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Program to fight alien invaders at Short Hills Park

Conservation group seeks to combat Invasive plant and fish species in Twelve Mile Creek

It’s an almost-invisible problem: alien plant species taking over our forests, wetlands, even our backyards, and choking out native species that have been here for thousands of years.

Birds, animals, insects, amphibians, and fish that have evolved with those native plants are dependent on them and their disappearance spells doom for many other creatures. Invasive species, if left unchecked, can alter an entire ecosystem.

“Many people are not even aware that they have invasive plants on their property,” says Tessa Anderson, who heads up the Aliens Are Invading Twelve Mile Creek program on behalf of the Niagara Chapter of Trout Unlimited Canada. She and her team are launching a four-part program to bring attention to the problem and begin making a difference in the fragile Twelve Mile Creek watershed.

Boot brushes are being installed at the entrances to Short Hills Provincial Park so that hikers can scrape off materials from invasive plants before entering and leaving the park in an effort to stem the spread of unwanted plants. Recent sightings of extremely invasive Japanese Stilt Grass have alarmed environmental scientists who say this is one of the first sightings north of the border.

There are dozens of other invasive species present in the park and the boot brushes are an attempt to bring awareness to the problem and help those who use and value the park to preserve its native plants.

Information booklets will be distributed to some 2500 landowners in and around the watershed to enlist the support of those most affected by the problem. The booklets have clear pictures of the most damaging invasives, along with ways to get rid of them and how to replace them with attractive native species.

To further publicize the issue and gain support from local residents, Tessa Anderson and her team from TUC Niagara will locate ten demonstration sites where her volunteers will identify and eradicate unwanted species of plants and provide and install replacements that are indigenous to the area.

The Aliens Are Invading Twelve Mile Creek program also seeks to enlist “citizen scientists” to help improve the project by identifying and reporting invasive species using an app called EDD MapS. “Mapping sightings of invasives will tell us where these plants are spreading,” says Anderson. “More data will really help us in our project planning.

The program is not limited to the removal of invasive plants. It also targets the increasing problem of goldfish released into streams, ponds, and storm sewers.

“I’ve seen pools with hundreds of goldfish in different parts of the watershed,” says Anderson. “They easily outcompete native Brook Trout. We need to let pet owners know not to dump goldfish but dispose of them humanely or give them back to the pet store.” Advertisements and posters are planned to bring awareness to this problem.

An official launch of the program will take place at the Pelham Road parking lot entrance to Short Hills Provincial Park on September 28, at 10 a.m., with provincial, municipal, and business supporters of the program in attendance for the ribbon cutting.

Aliens Are Invading Twelve Mile Creek is supported by an environmental grant from The Niagara Community Foundation with contributions from the NPCA, Walker Industries, Ontario Parks and Land Care Niagara.