News / Calgary

A battle of weeds is growing in Calgary: Dandelions or herbicides

Goats could help eat through the problem, meaning the City of Calgary could further cut down on herbicide spraying in parks

Dandelions have taken over the City of Calgary this year as the weather is hot and the soil is thirsty.

Rene Johnston/Toronto Star

Dandelions have taken over the City of Calgary this year as the weather is hot and the soil is thirsty.

Some citizens seeing yellow, and as the season kicks off dandelion heads are spinning. 

According to the city’s own statistics, service requests on dandelions have gone up this year over 2016 figures.

"At the most simplistic level, it’s typically weather,” said City of Calgary conservation policy team lead Steven Snell. “If you have a dry spring, and it’s kind of hot, broad leaf weeds…tend to out-compete the grass.” 

Although it’s hard to parse out, most of the service requests are on long grass weed infractions, which could be on private or public property.

Online, citizens have been submitting photos to the 311 app. They depict seas of green, white and yellow. One person described it as an “overpopulation” of dandelions, another said that the park had been destroyed by a weed infestation. 

But on the committee floor Wednesday, some citizens had a different tone. They were responding to the city’s pesticide toxicity report – a 10-year-old child even took the stand against spraying parks with herbicides. 

“Please stop, I want to play without getting sick,” said Michael Stanley. “I don’t want animals to get sick either.” 

Robin McLeod, who represented the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and two other organizations, wanted the city to publicize a list of the herbicides and pesticide brands they use. She also wants a bylaw change, perhaps modelled after Toronto, with a white list of pesticides to identify what kind of products can be used or sold.

In Calgary, the city’s use of herbicides on turf pales in comparison with the private homeowners. According to a provincial examination from 2015 the city applied 0.11 kg/ha (1.57 oz/ac) of herbicides on public grass while residents applied 13.0 kg/ha (185.57 oz/ac) on their own yards. 

The city also uses herbicides on other natural areas, beds, trees, and hard surfaces. That usage fluctuates every year between between 0.17 kg/ha (2.43 oz/ac) to 0.23 kg/ha (3.28 oz/ac) of the active ingredient. 

City administration promised to report back every year on pesticide use, alternatives and pesticide trials to keep citizens informed about the city’s weeding process.

“This is a very difficult situation for the city as a whole,” said Mayor Naheed Nenshi. “I will tell you that the number one thing I get complaints about is dandelions, but I will also tell you that the complaints are almost evenly split between the people who say there are too many dandelions and the people who say do not spray chemicals on those dandelions.”

Helen Pike/ Metro

The dandelion goat-to solution

Council could soon decide on whether or not they want to see Calgary’s darling weed grazers continue on to other parks, and city-owned land. 

This bylaw tweak takes two steps: a change to the responsible pet ownership bylaw which would allow the city to have urbanized goats, and a tweak in the land use bylaw to add a grazing land use (which was unanimously approved on Thursday).

On the list of parks next for a goat migration are Ralph Klein Park and big natural areas like Nosehill. The city’s conservation policy team lead Steven Snell said there are parks where the use of pesticides is restricted.

“There’s storm water infrastructure and berms,” Snell said. “So where we can’t spray pesticides we can use goats, and see how effective they are along water bodies.”

Mayor Naheed Nenshi was keen on the leaf eaters to battle dandelions. He hopes that the grazing pilot can be expanded, but mentioned that the city needs to find cost effective ways to combat weeds, like planting native flowers and plants instead of foreign grass.

“Goats are absolutely part of the solution,” said Nenshi. “But they’re not going to solve the whole thing. I don’t see armies of goats in every park and on every boulevard in the city.” 

Council will decide on the fate of the goats on July 31. 

Helen Pike/ Metro

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