By Andrew Bailey – Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News
Volunteers helped Big Beach Park’s native plant population escape annihilation this summer.
The Central Westcoast Forest Society is working to obliterate the aggressively invasive Japanese Knotweed that’s taking over the area.
“We don’t want Japanese Knotweed taking over all of our natural vegetation because it spreads crazy fast,” said society summer student Shiva Charleson-Parlee.
She said chemical warfare is not an option because the area includes a stream.
“It really chokes out all our natural growth here so we’re trying to cut it all out from the riparian area without using pesticides because of the water source.”
Charleson-Parlee, a 16-year-old Ucluelet Secondary student heading into Grade 11 this fall, spent the summer with CWFS chopping knotweed and digging out the roots to nix the plants’ chances of growing back.
All the removed knotweed was bagged up and taken by District of Ucluelet staff to be burned to prevent further spreading.
“It can be a really destructive plant and we really don’t want it popping up everywhere else,” she said, adding the roots can crack through cement and destroy roadways.
“It’s not an ugly plant, but do we really want all of our blackberries, ferns, natural cedars and all that getting taken over?”
She cautions Big Beach goers to step carefully or they could end up inadvertently planting knotweed throughout town and in their homes.
“It’s seeding season right now, so you’ve got to be careful about tracking it home on your shoes or bringing any sprouts on your clothes because it’s one of those plants that can really start growing and it’s root system is so crazy that, if you do get it in your house, it can pop up through concrete and start growing in your house.”
Charleson-Parlee invited volunteers to help her evict the area’s knotweed every Wednesday throughout the summer and was joined on Aug. 17 by Sian Cornwell, 16, who told the Westerly she was delighted to help Ucluelet while visiting from Courtenay.
“It was an opportunity to get outside, learn about the local plants and help make this area pretty,” Cornwell said.
As the season’s knotweed-pulling efforts come to a close, Charleson-Parlee and volunteers helped plant trees in the area to prevent more unwanted plants from popping up.
“They don’t grow in shaded areas, they grow on the edges where they can get lots of sun and then they usually move their way back and knock out everything else,” she said.
“We’re going to start planting trees so they can start shading [the knotweed] out.”
She hopes to see a slew of locals and visitors come out to support the tree planting effort and anyone interested is encouraged to contact Charleson-Parlee at email@example.com or just show up at Big Beach from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays.
She said volunteers will have fun while improving the health of local foliage.
“It moves a lot faster and, with more volunteers and we’ll get the word out more about knotweed so we’ll get more awareness out there,” Charleson-Parlee said.
She added volunteers learned valuable information about knotweed to help spread the word about its catastrophic effects.
“Nobody should be planting this in their gardens. It’s one of the world’s most invasive species. It’s very destructive. It can cut through concrete and any other structures,” she said. “It can start growing anywhere, so if you have it you should get on top of it.”
It is unknown exactly when or how Japanese Knotweed arrived in Ucluelet, but researchers believe it was brought to Canada from Asia during the 1800s by people wanting to put it in their gardens and has wreaked havoc ever since.
“Knotweeds threaten biodiversity and disrupt the food chain by reducing available habitat and increasing soil erosion potential,” according to the Invasive Species Council of British Columbia.
“Stream banks are at particular risk as exposed knotweed roots break off and float downstream to form new infestations.”
The Central Westcoast Forest Society has been working to eradicate Big Beach Park’s knotweed menace every summer since 2013 when it kicked off an extensive project that included in-stream restoration, riparian reforestation and community education.