A new smartphone app to pinpoint invasive plants has already clicked on some nasty weeds.
The first snapshot in the program's young life came from the north and plenty more have been sent in since then, as the public helps protect the environment with the click of their camera phones.
"What I like about the app is it automatically sends the co-cordinates of your location, when you send a weed picture," said Andrea Eastham, program manager for the Northwest Invasive Plant Council. "When we receive the submission, it pinpoints it on a map, provides the picture of the plant, and that makes it really helpful to follow up on. It think it will do a lot to refine our response."
When anyone spots a plant they think is or might be an alien plant invader, the smartphone click-send is all it takes to deploy an exterminator.
The app was only announced two weeks ago by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. Several government departments (Agriculture, Environment, Jobs, Tourism, etc.) have an interest in killing and preventing more plants that come in from outside the local ecosystem and harm native vegetation. These invading plants - and some of them look beautiful - end up erasing the natural plants that local wildlife needs for food, protection, nesting, and so on. The invasive plants can destroy fish spawning grounds, devalue croplands, ruin hay and other feeds, and create problems for farmers. They can also cause erosion to riverbanks and hills and alter soil chemistry.
Outdoor recreationists, farmers, truckers, foresters, geologists, hunters and fishers often encounter these plants, often in small patches at first. The new app allows anyone to send in the location information with precision. It works with iPhones and Android phones, anywhere there is cell service. It is a free download.
Eastham said the Prince George-based counterattack council has an area of responsibility almost 40 million square hectares in size, so the public is an ally. After all, it is the public that spreads these plants in the first place. The seeds are transported in trucks and trains and parcels and luggage, often blended into otherwise normal garden mixtures, and then gets spread on shoes and tires and backpacks and industrial equipment and boats.
"These plants do not allow for natural succession, they just take over," she said. "We have some really problem-plants in our area, but we are still at a point when early detection and rapid response can be the key to success. In some places in the United States, they have had to resort to pouring chemicals into lakes to mass-eradicate some invaders. Do we really want to be too casual about prevention in our beautiful area and have to go down that road?"
Thanks to public vigilance, the Northwest Invasive Plant Council has pounced on small outbreaks of chicory and a single Hoary Alyssum plant in the Prince George area, as a sign of recent success.
"Someone out riding her motorcycle spotted the Hoary Alyssum and she had worked with the invasive plant council so she knew what it was," said Eastham. "It was growing in the riprap rock beside the new Upper Fraser bridge east of town. The only way that plant got there was in the gravel or the rock or on the equipment used to build the bridge. We are now monitoring that site for the next several years to make sure there isn't any more."
It is also possible to report suspect plants by calling the area's bad weed hotline at 1-866-44WEEDS (449-3337) or the easy links on their website.