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MLA Hunter pushing international collaboration to combat invasive species threats

Posted on May 23, 2024 by admin

By Trevor Busch
Westwind Weekly News

Heading up the province’s new aquatic invasive species task force, Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter argues that to be effective there needs to be close co-ordination between state and provincial governments on either side of the international border.

The province is currently free of any zebra or quagga mussel infestation, but confirmed detections in Idaho and Manitoba in 2023 have increased apprehension in Alberta about the problem.

Announced at the end of March, the province is increasing the number of watercraft inspection stations, adding more dedicated watercraft inspectors, and calling on the federal government to conduct mandatory inspections at the United States border.

“So we’re going to move fairly quickly on a few issues that I think are going to be helpful, bringing us back to more what you saw back in 2014 in terms of inspection stations and canine sniffer units, but we’ve got some more stuff that we need to do,” said Hunter. “One of the things that we are very concerned about is the coordination between provinces and states, so that we can have a coordinated approach to making sure that these invasive species do not come in. Idaho had a kind of a scare last year, and they had to treat a portion of the Snake River with a pretty aggressive treatment. I think they use a copper treatment. To this day, we still don’t know whether or not they actually got them all, and whether or not they do another treatment or more treatments. But these things when they get in, so quickly, they cause major problems for any irrigation, and obviously, for your freshwater and lakes and streams and rivers. So this one is a five-alarm fire that we have to address. And the premier is 100 per cent all over this, and so is the Minister of Environmental Protected Areas.”

Hunter’s task force will work with partners to discuss critical topics like how to improve border protections, ways to strengthen the province’s rules and programs, and whether stronger penalties, restrictions or other approaches are needed.

Zebra and quagga mussels and other aquatic invasive species can be easily introduced by boats and other watercraft moving across borders. If established inside Alberta’s borders, they could wreak havoc, threatening ecosystems and costing more than $75 million annually in damages to irrigation infrastructure, according to recent estimates.

So invasive mussels are no joke. That’s why Hunter is advocating for cross-border co-ordination.

“International is what I’m looking for. I went to sit in on the Council of State Governors West. I co-chair one of their committees. It allows me to be able to kind of chat with them – I’m going to be bringing forward a motion that I’m working on with that organization, to try to be able to help the coordination of the efforts. So I’m excited about that work, I think that the more we’re aware of it, there’s multiple things we’ll have to do to be able to make sure that we keep these things out.”

The provincial government is investing $2.5 million to increase watercraft inspection and decontamination, increasing the number of fixed watercraft inspection stations from five to seven this year, and a new roving inspection crew will criss-cross the province to follow-up on notices from the Canadian Border Service Agency and increase inspections at high traffic locations and events. The goal is to add four more stations in 2025. Alberta will also add an additional dog and handler team to the invasive species K-9 inspection unit. Alberta Environment and Protected Areas will invest $400,000 to expand its K-9 unit to three dog and handler teams and collaborate with the team in Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation on high-priority projects such as invasive species detection.

“One of the parts is proper inspections, but also just awareness with regular people in our society, they need to be aware that they could be possibly carrying it, even though they don’t know,” said Hunter. “And most people, I would say 99.99 per cent of the people are not going to want to bring these things back in for any malicious intent, obviously. But they could have it within their boat in larvae stage. And then you bring it in without them even knowing. So we want them to be aware of that. So there’s going to have to be some more work done in terms of getting the message out. Similar to what we did very effectively back in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s with being rat free in Alberta, we kind of want to maybe have that same kind of approach.”

Hunter, who also serves as Parliamentary Secretary for Agrifood Development, wants to make sure that nothing slips through cracks in the province’s united front. 

“It will be an international effort between the United States and Canada, and the states and provinces. And so we’re going to work quite a bit on that. I think that’s probably the best thing that we can do with that task force. And then also just making sure that we’re dotting all of our I’s and crossing all of our T’s so that we’re not missing anything.”

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