Ontario is launching a new attack on invasive species.

Insects and fish not native to the province take over habitat, threatening both the environment and the economy. 

Whether it's zebra mussels clogging municipal water pipes or the emerald ash borer destroying city-owned trees, invasive species cost Ontario taxpayers upwards of a $100 million each year. That doesn't count the impact species have on farming, forestry and fisheries. 

"We need to do what we can to reduce the harmful impact of the existing species and to roll back the damage that's already been done with those that are in place," said Minister of Natural Resources Michael Gravelle.

So, the provincial government is unveiling a new strategic plan for tackling invasive species. It talks of strengthening laws, improving scientific research and beefing up enforcement. The goal is to prevent invasive species from arriving in Ontario and then to respond rapidly if they do. 

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The emerald ash borer is one of several invasive species in Ontario. (Government of Canada)

Some key tactics in the report include:

  • Better engaging existing advisory committees, councils and stewardship groups to address invasive species issues.
  • Ensuring linkages and improve coordination between provincial ministries, municipalities, conservation authorities, aboriginal communities, and other stakeholders such as non-government organizations.
  • Improving engagement with aboriginal people and groups to address invasive species issues.
  • Continuing to support the work of the Ontario invasive Plant council on invasive plant management.
  • Seeking inclusion of "invasive species" as a standing agenda item on the canadian Wildlife Directors committee.

The plan also calls for better communication and co-ordination among federal, provincial and municipal governments that have a role to play in combating invasive species.

The document says Ontario has historically had more invasive species than other provinces and is therefore at a higher risk of having non-native species than other regions in Canada.

Ontario has 441 invasive species. Quebec has 395. British Columbia has 368.

According to the report, Ontario has been and will continue to be susceptible to invasive species arriving and surviving due to the favourable environmental conditions and nature of our society, which is industrialized, urbanized, locally and globally mobile. Ontario's proximity to a major international shipping channels like the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes St. and multiple land entry points make it easy for species to move.

The report calls for the province to work with the federal government to increase capacity for inspections and enforcement at Canada’s borders and key ports of entry.

John Urquhart is with the conservation group Ontario Nature. He called the plan "a well-thought-out, well-researched, scientifically-valid plan." 

Urquhart is concerned recent provincial and federal budget cuts will stop the plan from becoming a reality.

The cost to implement the plan wasn't reported.

With files from Canadian Press