.”

Purple loosestrife can destroy native habitats because it displaces the native plants that wildlife depend on for their survival. It can even spread from wetland to agricultural land, making it a problem for farmers. And once it has a foothold it is very difficult to get rid of by normal methods. Cutting and pulling the plant can result in only limited success in small areas. And chemical control is far from being an ideal answer to the loosestrife infestation. But in the early 1990s researchers hit upon a perfect biological method of controlling the spread of the plant. They decided to introduce a natural enemy in the form of two species of beetle which survive by feeding on the leaves of the purple loosestrife. Following extensive research, the beetles were introduced into Canada. The beetles depend on purple loosestrife to complete their life cycle, so there were no concerns about the insects destroying native plants, Hutchinson explained. They feed on the growing tips of the plant, reducing its ability to flower and produce seed. Eventually infected plants look as though they have been torched, she said.

The beetles have not entirely eliminated the plant which it depends on to survive, so purple loosestrife remains in the ecosystem, Hutchinson said. The difference is that the beetles have created “a natural balance.” As the co-ordinator of the invading species program she continues working with local OFAH clubs, cottage associations, land owners and naturalist groups to keep purple loosestrife under control.

Hutchinson noted that many land owners can’t afford the $900 it cost to do a beetle release. However, the OFAH will arrange for funding for land owners, especially if they have a large wetland area. “We will work with you and initiate a release if you commit to monitoring it for three or four years,” she said.

Last year there were over 80 releases in eastern Ontario, Hutchinson said. Usually a mixture of 5,000 larvae from both species of beetle are released into an ecosystem, she said, noting that the larvae are laid on the leaves of the living plant.

The Invading Species Awareness Program monitors the spread of invading species province wide, while trying to prevent the introduction of new invading species, Hutchinson said. Zebra mussels are another example of how quickly an invading species can spread. They were introduced to the Great Lakes by ocean-going vessels and then moved successfully into the lake system and through the province. To keep zebra mussels under control boaters are encouraged to practice “simple boat hygiene.” This means washing boats and any equipment that has been in the water.

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