A concerned resident posted on the Town of Onoway’s Facebook page about Lac Ste. Anne County spraying in residential areas. This article is designed to address the large variety of questions and concerns that were brought up in the comments section as a result of this post.
Signs were placed in the entrances of various subdivisions in order to provide residents with notification before the spraying occurred. The first signs were placed August 14, and spraying began August 16. The signs were placed with enough time to provide residents arriving home in the evening or leaving in the morning to call the County office before their subdivision was sprayed. That way, if residents had questions or concerns, they could direct their questions to the County office and/or Agriculture Services. We are always happy to explain our activities. The reason we are applying herbicide within these residential areas is to spot spray county ditches and municipal reserves within subdivisions for noxious and prohibited noxious weeds. There are more than 70 species of plants listed on Alberta’s Weed Control Act that are deemed noxious or prohibited noxious. You can find the act Here.
The goal of the Act is to control the spread of noxious weeds, and eradicate any prohibited noxious weeds. These plants make it onto the list by being invasive (they out-compete native vegetation) or have varying levels of toxicity to humans, livestock, or wildlife. These plants put sensitive ecosystems such as wetlands, and agro-ecosystems such as pastures, crop fields, or gardens at risk. Once these weeds make it into one of these systems, they are incredibly difficult to remove. We spot spray the subdivisions as a cost-effective method to reduce the spread of these weeds, and to do our part in the battle against invasive species.
We use a variety of registered herbicides in our spray program, but the product we are using for the subdivision ditches is called Clearview. The label and SDS are available Here. Clearview is a group 4 herbicide, and is broadleaf selective. Plants have a hormone called auxin that regulates their growth – mammals and reptiles do not have this hormone. Group 4 herbicides act as a synthetic auxin in the plant, deregulating the plants growth. Once applied, the sprayed area is safe to re-enter as soon as the sprays have dried; often, this is less than an hour.
In order for any herbicide to be registered in Canada, it must through more than 250 individual tests over the course of a minimum five year period, at a cost of more than $150,000,000.00 to the chemical company. The product must comply with related aspects of: the Pest Control Products Act, the Food and Drugs Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, the Fisheries Act, and the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, as well as province specific legislations (in Alberta, this is would be the Environmental Code of Practice for Herbicides available Here. A herbicide will NOT be registered if it is: carcinogenic, mutagenic, or causes birth defects. The product goes under review every ten years in order to guarantee its safety, and at that point must be re-registered at an additional cost to the company.
There are strict regulations on spraying in sensitive ecosystems (such as wetlands), and we take those very seriously. That is why we are doing what we can to prevent the spread of these plants before they enter those systems.
The risks that herbicides pose to humans, animals and the environment are mitigated in a variety of ways. The staff members who handle the products are certified and licensed to spray, have had training with the Assistant Agricultural Services Manager, and have been to several training days coordinated with neighbouring counties. This training focusses on safe handling and application of the products, and weed identification. The largest risk with herbicide application is excessive exposure; to prevent this, they are provided personal protective equipment. Once mixed in solution, the exposure risk of the herbicide is lowered significantly. The amounts that we are spraying on subdivision roadsides are quite small, and pose minimal risk to the health and livelihood of those in surrounding areas.
Lac Ste. Anne County offers a no-spray program that residents can pay annually to be a part of. In joining this program, residents take ownership of the county ditch adjacent to their property, and agree to keep it weed and brush free. We only spray weeds and brush when they are present, so if your ditches are clean, we have no need to intervene. Our main prerogative at the County is the control of noxious and prohibited noxious weeds. Unfortunately, there are many other frustrating plants that grow on the road – such as sweet clover – that impede visibility and can hide animals approaching the road. We do what we can to keep large infestations of those nuisance weeds under control, but there are many miles of road to cover, and only two roadside spray trucks.
Biological control – although mentioned jokingly in the Facebook comments – is actually a great option. Lac Ste. Anne is looking to expand this aspect of our weed control. We have ordered two trays of stem-mining thistle weevils and will place them at two locations near sensitive ecosystems to hopefully control the thistle issues. However, there are downsides to biological control. This method will never provide 100% control. As well, it can take many years to establish, and often the infestations grow faster than the biocontrol agent reproduces. On top of that, there are many regulations and tests the biocontrol agent must pass in order to be approved for use, so there are limited options out there - and not all invasive species have an associated biocontrol agent approved for use in Canada. Provincial highways are out of County jurisdiction. However, we can inform Alberta Transportation of sections of highway that need vegetation management. If this is the case, please contact the Agriculture Services department. They would be happy to forward your concerns to Alberta Transportation.
Lac Ste. Anne County would like to apologize for any confusion caused by our signs. We still plan to go ahead with spraying County land within subdivisions, but we will provide a minimum of 24 hours notice before we spray, by use of the signs. If you do not want your ditches sprayed, please contact the County and we will be happy to oblige.
The County always seeks to keep the lines of communication open. As such, residents are encouraged to bring questions and concerns directly to us. If you would like additional information on anything addressed in this article, please call Agricultural Services at 780.785.3411.