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Territory creates new council for invasive species

Insidious forces are invading the Yukon. And you're likely to have already come across them. Sweet clover plants up to a metre high can be seen growing all along Yukon highways.

Insidious forces are invading the Yukon.

And you’re likely to have already come across them.

Sweet clover plants up to a metre high can be seen growing all along Yukon highways.

And even oxeye daisies, so pretty in the garden, have begun invading any disturbed sites and pastures, reducing the quality of farmers’ crops.

The newly formed Yukon Invasive Species Council hopes to put an end to the spread of these and other foreign species in the territory.

The group had been functioning as an ad hoc committee for almost six years before it decided to form a council.

“We saw a need,” said founding member Toos Omtzigt.

“Something needs to be done in the Yukon.”

In Canada, most provinces and territories already have an invasive species or plant council.

“We are pretty lucky compared to most people in the world,” said Omtzigt.

“Wherever people move, animals and plants move with them. Because there are so few people in the Yukon and relatively little ground disturbance we haven’t had too much trouble yet.”

However, scientists predict that problems with invasive species may increase as people alter the territory’s landscape more and more.

Increased trade and our rapidly changing climate may also accelerate the introduction and spread of these species.

“I don’t think climate change is the real problem,” said Omtzigt.

“None of the animals or plants will move much without the help of people.”

The invasive species that are already here can cause serious problems.

Sweet clover has the potential to invade naturally bare areas, like gravel bars, which can change the entire ecosystem.

The council will steer clear of certain controversial issues, such as the territory’s elk population, which was artificially introduced for hunting.

“We leave that to the politicians,” said Omtzigt.

“We don’t touch the elk issue and ecologically we don’t consider them to be an invasive species.”

The spruce bark beetle isn’t a concern of the council either, because it’s a naturally occurring pest that is part of the ecosystem.

The new council is working with the territorial government and already receives a lot of in-kind support.

“We’re not an organization with a single focus, so we’re not just an environmentalist group,” said Omtzigt.

“We work with farmers and farmers are part of our group too. Highways is involved, the federal Canadian Wildlife Service, you name it.

The council will try to co-ordinate invasive species management in the Yukon to help prevent their spread.

It also plans to educate and advise the public and professionals about invasive species and their risk to ecosystems and economies through workshops and seminars.

The council will collaborate with other jurisdictions on these issues, such as our neighbours in Alaska, BC and Alberta.

And it will also encourage, promote, and support research on invasive species.

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