A Russian Olive tree at Connaught Pond in Medicine Hat, Alberta that had a chemical application applied, which didn’t fully kill the tree. Near the base, you can see a struggling golden current, which used to cover the entire north bank of the pond.
NEWS PHOTO SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Aug 23, 2022 at 09:32

By SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A Russian Olive Task Force has been created in Medicine Hat that includes representatives from the city, SEAWA and Grassland Naturalists with Connaught Pond chosen as the first site.

Russian Olive is now listed as an unregulated invasive species in the latest edition of the Alberta Invasive Plant Identification Guide, as it is an aggressive competitor and without natural controls.

Dave Genio, manger of Parks with the City of Medicine Hat, said, “We are excited about the project, and are taking baby steps. One of the concerns is people looking at the park and seeing every single Russian Olive tree gone and asking, what the heck happened here?”

Culturally and historically, the tree has been growing in Medicine Hat for decades and was on the list of approved tree species to plant 25-30 years ago. About 10 years ago, its negative qualities came to light and finally the wheels have started rolling on finding solutions. Like many invasive species, it takes over, sucking up all the nutrients, water and sunlight and starving out the native species.

Recently, city employees applied chemical to about a dozen Russian Olive trees at Connaught Pond to kill them, not by spray but by a selective method of application.

“This is kind of a measured approach. Something that we are doing to see if it is an effective method of control,” explained Genio.

“We have to look at it from different perspectives,” said Gerry Ehlert of Grasslands Naturalists, “Have our information in hand, discuss and make informed decisions and look at things like aesthetics. There are dead Russian Olives, but also many replacements (all native) with more replacements than dead ones.”

Arlette Spencer, a local resident is concerned residents in the area were not forewarned about the project and the city didn’t wait until the new trees were larger before killing the mature ones. Additionally, as applying chemical is an unnatural act, she feels the dead trees should be removed as they are unsightly.

This is one of the questions currently facing the task force, to remove or leave the dead trees.

“It’s a natural environment and not a manicured location,” said Genio. “We also must take a look at the aesthetic aspects of that because dead trees provide habitat for wildlife. We might cut a few down and leave them in certain locations for small animals or insects.”

SEAWA has been planting new trees around the pond, which can be identified by the cages around them to protect them from wildlife browsing.

“Our focus is planting so when/if the city decides to get rid of the Russian Olives the replacement trees are already there,” said Marilou Montemayor, executive director of SEAWA.

Another task SEAWA has undertaken is to cut down trees that are less than four inches in diameter. Once done, the stumps are covered with black garbage bags to deprive them of light, so they won’t regenerate from the root system.

One consequence of Russian Olive growth at Connaught Pond is the choking out of native golden current, which used to cover the entire north bank of the pond.

“They would be a beautiful yellow in the spring and the first ones to flower, even earlier than garden flowers. Very critical for bees as they are the first flowers they can land on,” said Montemayor.

As Ehlert summed up, “Connaught Pond provides a variety of life. When nature and biodiversity are working together, it provides optimum services for the public, including recreational enjoyment and learning. It also supports the protection and storage of water. One of the things that is contrary to those values and benefits are invasive species because they reduce biodiversity and have negative impacts on the services the environment provides.

“In the long term, if we don’t control our invasive species we are going to get into a situation where less benefits are received, and it will be more costly to try and correct the problem.”

This item reprinted with permission from the News, Medicine Hat, Alberta