The efforts of First Nations communities in Ontario to counter invasive species were highlighted this week in the Toronto Star.

Big changes” lie ahead for the land of First Nations communities in Ontario as new species invade and established ones move further North, according to Sarah Rang, executive director of Canada’s Invasive Species Centre (ISC).

Sarah Rang outlined efforts by the Invasive Species Centre in partnership with the Anishinabek Nation to begin fighting back with 24 “micro-grants” of $1,000 each to a series of First Nations for various projects.

One microgrant recipient, The Missanabie Cree of northern Ontario are using the money to assess the risk from the insect pest known as Emerald Ash Borer. This invasive beetle arrived in Southern Ontario in 2002 and has been spreading Northward, devastating ash tree populations along the way.

Invasive species like the Emerald Ash Borer can cause damage economically, environmentally, and socially and are considered the second largest threat to biodiversity worldwide.

First Nations communities can be affected when plants and trees used for medicine, arts and crafts, ceremony and food are crowded out by invasives. Invasive species can also impact forestry, hunting, trapping, and fishing by blocking water access and corridors used by both humans and animals.

We know these invasive species are impacting our environment, our territories, our traditional territories, regional territories, and the Anishinabek Nation as a collective,” said the Nations’ manager of Lands and Resources Rhonda Gagnon at an online event sponsored by ISC, headquartered in Sault Ste. Marie, earlier in February. “First Nations’ lands and waters all need to be monitored for invasive species and right now there is no regular monitoring except for a very few,” she said.

Some communities have established regular monitoring systems including the Chippewas of Kettle and Stony Point who have been managing invasive phragmites since 2010. Their eradication and follow-up control of this invasive plant has been successful in bringing back a number of native species such as turtles and bald eagles.

Nipissing First Nation in northern Ontario, who received an ISC Microgrant, have also been managing invasive phragmites using aerial drones. Using the drones, they were able to survey kilometres of shoreline and document phragmites populations. This summer, they will continue using drones to survey shorelines and use data from last year to plan phragmites eradication.

Though there has been success, much work lies ahead. Populations of established pests, such as Eurasian watermilfoil remain, and new invaders are being found such as European Water Chestnut which was recently sighted at Wolfe Island near Kingston.

“These are big years” for forest invasives too, Sarah Rang said. A new insect pest, the hemlock wooly adelgid, has the potential to seriously damage the ecologically important hemlock in northern forests, while the oak wilt fungus is “knocking on the door,” creeping up through two American states closer to Ontario. The fungus “can actually kill off a big, beautiful oak tree quite quickly.” She suggested the Invasive Species Centre and Anishinabek Nation could continue to work together in the future by training First Nations members to detect, report, and respond to invasive species in their own communities.

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