Ontario a magnet for invading ‘alien’ species due to Great Lakes

Jordan Chittley
Daily Brew

The aliens have landed and their favourite province is Ontario.

They may be tough to recognize because they aren't green with beady eyes and bulbous heads, but a Government of Ontario plan recommends drastic measures for dealing with the large number of invasive species.

"The ecological effects of invasive species are often irreversible and, once established, they are extremely difficult and costly to control and eradicate," reads the Ontario Invasive Species Strategic Plan.

Ontario is already part of a national plan called "An Invasive Alien Species Strategy for Canada", which was approved in 2004.

However, with 1,017 non-native vascular plants, Ontario has almost the same number as the rest of Canada at 1,384 species. The plan states Ontario is a haven for invading species due to the nature of its society, economy and geographic location.

The geographic location being key because it is at the end of the St. Lawrence Seaway and has multiple land and water entry points with the Great Lakes. Canada's most populous province also leads in the invading freshwater fish category with 26 known species.

While there is no analysis of the net cost in Ontario, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation said in 2009 the environmental affects and economic loss exceed $100 billion in the U.S. alone.

Toronto will spend $37 million over five years to cut and replace trees killed by the emerald ash borer and zebra mussels have cost Ontario Power producers $6.4 million per year. The Ontario Biodiversity Council also shows the aliens are affecting 20 per cent of the native species.

The report, which was posted this week on the province's environmental registry, recommends developing "rapid response protocols which respond to new infestations with an understanding of the social, economic and environmental impacts."

In addition to coordinating with all levels of government to design the plan of attack, it recommends giving the agencies the tools to, if necessary, eradicate the species quickly. Finally, the report calls for giving the government access to private property to conduct inspections and prevent movement.

Alien species can get to Ontario in a number of ways. Possibly the largest cause may be due to 64 per cent of containers that arrive in Canada being opened in the Great Lakes basin. This is how the Asian long-horned beetle came to Ontario, while the plan states zebra mussels rode in ship ballast.

The plan is a high-level look at the problem and what can be done to reduce the effects. It states the Ministry of Natural Resources "will coordinate the development of an annual implementation plan, which will outline the particulars of what will be done."

(Thinkstock photo of zebra mussels)