WHEREAS the Government of Alberta has not adequately maintained control of noxious and prohibited noxious weeds within provincial highway rights of way in recent years; and
WHEREAS this lack of control is affecting neighbouring landowners, as these invasive weeds are spreading into their fields; and
WHEREAS due to this lack of control, landowners adjacent to provincial highways are faced with increased costs to their vegetation control programs; and
WHEREAS invasive plants cause significant changes to ecosystems which may result in economic harm to agricultural and recreation industries; and
WHEREAS highway corridors facilitate the spread of invasive plants both locally and internationally; and
WHEREAS allowing noxious and invasive plant growth along highways increases the risk to human health (poisonous plants) and public safety by reducing visibility along road shoulders where wildlife is crossing or grazing; and
WHEREAS the most cost-effective strategy against invasive species is preventing them from establishing rather than relying on eliminating them after an infestation has begun; and
WHEREAS the Government of Alberta is responsible for weed control within the rights of way of the 31,000 kilometres of provincial highways in the province, as per the Weed Control Act; and
WHEREAS the Government of Alberta must allocate sufficient funds and capacity to meet its weed control requirements along provincial highways; and
WHEREAS in 2017, Alberta Transportation developed a four-year provincial vegetation management plan, which included a plan to manage noxious weeds in highway rights of way; and
WHEREAS the provincial vegetation management plan expires in 2021;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) advocate to the Government of Alberta to reinstate a provincial vegetation management plan;
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the RMA request that the provincial vegetation management plan enhance the previous plan’s approach to managing noxious weeds, prohibited noxious weeds, and any unsafe vegetation on the full rights of way of all primary and secondary provincial highways;
FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the enhanced plan should include but not be limited to an appropriately timed herbicide application in order to control all legislated weeds and a focus on mowing of the full right of way at a time that limits the spread of weed seeds.
This is not a new issue, as municipalities across the province have been dealing with inconsistent vegetation management since the province privatized Alberta Transportation services in the mid 1990s. There has been less and less vegetation management along provincial highways every year since.
Adjacent landowners are frustrated with the weeds in the provincial rights-of-way because the weeds are propagating onto their lands causing financial burden and the overgrowth is impacting the safety of travelling motorists and migratory wildlife along Alberta highways.
Specific concerns with the current inconsistent vegetation management practices include:
Landowners are spending large sums of money on weed control, but are also seeing their results diminished because of a lack of responsibility by the Government of Alberta regarding the Weed Control Act. The Weed Control Act was introduced in 1907 to ensure landowners practice good land husbandry and stewardship. As a fellow landowner, the Government of Alberta, by not proactively controlling weeds on public lands, is insinuating private landowners should wait until a weed notice is issued before conducting any weed control. Additionally, the amount of time taken to respond to a weed infestation has increased recently, leading to larger infestations. This affects ratepayers/landowners and municipalities, as both must increase their budgets for weed control.
Potential transfer of weeds provincially, nationally and internationally:
Inconsistent vegetation management has local, provincial, national, and possibly international impacts as hay, grain, and other commodities are transported via Alberta’s highway network daily. Any vehicle that stops on the side of the highway could potentially transfer weed seeds anywhere. The impact is two-fold: increased weed control costs within Alberta and dockage to grains and forages sold into the marketplace. The added costs affect the overall net profits at the farm level.
In addition to not controlling weeds in highway ditches, the Government of Alberta has reduced its mowing program along highway ditches. Mowing, also a method of controlling weeds, used to be conducted twice per year along highway shoulders, and every four to five years as prescribed from shoulder to fence-line. In 2021, the Government of Alberta informed the County of Two Hills that no funds had been budgeted for ditch mowing. After raising concerns to Alberta Transportation, provincial roads within the County received one mow during the 2021 season, of only one pass along the shoulder of the highway. Not only does this impact control of the weeds along highways, but also leads to safety concerns for the public travelling these highways. The visibility of wildlife crossing the highways is hindered by the tall weeds and grass. Several county residents have reported increased wildlife and bird strikes along two- and three-digit highways and are concerned about their own safety, as well as that of wildlife. Furthermore, this has a financial impact from the aspect of automobile insurance rates and premiums.
Government of Alberta ignoring its own Act:
The best control of weeds comes from prevention, not reaction. The Government of Alberta is not abiding by its own legislation intended to control the spread of noxious and prohibited noxious weeds. By not controlling the ditches, municipalities are put in the uncomfortable position of having to issue weed notices to the Government of Alberta.
History and legislation:
Alberta highway shoulders have historically been mowed twice per season. Approximately every four years, a manager would prescribe additional shoulder to fence-line mowing. In 2015 Alberta Transportation stopped mowing along all highways. Alberta Transportation proactive weed control plans changed in 2014. Alberta Transportation stopped spraying weeds proactively, and would only spray if they were issued a weed notice.
The Alberta Weed Control Act was proclaimed in the Province of Alberta in 1907. It is reviewed and proclaimed every four or six years. It was last reviewed and proclaimed in 2016. The Alberta Weed Control Act aims to regulate noxious weeds, prohibited noxious weeds, and weed seeds through various control measures, such as inspection and enforcement, together with provisions for recovery of expenses in cases of non-compliance. Additionally, it mandates the licensing of seed cleaning plants and mechanisms. An excerpt is included:
Noxious weeds — control
2 A person shall control a noxious weed that is on land the person owns or occupies.
Prohibited noxious weeds — destroy
3 A person shall destroy a prohibited noxious weed that is on land the person owns or occupies.
Spread of weeds prohibited
4(1) Subject to the regulations, a person shall not use or move anything that, if used or moved, might spread a noxious weed or prohibited noxious weed.
Alberta Invasive Plants Council – This group of individuals and organizations work hard to educate, the public on invasive species (plants, and organisms) not only in our province, but also those that can potentially be introduced in our province. This group tries very hard to stop the spread of invasive species.
Association of Alberta Agricultural Fieldmen – This is a group of about 160 members from across the province, these men and women work hard every day to try and reduce or eradicate the invasive species in their respective Counties or MD’s. We are bound by the Alberta Weed Act in our own jurisdiction to both keep Right of Ways clean, but also educate and enforce weed concerns to local producers.
Agricultural Services Board – There are 69 municipalities that have an Agricultural Services Board, this board and its members create and uphold strategic plans that include proactive measures to reduce invasive populations in their jurisdiction. We work hard every year to improve our stewardship on the lands around us.
Alberta Transportation – Alberta Transportation has a very high invested interest as they are in control of the highways, these roads must be kept safe for all travelers. Letting unwanted vegetation stay on the shoulders of the roads, growing tall allows for very unsafe driving conditions, as wildlife can emerge with little notice, as well as, travelers when stopping on the sides of the roads can unknowingly transfer invasive species.
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry – The Alberta Weed Act is an act that has been around since 1907. This is an act that was created by Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. If the expectation is to educate and enforce this act upon the public, they must abide themselves.
CP and CN rail lines – The rail lines cross over provincial highways all over the province, when the two cross, there is a chance of transferring weeds further on, even out of province.
Past Advocacy Efforts
Provincial Agricultural Services Board Conference Resolutions:
A resolution was passed that requested “the Provincial Government allocate sufficient funds to control the weeds and undesirable vegetation along their primary and secondary highways within the province.”
At that time Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation indicated that they placed a “high priority on weed control within all highway rights-of-way.” The department also stated that in 1999 a process was initiated “to involve the Fieldmen more directly in the weed control programs by allowing them, in urgent situations, to order work directly from highway maintenance contractors or to undertake weed control using their own forces. This process has been quite successful on a provincial basis.”
Agricultural services boards across Alberta are/were interested in providing weed control along provincial highways in their municipality in the most effective and efficient way possible. Weed control within all highway rights-of-way is a priority for government. The department has contractual obligations to have weed control work done by the highway maintenance contractors. Staff from Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation (INFTRA) and Alberta Agriculture and Food work closely with agricultural fieldmen and highway maintenance contractors to determine the weed spraying and mowing requirements along each roadway within their jurisdiction. Also, agricultural fieldmen identify problematic locations that need special attention and ensure they are addressed.
A resolution was passed that requested “Alberta Transportation review their current weed control program to ensure the effectiveness of the program and give consideration to an increase in the current width of ditch that is sprayed as well as implementing a monitoring and assessment program to ensure that severe populations are dealt with proactively not reactively.”
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
The Government of Alberta understands the importance of vegetation management. We have needed to closely manage our highway maintenance funding over the past few years, which has impacted some summer maintenance activities, such as full right-of-way mowing. Alberta Transportation’s goal is to balance funding challenges with the need for maintenance activities that related to public safety, while still providing an acceptable overall level of service. As such, funding for vegetation management, including mowing, was mainly focused on safety-related concerns such as sight lines at intersections. However, we recognize the other benefits of mowing, such as improved drainage, improved visibility of wildlife, reduced risk of wildfire spread and controlling brush growth.
In order to ensure mowing and chemical weed control budgets are used in the best possible manner, Alberta Transportation is planning to conduct a program-level review of our vegetation management program to ensure its ongoing effectiveness. This effort will include development of a vegetation management plan framework; this framework will provide a consistent platform for an annual update regarding expected budgets, mowing frequency, herbicide application, innovations/trials, and stakeholder consultation/collaboration. The review is planned to begin in fall 2022.
Alberta Transportation is grateful for the assistance that the Agricultural Fieldmen of the various Agricultural Service Boards throughout the province have provided to date, with wee notices issued to Alberta Transportation’s district offices being an effective driver for weed control action. This process allows for targeted mitigation at locations of the highest priority to the Agricultural Fieldmen and Albertans.
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Rural Economic Development
Thank you for your December 13, 2021, letter regarding the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) Resolution 3-21F: Vegetation Management of Alberta Provincial Highways. As you indicate in your letter, the Weed Control Act defines the regulation of noxious and prohibited noxious weeds. This includes the requirement for weed control along provincial highways—this is the responsibility of Alberta Transportation.
Alberta Transportation is about to embark on a review of their current resources and practices around vegetation management, including weed management along roadsides. As necessary, Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development will support Alberta Transportation in that work.
I understand the frustrations that farmers and ranchers feel concerning invasive weed infestations on provincial roadways, as well as the threat these infestations can cause to adjacent farms and ranches. I will continue to work with my colleagues in other ministries to discuss the impact that weeds and uncontrolled vegetation can have on the safety of rural Albertans, as well as how weeds can threaten crop / forage productivity and global markets by contaminating exported hay and seed.
Thank you again for sharing this resolution. The growth and success of Alberta’s agriculture industry remains at the heart of the Government of Alberta’s economic strategy, and rural municipalities will continue to be an important partner in that success.
Alberta Transportation originally indicated that they will be conducting a program-level review of the vegetation management program to ensure its ongoing effectiveness in fall 2022. The review will include the development of a vegetation management plan framework which will provide a consistent platform for an annual update regarding expected budgets, mowing frequency, herbicide application, innovations, and stakeholder consultation. However, RMA is concerned that this response does not address the legislative requirement to control weeds. RMA has written to Alberta Transportation expressing this concern, and during a spring 2022 meeting with RMA, the Minister of Transportation confirmed that the review would take place and that it may include a greater focus on controlling legislated weeds. RMA appreciates that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development will support Alberta Transportation in this work by discussing the impact that weeds and uncontrolled vegetation can have on the safety of rural Albertans and global markets. RMA looks forward to the outcome of this review and will seek opportunities to provide rural municipal perspective.
RMA followed up with Alberta Transportation in October 2022 on the review status. Alberta Transportation staff indicated that the review had been delayed but would begin in late 2022 with the goal of implementing any changes prior to the 2023 weed season. RMA assigns this resolution a status of Intent Not Met and will continue to engage with Alberta Transportation on this issue and review the new plan once released.