The chafer beetle, which often goes unseen as grubs below the turf, has destroyed lawns across the Metro Vancouver area, but this year it has been especially damaging to Vancouver parks, forcing the closure of two sports fields.
"We're closing two parks completely. So far this year, we've identified the south field at Bobolink Park and the east field at Musqueam Park," said Brian Quinn, the manager of park operations for the Vancouver Park Board.
"They'll be closed between six and 12 months, depending on how successful our renovation efforts are."
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One of the Bobolink Park fields is already behind an orange fence, with resurfacing efforts underway. Musqueam Park is still sitting in its damaged state, with vast muddy sections where crows, raccoons, and skunks have torn up the turf to make meals out of the plump chafer grubs.
Quinn said the challenges with the chafer beetle have been significantly worse this year, especially in parks in the south part of the city.
He said officials really only took notice of the chafer beetle in the past two or three years, though he thinks the beetle first appeared in New Westminster sometime in the 1980s.
2015 drought a factor
"The sports fields stay healthier because we fertilize them and water them more regularly," said Quinn.
The city's parks that aren't meant for sports are usually more significantly damaged by the beetle and the critters that dig up the grubs, according to Quinn, but due to last summer's severe drought in the region, watering was reduced for sports fields, as well.
"It was really bad last year. As a result of going to Stage 3 watering restrictions, we didn't put as much water on our fields, and so the fields did suffered some stress," said Quinn. "We're now seeing some damage from the chafer beetle that we didn't see before."
Quinn said at least two other parks, Braemar Park and Norquay Park, are badly damaged and may ultimately need to be closed as well, but for now spot repairs are being done.
Task force deployed
"We have a team of employees who are specifically doing this kind of work," said Quinn, adding that you could call the team a task force.
Staff is now working to resurface the two closed parks and repair the many other spots affected. Unfortunately, said, Quinn, the chafer beetle could continue to flourish and spread to other areas all spring, despite the park board's work.
Though Quinn did go out of his way to stomp on several of the grubs he was quickly able to find at Bobolink Park on Tuesday, he said it's not until July — when a nematode-water solution is applied — that the chafer will begin to be killed off in earnest.
Field users displaced
Quinn said the biggest challenge for the Vancouver Park Board is finding other fields for users to move to while the Bobolink and Musqueam parks are closed.
He said, in addition to the children at Oppenheimer Elementary School, which is adjacent to Bobolink Park, there are six or seven affected field user groups, including soccer, baseball, slow pitch and softball leagues.
Concern about future droughts
Quinn said the park board is going to experiment with adding micro-clover and drought-resistant ornamental plants to the passive lawn areas that need repairs, but if the drought returns this summer, officials will look for a way to keep watering the city's sports fields.
"If we reach the conditions that we did last year, especially if we go to Stage 4 water restrictions, we will be considering applying for an exemption with Metro Vancouver to be able to water our sports fields because we can't afford to lose these assets."