+ RMA Rural Municipalities
of Alberta

Resolution 7-16F

Vegetation Management on Alberta Provincial Highways

Date:
November 16, 2016
Expiry Date:
December 1, 2019
Active Status:
Active
Sponsors:
MD of Bonnyville,
County of Stettler
District:
2 - Central,
5 - Edmonton East
Year:
2016
Convention:
Fall
Category:
Transportation and Infrastructure
Status:
Accepted in Part
Vote Results:
Carried
Preamble:

WHEREAS the Government of Alberta is responsible for weed control in the rights of way of approximately 32,000 kilometers of provincial highway in the province as regulated under the Alberta Weed Control Act; and

WHEREAS the Government of Alberta is bound by the Alberta Weed Control Act; and

WHEREAS as of August 1, 2016, the Government of Alberta has undertaken no known vegetation management activity along the provincial highways in the Northeast region of Alberta, allowing noxious weeds to flower, set seed, and increase the seedbank for upcoming years, impacting neighbouring landowners as invasive plants spread into fields; and

WHEREAS local municipalities enforce land owner/occupant weed notices to control noxious weeds on private land as per the Alberta Weed Control Act; and

WHEREAS reductions to provincial funding for vegetation management along provincial highways  has resulted in increased use of municipal resources to identify and issue weed notices to Alberta Transportation, reducing resources available for municipal roadway maintenance; and

WHEREAS the Government of Alberta’s lack of effort in undertaking vegetation management practices to eliminate the spread of noxious weeds along provincial highways contradicts the efforts made by municipalities to prevent weed growth on private lands; and

WHEREAS the most cost-effective strategy against noxious and invasive weeds is preventing them from establishing; and

WHEREAS allowing the growth of noxious weeds may present a risk to human health because such weeds may be poisonous, or their uncontrolled growth may impact sightlines along roadways; and

WHEREAS historically, Alberta Transportation had a proactive vegetation management program via mowing, identifying and spraying of weeds in place keeping invasive weeds in check on provincial highways which prevented the spread of these roadside weeds to the areas of agriculture, forest management, nature reserves, parks and inhabited areas;

WHEREAS landowners adjacent to provincial highways (both two digit and three digit) are faced with increased costs to their vegetation control programs as a result of lack of control along the highways; and

WHEREAS historically, Alberta Transportation could sign service agreements with each municipality to undertake invasive plant control;

Operative Clause:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties urge the Government of Alberta to restore funding for summer maintenance programs for its vegetation management (weed control and mowing) along provincial highways; and

 FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties request the Government of Alberta to deliver a more effective maintenance program for vegetation management (weed control and mowing) along one, two and three digit highways in the province, which includes the herbicide application and other measures to control noxious weeds, prohibited noxious weeds and any unsafe vegetation on the full right of way; and

FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties request Alberta Transportation give the option in all districts of the province to enter into service agreements with municipalities for weed control.

Member Background:

Reductions to provincial funding have impacted vegetation management along provincial highways resulting in changes specifically stating that maintenance along provincial highways only receive 1 shoulder cut per year, no full width mowing, and no scheduled weed spraying. Only reactive spot spraying will occur after the Province has received a weed notice from a municipality. This has left local municipalities having to control weeds along provincial highways through the identification and issuance of notices to Alberta Transportation, diminishing time and attention to municipal roadways. In addition, adjacent landowners are frustrated with the weeds in the Provincial Right-of-Ways 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.

The weed issue has local, provincial, national, and possibly international impacts as hay, grain, and other commodities are transported via our highway network daily. Any vehicle that stops on the side of the highway could potentially transfer weed seeds anywhere. The impact is two-fold: an increased weed control budget (whether it’s spraying, or mowing, or hand removal) and dockage to grains and forages sold into the market place. The added increased 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 our highway ditches. Mowing, also a method of controlling weeds, used to be conducted twice per year along our highways – along the shoulder, and every four to five years as prescribed from shoulder to fence-line.  This year we were initially informed that the province did not budget for any ditch mowing in Stettler County. After raising concerns to Alberta Transportation we were informed we would get one mow this season, of only one pass along the shoulder of the highway. Not only does this impact control of the weeds along our highways, we have a grave concern for the safety of the public travelling these highways. The visibility of wildlife crossing the highways is hindered by the tall weeds and grass. We have received several letters, calls and visits from county residents who have noticed increased wildlife and bird strikes along our two and three digit highways. They are worried for their own safety as well as the safety of local wildlife impacted by motorist’s inability to spot wildlife and have proper warning time in which to react to wildlife crossing. Furthermore, this has a financial impact from the aspect of automobile insurance rates and premiums.

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 notice to the Province. We cannot expect landowners to control weeds on their land while the Government of Alberta ignores weeds in their right-of-ways. In the past Alberta Transportation had the option of signing Service Agreements with each municipality to do invasive plant control, but that option is no longer available in some districts (including Stettler County) as a result of the highway maintenance contracts in those areas.

History & Legislation

The Alberta Weed Control Act, which was proclaimed in 1907 and last reviewed in 2011, 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. Pertaining to weed control of noxious or prohibited noxious weeds definition and landowner’s responsibilities are as follows:

Part 1

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 any

thing that, if used or moved, might spread a noxious weed or

prohibited noxious weed.

As per Alberta Weed Control Act Part 1 Sec 2&3, weed control on our provincial highways should be set and maintained to demonstrate our commitment and compliance to the act itself.

At present it appears there is no consistent highway weed maintenance program is in effect, evidence of this is driving down the Highway 2 corridor south of Edmonton. This central part of the province is our prime Agricultural district within Alberta and should be maintained with high priority. – Alberta Economic Development & Trade reported the export of crops and livestock rose 65% between 2010 and 2015.  As well, Alberta has one of the world’s most productive agricultural economies, with a total farm area of 50.5 million acres or 20.4 million hectares.

In 2015, farm cash receipts for Alberta totaled $13.6 billion, representing 23 per cent of Canada’s primary agricultural production. The province posted the highest cattle receipts as well as the third highest total crop receipts in the country. This alone gives us good reason to be protecting our agricultural land from the spread of noxious weeds in these prime corridors.

Landowners in the County of Stettler are spending large sums of money on weed control, but are also seeing their results diminish because of a lack of responsibility by the Province, regarding the Alberta Weed Act.  The Alberta Weed Act was introduced in 1907 to ensure landowners practice good husbandry and stewardship of our lands. As fellow landowners, the Province, by not proactively controlling weeds is insinuating we should wait until a weed notice is issued (as referred to in the response by Alberta Transportation) before conducting any weed control. We have noticed the amount of time taken to respond to a weed infestation has increased – leading to larger infestations. It impacts our ratepayers/landowners and the county, as both must increase their budgets for weed control.

The most cost-effective strategy against invasive species is preventing them from establishing rather than relying on a municipality to identify an infestation and react by issuing a notice. Allowing undesirable plants to grow increases the risk to human health (poisonous plants) and public safety by reducing visibility along road shoulders where wildlife are crossing or grazing.

Other Stakeholders:

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 Agriculture Fieldmen – This is a group of about 155 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. They are bound by the Alberta Weed Act in their own jurisdiction to both keep Right of Ways clean, but also educate and enforce weed concerns to local producers.

Agricultural Services Board – There are 70 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. There have been a number of resolutions endorsed by Agricultural Services Boards since 2006 on this issue.

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.

Stettler County Local Ratepayers adjacent to the highways – Having neighboring lands with our provincial highways, local ratepayers spend more time, and money on their fence-lines, and highway right of ways controlling weeds and unwanted vegetation.

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.

Insurance Industry – We have received several letters, calls and visits from county residents who have noticed increased wildlife and bird strikes along our two and three digit highways. They are worried for their own safety as well as the safety of local wildlife impacted by motorist’s inability to spot wildlife and have proper warning time in which to react to wildlife crossing. This has a financial impact from the aspect of automobile insurance rates and premiums.

In summary, we are asking for government collaboration and positive partnership in moving forward to clean up Alberta highways for the benefit of landowners who live along these highways and the safety of all who travel them. Consistency with a province-wide invasive plant management annual budget is needed for Alberta’s highways.

RMA Background:

3:15F: Legal Opinion on the Jurisdiction of the Weed Act on All Railways

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties obtain a legal opinion on the jurisdiction of the Weed Control Act of Alberta for all railways, and that the opinion be shared with all of its member municipalities.

DEVELOPMENTS: The AAMDC obtained a legal opinion on the jurisdiction of the Weed Control Act of Alberta (WCA) for all railways. Generally speaking, the legal opinion indicates that federal railways within Alberta and provincially regulated railway lands must comply with the weed control requirements of the WCA. The legal opinion identifies that municipal inspectors have broad authority to enforce and monitor compliance under the WCA within geographical boundaries of each municipality and that activity undertaken by a federal railway company on its lands that are not integral to federal undertakings are subject to provincial legislation. Further, the legal opinion expresses that complying with the WCA will not impair the operation of any federal railways nor is there a federal law which directly conflicts with the provisions of the WCA in this regard. This resolution has been assigned the status of Accepted.

Government Response:

Transportation: In 2013, to meet reduced budgets, mowing was limited to a single shoulder cut and proactive planned vegetation control was eliminated. We collaborated with other ministries, municipalities, provincial agricultural service boards, and field personnel to investigate ways to work together with local communities to resolve this situation in the future. In response to stakeholder concerns, Alberta Transportation (AT) will restore funding for vegetation control and mowing commencing in spring 2017.

As the landowner, AT has responsibilities under the Weed Control Act (WCA). Although funding for proactive planned vegetation control was eliminated in 2013, the department continued to fund reactive vegetation control to control noxious and prohibited noxious weeds; when a weed notice was issued, AT responded to ensure it met its obligations under the WCA.

Minister Mason heard Albertans’ concerns about the adverse impact of reduced mowing and chemical vegetation control along the provincial highway network. In response, AT expanded the amount of mowing done along highways in fall 2016. The department recognizes that while the additional mowing increased safety along provincial highways by providing better roadway sightlines for drivers, there was potential to spread mature seeds and make weed control costlier in the future.

Some municipalities have requested AT provide a budget directly to them to complete vegetation control within provincial highway rights-of-way. Municipalities doing the work would improve weed spray timing and possibly realize some cost savings; however, this needs to be reviewed, taking into consideration capacity, insurance, and ability to complete the work safely along any higher volume highways.

Treasury Board and Finance: Alberta Treasury Board and Finance has no comment on the resolution because vegetation management on Alberta provincial highways is under the authority of AT.

Development:

The Government of Alberta response indicates a plan to resume full vegetation management practices along provincial highways in the summer of 2017. This response meets the first “ask” of the resolution, which is to restore previous vegetation management funding.

The second “ask” in the resolution calls for not only the return of funding, but an improved vegetation management program compared to that previously utilized prior to the reduction in funding. At this point the Government of Alberta response indicates only a return to previous levels, and therefore does not meet the resolution’s second “ask.”

The third “ask” in the resolution calls for Alberta Transportation to enter service agreements with municipalities for the actual delivery of vegetation management. The Government of Alberta response indicates that this option will be considered, and may move forward based on further analysis of capacity and standards. In March 2018, the Minister of Transportation indicated that municipalities would be eligible to bid on maintenance contracts for provincial highways. RMA is encouraged by this and will follow up with Alberta Transportation in the future.

As the Government of Alberta response meets part of the resolution’s intent, RMA assigns this resolution a status of Accepted in Part, and will continue advocating on it in the future.

Provincial Ministries:
Transportation,
Treasury Board and Finance
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