Okanagan students aid battle against yellow flag iris

VERNON, B.C. — While news of climate change and environmental impacts taking over headlines nationwide, a group of Vernon students are doing their part to aid in a small way.

For the second year in a row, students from Okanagan Landing Elementary School took to Vernon’s Lakeshore Park armed with shovels and gloves. The class spent Tuesday afternoon planting about 100 native trees and shrubs along the shoreline of Okanagan Lake.

The Grade 4/5 students worked alongside staff with the Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society in a location that previously supported a large patch of invasive yellow flag iris.

Related: Help stop the spread of invasive plants in the Okanagan-Shuswap

Related: LETTER: Urgent action needed to protect B.C. fresh water from invasive species

“We are thrilled to have the students involved again this year. Youth play a pivotal role when it comes to environmental action,” said Lisa Scott, Executive Director with OASISS.

“Yellow Flag Iris which is an invasive plant and we’re going to be replacing that invasive species with some native plants. Our shorelines — along our creeks and lakes — have been significantly altered in the Okanagan Valley through the development and other issues and on top of that, unfortunately, a lot of non-native plants from other countries, what we call invasive plants, have moved into these areas.”

Scott said that yellow flag iris is what experts call an “escaped ornamental species.” Initially sold in nurseries, it soon became a problem for professionals. It is not native to North America, it’s spread and, although beautiful, has had a negative impact on our local environment and wildlife.

“What it’s done has been able to take over these areas like our shorelines and our wetlands and it’s very impactful to our native wildlife species. It will take over from the native species and there’s nothing stopping it and it will take advantage of having no natural enemies because it has come from another country.”

Invasive species have been identified as one of the most significant threats to biodiversity in B.C., with aquatic and riparian areas being some of the more vulnerable ecosystems. Once they invade, non-native species cause untold and irreversible harm to the province’s economy, environment, public health and safety, and community well-being.

In addition to raising awareness about invasive plants, the project also aims to encourage boaters and other water-based recreationists to clean, drain and dry their boats and equipment to prevent the spread of invasive mussels into BC waters.

But, Scott said that the work being done has helped improve the problem. Last fall was the first year students took part in the project and planted over 200 native trees and shrubs — including include red-osier dogwood, sandbar willow, mountain alder, rose and snowberry — in the same location.

“We had students here last year as well and we actually got rid of 400 kilograms of Yellow Flag Iris before we started. Hardly any has come back and we’ve removed what’s here and we’re ready to put more plants in the ground. So all told over two years, we’re going to get about 300 native trees and shrubs here,” said Scott.

The work underway is part of a two-year project supported by the Government of Canada through the EcoAction Community Funding Program. The program provides financial support to community groups for projects that have measurable, positive impacts on the environment.

Projects must address one of Environment and Climate Change Canada’s environmental priorities: climate change, clean air, clean water and nature.

Planted locations will continue to be monitored in 2019 to determine plant survival.

Related: What to do when the invasive plants are gone?

Related: Invasive species discussed

Related: Funding targets invasive plants

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Yellow Flag Iris flower is an invasive species from Europe that is negatively affecting B.C.’s shorelines. (Photo contributed)

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