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More help needed to control spurge

“We’re just on our own. There’s other weed districts around but they’ve got all they can handle.”

BOB BROWN, DEPUTY REEVE,

R. M. OF CORNWALLIS

Municipal leaders want the provincial government to step up aid for local government’s trying to control the spread of leafy spurge, a voracious noxious weed now said to be infesting some 700,000 acres of land across Manitoba.

Reeves and councillors are growing increasingly concerned they can no longer contain it, and want the province to provide more human and financial resources for a dedicated management program.

A study 10 years ago estimated the weed’s economic impact on Manitoba at $20 million annually. At that time, the infestation was less than half of the area covered today.

Infestations diminish land values, threaten ecosystems, and without action to contain it, gain new ground every year.

“It is a huge problem,” said Bob Brown, deputy reeve of the R. M. of Cornwallis in an interview.

Spurge is everywhere in their municipality, he said. He estimates infestations are easily “in the thousands of acres.” Yet they have no viable means to address it.

“Pastures are just covered with it. Road allowances are bad. In the southeast corner of our R. M. it’s bad. It’s showing up on the edges of our roads now.”

His council brought forward a resolution, which was strongly supported at the Association of Manitoba Municipalities’ (AMM) convention in November calling the province to help create a more “meaningful and effective” leafy spurge management program.

Many local landowners and municipal leaders feel there’s little they can do on their own, Brown said. Their municipality has not been part of a weed district since Brandon withdrew from it a few years ago. So they have neither a weed supervisor nor weed management plan. There are few resources to contact for advice or help, he said.

“We’re just on our own,” he said. “There’s other weed districts around, but they’ve got all they can handle. There really isn’t anything out there to help us, or to help landowners to control it.”

Cornwallis’s situation is by no means rare, according to Ryan Gibson, co-ordinator of the Leafy Spurge Stakeholders Group (LSSG), based at the Rural Development Institute (RDI) in Brandon.

One reason spurge is so out of control is that weed management practices are inconsistent across jurisdictions.

“Management plans across Manitoba vary greatly,” Gibson said. “Whether they be at the individual producer level or at the municipal level or even in some instances at the corporate or industry level, each of those levels have very different plans, and some may not have plans at all.”

The LSSG released a major study in 2000 showing 340,000 acres of land were threatened by the weed. The net economic impact at that time was approaching $20 million a year. “Things have changed dramatically,” added Gibson.

Given the extent of infestations, it’s now felt containment, rather than eradication is the most realistic goal, said Wayne Digby, chair of the LSSG.

That’s why more consistent control measures are so critical to keep the problem from becoming even worse, he said.

“One of our main concerns in particular is with what we call the fringe municipalities, which might be just on the outside edge of the existing leafy spurge areas,” he said.

The weed’s seed is spread by natural dispersal through wind and water, but also through human activity. Day-to-day public works carried out by municipalities is one of these activities. Gravel or soil infested with the seed hauled from site to site advances its spread. Roadside maintenance activities, such as mowing when spurge is producing viable seed also spreads it around.

The LSSG wants to conduct more educational events and host workshops for municipalities to help develop weed management plans, Digby added.

All these efforts require money, however. The LSSG also wants to update its now 10-year-old impact study.

Digby said he’s glad the AMM is making this issue a higher priority now.

“We feel very strongly that there should be more resources put to it,” he said.

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About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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