British Columbia

'We are very worried about it escaping the area': Vancouver launches a battle against the Japanese beetle

Plants and soil can no longer be removed from a large area including False Creek, Chinatown and Mount Pleasant. The city will also begin spraying a larvacide in June.

Invasive beetle found in B.C. for the first time last year concentrated in downtown Vancouver

The City of Vancouver is trying to prevent the Japanese beetle from spreading. It eats the leaves of plants and can kill them. (Canadian Food Inspection Agency)

The battle is on to stop the invasive Japanese beetle from leaving downtown Vancouver where it has been found. People in several areas of the city can no longer remove plants and soil, while removing yard trimmings is restricted all summer.

A program to spray a larvacide will also begin in June.

"This is a very serious pest," said Dr. Jane Pritchard, the province's chief veterinary officer. "We are very worried about it escaping the area."

The first beetle was found in Vancouver last year during routine trapping, which prompted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to set extra traps. Close to 1,000 beetles have since been found, 90 per cent of them in David Lam Park.

Pritchard says the Japanese beetle is of much greater concern than the European chafer beetle that has left lawns decimated by crows and raccoons that look for them in their grub stage.

She says while the Japanese beetle grub eat roots and can leave brown grass, they don't attract other animals. It is once they grow and emerge as beetles that the real problem starts.

"It flies around and it basically eats leaves. It starts at the tops of plants and eats its way down and what you are left with is a very lacey looking leaf with no green left and the plant dies," said Pritchard.

The beetle eats away at leaves leaving just the skeleton. (Enzo Zanatta/CBC)

​"It isn't the appearance. It is actual destruction of plants and that includes agricultural crops and ornamental nursery plants."

Officials say it could have a quick and very devastating effect on Fraser Valley farms growing fruits and vegetables.

The beetle has been found in Eastern Canada and the Eastern United States for many years, but it isn't clear how it came to B.C. However, officials call them "notorious hitchhikers" that can catch a ride on plants and vehicles.

'The movement of soil and plants with soil attached is restricted'

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has now set up a restricted area between Burrard Inlet on the north, Burard Street on the West, 12th Avenue on the South and Clark Drive on the East.

Neighbourhoods like False Creek, Chinatown and Mount Pleasant fall within an area from which soil can not be removed without approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. (Enzo Zanatta/CBC)

People can no longer remove soil or plants with soil attached from this zone without written permission from the CFIA. And from June 15 to Oct. 15, any above-ground plant material including yard trimmings are restricted in the same way.

Residents can continue to place them in their green bins for collection, and the city will pick them up and send them directly to the compost facility where the temperatures reached during the composting process would kill any beetles.

Beginning the week of June 4, the city will also begin spraying a larvacide over a smaller area around the locations the beetle was found  It says in total about 19 hectares will be sprayed including fields and even medians — any location with grass larger than one-metre-by-one-metre square.

These are the areas that will be sprayed with a larvacide. (City of Vancouver)

Prtichard says the larvacide selected, Acelepryn, was chosen because it is safe to use.

"It will not impact pets, bees, birds, mammals, flies or other animals," Pritchard said.

"Even birds that feed on grubs or larvae that have been killed by the pesticide will not be affected by it."

Vancouver parks director Howard Normann says they will have staff on hand during spraying to answer questions, and there may be some temporary closures beginning with David Lam park.

"You can go into the park three hours after it dries, but we will be on the safe side," Normann says. "We will close it for the day." 

He expects the spraying to take three to four weeks.

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