Doug McRae, left, and Karen Hanna pull an invasive plant species call hawksbeard in the Spruce Hill subdivision in Whitehorse on July 13. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Getting into the weeds

Volunteers remove invasive species during 2020 weed pulls

Weeds, weeds everywhere.

While many Yukoners spend part of their day pulling weeds out of their gardens or yards this time of year, there’s also a crew of volunteers spending many evenings working to keep the invasive species out of their neighbourhoods as much as they can.

The Yukon Invasive Species Council non-profit group has been hosting weed pull events for the last six years with a little more than a half dozen volunteers turning out on a given night, pulling everything from sweetclover (tall green-stemmed plants with small white or yellow buds up the side) to narrowleaf hawksbeard (a yellow tufted plant that looks a lot like a dandelion) out of the ground to prevent the weed from taking over, the council’s executive director Andrea Altherr said in a July 13 interview.

A quick look at the schedule shows events in most areas around Whitehorse with this week covering Wolf Creek, Mount Sima, Riverdale and Hillcrest.

In 2019, nearly 100 volunteers spent more than 200 hours over the summer pulling three truckloads and 59 garbage bags of weeds under the initiative.

Andrea Altherr, Yukon Invasive Species Council executive director, in safety vest, explains to volunteers which weeds they will be pulling in the Spring Hill subdivision in Whitehorse on July 13, 2020.(Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

“It’s a big effort,” Altherr said, adding that along with the weed pulls organized by the council, there’s a number of individuals who make a point of pulling out weeds like sweetclover on their own walks and outings in their neighbourhoods. That makes a big difference in reducing the amount of invasive species growing there, Altherr said.

As Altherr said, many know the invasive species are overtaking roadsides and they want to see the territory’s natural flora — fireweed, for example — that was previously part of the roadside landscape come back.

For many as well, it’s an opportunity to be outside, “getting their hands dirty” while doing something positive for their community.

“People want to be engaged,” she said.

While not all invasive species can be eradicated, efforts are made to help manage the growth of the weed in the territory.

“[For] species that are already well established, i.e. sweet clover, management to control the spread is the strategy,” it’s noted on the group’s website.

“Management through eradication, containment, and control efforts is needed for established invasive species to minimize their environmental and economical impacts and prevent their spread.”

Those efforts have seen stretches of road in the Cowley Creek and Mary Lake subdivisions eliminated of invasive species where they were once overrun with white sweetclover; spotted knapweed plants removed from the Carcross desert with no seeds produced in the last five years; and the removal of smooth brome from the Alsek Valley to help protect Yukon draba, a species at risk in the territory.

Andrea Altherr, Yukon Invasive Species Council executive director, explains the difference between an invasive species, like hawksbeard, left, and an introduced species that is not considered invasive like alsike clover, right, in Whitehorse on July 13, 2020.(Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Like many things in 2020, this year’s weed pull events will be a little shorter than past years due to COVID-19 as Altherr said the council had to look at changes in how the weed pulls could happen and waited until the territory moved to phase 2 of its reopening.

Though weed pulling, by nature, is something that is easy to do with distancing measures in place, there are some changes that have been made to ensure safety.

The council, for example, is no longer providing gloves to volunteers, but instead asks that they bring their own. The council is continuing to provide safety vests as they can be easily cleaned in between each weed pull as well as garbage bags.

Altherr noted the garbage bags are extremely important for the proper disposal of certain weeds — narrowleaf hawksbeard, for example — that have seeds, which can easily spread even after the weed has been removed from the ground. Those weeds need to be placed in a garbage bag that’s tied shut and taken to the landfill, she said, noting that even using compostable bags for those plants can result in seeds spreading once the bag breaks down, thus just moving the problem of invasive species elsewhere.

Meanwhile, there are other weeds like sweet clover that can be pulled from the ground and left to dry up without a high risk of seeds spreading.

Weed pull events are scheduled into the third week of July with a full schedule and meeting places available on the council’s Facebook page.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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