British Columbia

Taking direct action against invasive species is helping these volunteers calm their climate anxiety

People who spend their free time doing back-breaking labour to remove invasive plants from their local green spaces say it's worth it because they're doing something tangible to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Uprooting invasive plants like blackberries can help ecosystems and mitigate effects of climate change

Joshua Ralph was one of the volunteers with the Invasive Species Council of B.C. helping removing invasive plants in Vancouver on Sunday. (Martin Diotte/CBC News)

People who spend their free time doing back-breaking labour to remove invasive plants from their local green spaces say it's worth it because they're doing something tangible to mitigate the effects of climate change.

"At the end of the day you can physically see the difference you are making. You can see even the metre-by-metre removals that are being done even after you've left a site," said 23-year-old Joshua Ralph, who volunteers with the Invasive Species Council of B.C.

Over the weekend he joined a small group of volunteers at Jericho Beach to help chop down, dig up and remove Himalayan blackberries that are ubiquitous across many sites in Metro Vancouver and the province.

The team is just one of many that aims to weed out invasive plants across B.C. in May, which the province has declared Invasive Species Action Month.

Watch | Volunteers in Vancouver take up the challenge of dealing with invasive species:

Volunteers in Vancouver take up the challenge of dealing with invasive species

3 months ago
Duration 2:18
The province says invasive species are a major threat to B.C.'s natural ecosystems and infrastructure

Himalayan blackberry is just one example of a species that has been introduced to B.C. and begun out-competing native species, resulting in a loss of biodiversity and ecological health.

Scorpions, northern snakehead fish, Japanese beetles and Asian hornets, along with plants like knotweed, giant hogweed and blessed milk thistle, are just some other species found in B.C. that have the potential to destroy habitat and leave landscapes less resilient to climate change.

Losses in biodiversity can make landscapes more prone to the effects of climate change, such as fire or flooding. When one plant or species becomes dominant in an area, it can cause the ecosystem to stop functioning as it is meant to.

'Major threat'

For the past eight years, the province has encouraged British Columbians during Invasive Species Action Month to be vigilant in checking for and reporting invasive species in their back yards or when exploring the outdoors.

"Invasive species are a major threat to our natural ecosystems and infrastructure," a joint release from the ministries of forests and land, water and resource stewardship said on Friday.

"We rely on resilient land and water habitats, free from invasive species, for food, livelihoods, cultural purposes and much more."

Invasive knotweed in a field near Jericho Beach in Vancouver. (Martin Diotte/CBC News)

While government action is needed to monitor for certain species like Japanese beetles and zebra mussels, the Invasive Species Council of B.C. said small acts by members of the public can also make a visible difference.

Jennie McCaffrey, the council's director of learning and education, said participating in something like habitat restoration is empowering for many people who are anxious about the climate crisis.

"I think [the climate crisis] can be incredibly overwhelming but I think that's why people keep coming back to do this important work ... they can actually see the impact and the difference they're making," McCaffrey said.

"When they are restoring an area back to more of a natural habitat, they're actually seeing native species coming back into that area and that's incredibly powerful."

Volunteers cut back invasive blackberries at Jericho Beach in Vancouver on Sunday. (Martin Diotte/CBC News)

That's been the lure for 29-year-old Trav Martin, who on Sunday was also volunteering to remove blackberries at Jericho Beach.

He studied biology at the University of the Fraser Valley and then studied natural resources in Newfoundland before working at the Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island to help with invasive grasses.

"I feel like I'm making as much a difference as an individual can make," he said.

Trav Martin says he wants to make a career out of dealing with invasive species, which can reduce biodiversity and ultimately worsen the effects of climate change. (Martin Diotte/CBC News)

Martin wants to make a career out of dealing with invasive species, especially in terms of educating the public about the issue.

"A lot of [people] don't even know where the invasive species are in their area," he said.

The Invasive Species Council of B.C. said awareness over the threat of invasive species in the province is increasing, and it's thankful for $8 million in funding from the province as part of its economic recovery plan.

The money is being used to train and employ more than 200 people in fieldwork such as removals and habitat restoration.

with files from the Stanley Park Ecology Society

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