Photo contributed by H. Fraser, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
by SUSAN MANN
Ontario has made a “great start” to contain foreign plant and insect invaders that threaten its biodiversity and economy, says the Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association’s executive director.
“It may not be all things to all people but you’ve got to start somewhere,” says Harold Rudy of the provincial government’s Invasive Species Strategic Plan released July 3.
The plan outlines how the province will prevent, detect and respond to new threats and manage existing ones such as the emerald ash borer, round goby, zebra mussels, garlic mustard and giant hogweed.
Rudy says the plan, developed by the Ministry of Natural Resources with the assistance of agriculture, environment and transportation ministries, reflects the provincial government’s strong commitment to work with the agricultural sector in tackling pests “that have some influence on our crops.”
Two such pests are the brown marmorated stink bug, which hasn’t yet been identified in Ontario crops but has been intercepted in some imported goods shipments, and the spotted wing drosophila, which is being monitored by the agriculture ministry. The brown marmorated stink bug can attack a variety of crops while the spotted wing drosophila lays its eggs under the skin of ripening, intact fruit and attacks thin-skinned fruit.
The provincial plan describes invasive species as those which come from other countries or regions, and which threaten the environment, economy, or society by disrupting local ecosystems. They are the second greatest threat to Ontario’s biodiversity after habitat loss. It notes that invasive species have significant potential to affect crop growth in Ontario.
Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Mark Wales says they have concerns about the plan and its mention of the government’s unrestricted right of entry. “We have opposed this on lots of other legislation as well.”
Enabling government inspectors to cross through one property to get to another “doesn’t recognize farm biosecurity measures” or the safety of the inspector, he says.
Lorne Small, president of the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario, says that milder winters will make it easier for more insects and pests common to the southern United States to survive here. So, while he says he applauds the government’s effort to control invasive species wherever possible and be aware of them, “these are long term economic issues” that have the potential to be tough contenders down the road.
Ann Slater, Ontario coordinator for the National Farmers Union, says another pest farmers are concerned about is the emerald ash borer. “That’s decimating some woodlots,” she says.
The plan says the natural resources ministry will work with the ministries of environment and agriculture. It also calls for coordinating the efforts of provincial ministries, municipalities, conservation authorities, aboriginal communities and other stakeholders.
Susan Murray, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs spokesperson, says OMAFRA’s role is to monitor and develop response strategies for new invasive species that impact agriculture.
The ministry doesn’t have a dollar figure on how much invasive species cost the industry. Murray says it would greatly depend on the species, the crops that are affected, the control measures available and other factors.
As part of the strategic plan, the government has also committed to renew its partnership with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters to promote greater public awareness of invasive species.
The plan says Ontario has the highest number of invasive species with 441. Quebec has the next highest number at 395.
It further notes that the province will continue to be susceptible to the problem because of:
• Favourable environmental conditions
• Ontario’s industrialized, urbanized, locally and globally mobile society and its high population density
• The presence of industrial manufacturing and import sectors
• Ontario’s multiple land and water entry points and proximity to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway shipping channel
• The degraded habitat and ecosystem in many of Ontario’s ecological regions. BF