Quebec invests $8M to combat invasive 'zombie plant'

Eurasian water milfoil is a particularly nasty invasive species that’s proliferating in at least 180 Quebec lakes and the St. Lawrence River, choking out native aquatic plants.

Eurasian water milfoil is choking out native species in at least 180 Quebec lakes and the St. Lawrence River

This is what Eurasian water milfoil looks like. It chokes out native aquatic plants, limiting biodiversity, damaging the quality of lakes and rivers and affecting waterfront property values. (Martin Bilodeau/Radio-Canada)

An invasive aquatic weed dubbed the "zombie plant," because it multiplies even more quickly once it's cut and chokes the life out of native species, has now spread to about 180 Quebec lakes, as well as the St. Lawrence River.

Environment Minister Isabelle Melançon said Wednesday at a stop in Sherbrooke, Que., that the province will spend $8 million over the next five years to combat the weed, called Eurasian water milfoil.

"We want to equip Quebec with better tools for prevention, detection and intervention to limit the phenomenon," Melançon said. "It's a dangerous plant for biodiversity."

Eurasian water milfoil, which has green branches and red tips that are visible above the surface, is native to Europe, Asia and northern Africa.

The weed is not harmful to humans or animals. But aside from crowding out native plants, it damages the quality of Quebec's lakes and rivers, impacting recreational activity on those waterways and affecting waterfront property values.

Melançon's announcement comes two days after the Union of Quebec Municipalities and other organizations called on the government to do more to prevent it from spreading further.

"This plant is a nuisance because it grows really fast," said Hélène Godmaire, executive director of Quebec's invasive species council.

"It out-competes other plants."

The Quebec Wildlife Foundation will receive the largest chunk of provincial funding, with a $6.25 million grant. The money will be devoted to researching the zombie plant and developing tools to get rid of it.

Organizations that promote initiatives to control the plants may also be eligible for financial assistance. Projects that are eligible can have local, regional or national scope.

87 noxious invasive species

Quebec has documented 887 foreign plant species that have been introduced and are now naturalized, accounting for 30 per cent of the province's flora.

Of these species, 87 are considered harmful to the environment, the economy or society.

Sherbrooke MNA Luc Fortin said the Eastern Townships is one of the regions most affected by water milfoil. However, the problem is widespread: It's already been found in British Columbia, also Ontario and New Brunswick.

It was possibly introduced to the country through the aquarium trade or ship ballast, according to Ontario's invading species awareness program.

Boaters must take precautions

Lac-Sergent, a town 50 kilometres northwest of Quebec City, was one of the first in Quebec to report the plant's presence.

Mayor Yves Bédard said boaters have to be made aware of their role in fighting the zombie plant's spread. He said many don't clean their vessel carefully enough before moving it from one body of water to another.

"The plant can survive more than 24 hours attached to a propeller or a paddle," Bédard said.

Lac-Sergent has adopted a code of conduct to limit boat movement in at-risk areas, and municipal workers have put down jute canvas at the bottom of the lake in affected areas.

But even that may be for nought.

"In the long run, we don't know if it will be effective or not," Bédard said.

With files from Radio-Canada and CBC's Valeria Cori-Manocchio