Invasive species experts from across North America are in Ottawa this week to find new ways to stop their spread, including giving the public a better view of the role they can play.

The Weeds Across Borders conference is held every two years in either Canada, the United States or Mexico. 

It brings together scientists, government officials and other interest groups to address the spread of species such as the emerald ash borer or zebra mussels, which have had a high environmental and economic impact on different parts of the continent and threaten others.

Organizers said a focus of the four-day event is spreading the message that scientists can only do so much and the public has a very important role to stop these species from getting to new areas.

"There's big gains to be made there because you can have all the rules in place but we all know that people don't always follow rules," said Gail Wallin, co-chair of the Canadian Council on Invasive Species.

"Having a more informed public is very important for taking action."

Wallin said some people either don't know or don't care about the invasive plants they bring to their gardens. He added that some boaters don't properly clean invasive species off their vessels.

Some residents volunteer time

Iola Price, a former biologist and current president of the Ontario Invasive Plants Council, is leading a walking tour as part of the conference Friday.

The tour will go through the woods around Ottawa's McKay Lake, an area Price said is near to her home and heart but is also clogged by invasive plants such as dog-strangling vine and buckthorn.

"About the mid-90s it was noticed that you couldn't see the lake anymore from the houses… and as you were walking along the path by the lake shore you couldn't see in, it was a solid line of buckthorn," she said.

"That's an example of when one species moves in, like buckthorn, and changes the whole view, the whole ecosystem."

Price said the same thing is happening with a plant called phragmites around Ontario's Georgian Bay, which is blocking views but also starting to grow through roads, causing costly repairs.

"The province has to rip up the pavement, tear out the phragmites and repave. That's expensive," she said.

Price said she and other volunteers started pulling out the buckthorn and other invasive plants to clear out the wooded areas around McKay Lake and return the ecosystem close to how it was before.

She said she'd like to see more people take an interest in personally fighting invasive species.

"(I'm motivated by) restoring an ecosystem that was very badly degraded, trying to put it back to where squirrels, birds can get some benefit," she said.

The Weeds Across Borders conference begins Tuesday with sessions on changing the public's view of invasive species, followed by two days of presentations then a few tours offered around the city on Friday.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this article named Iola Davis as the current president of the Ontario Invasive Plants Council. That name is incorrect. The current president of the Ontario Invasive Plants Council is Iola Price.
    Oct 14, 2014 11:25 AM ET