The global trade in ornamental nursery stock is the primary pathway for the introduction of nonindigenous invasive plants in Canada. Those invasive plants can threaten biodiversity and diminish its associated ecological, economic, social, cultural, and intrinsic values. To protect our economy, environment and public health from invasive plant species, Canada needs to:
- Improve policies and legislation.
- Establish a permanent national body with responsibility for nonindigenous invasive species.
- Create a science-based national plant risk assessment database. This database would provide the name(s) and description of each nonindigenous plant sold in Canada along with its regional ranking as a high, medium, low, or an insignificant invasion risk.
- Require that all imports of plants new to Canada undergo risk assessments.
- Ban the sale and movement of high-risk invasive plant species, where regionally appropriate.
- Require labelling to identify and educate the public about lower-risk invasive plants.
- Provide continued and stable funding for public education.
- Incentivize the adoption of the National Voluntary Code of Conduct for the Ornamental Horticultural Industry.
The number of invasive plant species in Canada is steadily growing. With that growth, the management costs and environmental damage rise. Canada needs to act now to reduce the potential damages and the price tag for management and mitigation.
At the federal level, invasive plant prevention focuses on safeguarding Canada’s food supply–the plants and animals in the agricultural sector. While laudable and necessary, current regulations fail to safeguard our natural flora and fauna. Canada needs to develop new federal regulatory tools. Canada needs legislation similar to the European Union (EU) act for the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species (1143/2014). This act aims to minimize the adverse effects of invasive species on biodiversity and related ecosystem services, as well as human health and safety. In addition, Canada could pass legislation requiring a risk assessment paid for by importers, before any plants not yet present are introduced, as is required by Australia’s Quarantine Proclamation (1998). Only with the proper legal underpinnings can Canada restrict the trade of highly invasive ornamental plants.
To comply with international conventions and agreements, any trade restrictions must be based on sound scientific risk assessments. Therefore, in addition to enhancing its regulatory framework, Canada needs to improve its scientific capacity and develop a robust national database. An impact ranking system like I- Rank should be used to categorize invasive plants as High, Medium, Low, or Insignificant risks to biodiversity.
A national database would ensure that reliable information is available to support the activities of federal and regional governments, Indigenous communities, and non-governmental organizations. A permanent federal body dedicated to nonindigenous invasive species is needed to clarify ‘who-does-what’ and coordinate interdepartmental and inter-agency cooperation at both the federal and provincial/territorial levels.
Education and public awareness are necessary for the successful prevention and management of invasive plants. This means all levels of government should provide ongoing and stable funding for programs that raise awareness, build knowledge and skills, and change attitudes and behaviours. An informed public is more likely to support and promote the control of invasive plants.
To this end, consumers deserve clear, consistent labelling that tells them what they need to know when shopping for plants. For those lower-risk invasive plants, sellers should be required to:
- Inform consumers the plant poses potential risks to the environment,
- Provide recommendations for alternative noninvasive plant choices, and
- Describe measures necessary to reduce the risk of spread.
Informed consumers are more likely to understand the risks posed by invasive plants and reduce their spread.
An effective strategy for the prevention and management of invasive plants will require a combination of legally binding and voluntary approaches. Sustainable forest management standards have been successful in promoting comprehensive environmental and social standards in the forestry sector. Similarly, the ornamental horticultural sector should be encouraged to comply with legislation and reduce the numbers of invasive plants sold in Canada. While there may be short term losses in a small segment of the sector, there will also be opportunities to strengthen the sector and develop a “greener” industry that capitalizes on regional botanical uniqueness.
Reducing the sale of invasive plant species in Canada and protecting Canada’s biodiversity will require a multi-faceted approach. Improving legislation and oversight, building a knowledge base, providing education and consumer awareness programs together can form the basis of a successful strategy. By following this strategy, Canada can help to safeguard nature, which is essential for human health and well-being, economic prosperity, food safety and security.