At the September 2020 City Council meeting, I worked with Councillor Jeffries on a motion that reads as follows:
That Administration report back with a strategy for a coordinated foxtail response in the upcoming growing season. This may include working with land developers, lot owners, Parks Division, Community Standards Division, and the Fire Department to ensure that the many sources of foxtail can be dealt with proactively in 2021.
We received a report back in March 2021 outlining the Administrations plan to enforce Foxtail Barley proactively for the 2021 season. Due to time constraints in March, the report was only considered by the Standing Policy Committee on Planning, Development and Community Services in April. This blog post provides an update of the measures proposed.
Many folks are familiar with Foxtail Barley (Foxtail), as it is a native grass designated as a nuisance weed and has proliferated within Saskatoon in recent years. These is a significant issue in developing neighbourhoods, and parks and open spaces. Issues arise for pets and for residents in new neighbourhoods who deal with Foxtail, in and adjacent to, their yards. For pets, the barbed seed heads of Foxtail can embed themselves in soft tissues and lead to infection and even death if left untreated.
To reduce the occurrence of Foxtail, a multi-year and multi-pronged approach is recommended by Administration. This includes an increased level of education and awareness, a combination of timely control techniques (mowing, herbicide application or tillage), a collaboration with the Development industry and an overall higher degree of preventative Foxtail control efforts within, and adjacent to, developing neighbourhoods.
The Parks Department has led a collaborative approach to engage all involved internal Departments and major land developers through the Developers’ Liaison Committee, including subsequent discussions with Dream Development and Saskatoon Land. As a result of these discussions, a Foxtail Strategy is proposed to begin in early 2021 and then be refined and continue to evolve in future years. The Foxtail Strategy is split into two distinct initiatives – proactive, to minimize the future occurrence of Foxtail, and management of areas where there are current problems with weeds, including Foxtail.
Foxtail Strategy – Proactive Response
- Development of a Foxtail Mitigation Guide and Communications Plan: It is proposed that a Communication Plan be developed that includes the creation of a Foxtail Mitigation Guide (in advance of the 2021 growing season) that clearly communicates the contents of the Weed Control Act and City bylaws, outlines the Weed Control Act and bylaw process when Foxtail becomes an issue (total size or area of patch or infestation), and prescribes the best course of action based on size of infestation, cost, and adjacent land uses. An example of content included in this Guide would be the use of cover crops, such as clover, alfalfa, oats or rye.
- Examine the Potential for a Weed Management Plan: In addition to Foxtail, numerous weeds are present in Saskatoon. This could provide strategic weed management of natural areas, parks, and green spaces to protect native ecosystems and outline an integrated approach.
- Ongoing Communication and Engagement: At the end of 2021, Parks will attend the Developers’ Liaison Committee to review 2021 season results, the effectiveness, and identify further improvements to be made to this strategy. These results will also be reported out publicly.
Foxtail Strategy – Management of Current Problem Areas
- Formalize and Confirm the Process Flow and Communication of Foxtail and all Weed-Related Concerns: Currently, numerous Departments receive complaints about Foxtail. A coordinated process of sharing Foxtail complaints and identification of geographical areas with infestations will be a cornerstone of this process.
- Increase Dedicated Support for Monitoring and Issuance of Weed Orders in Problem Areas: For 2021, Parks will redirect resources to establish a dedicated seasonal weed inspector position to ensure additional inspections of weeds, including Foxtail. Parks will be in communication with developers, who will be asked to provide the weed inspector with a list of control activities (such as spraying), frequency/approximate timing and general areas of service. Progress and control effectiveness can then be monitored in the field by the City’s Weed Inspector. Enforcement of the Weed Act will also be applied as required. Weed inspection services will be reviewed at the end of the season to identify future service improvements or resources that may be required to deliver improved weed and Foxtail monitoring and control.
- Signage: Foxtail can become a problem in, and adjacent to, newer parks. Signage for select priority problem areas will be installed for the 2021 season with the number of signs being dependant on availability of budget resources. Additional signage if required will be prioritized as the department allocates resources for the 2022 budget.
- Review the option of herbicides for use on land with Foxtail proliferation: Saskatoon Land trialed the application of herbicide on limited Foxtail areas in 2019 with success. In 2021, Arbutus has advised they will expand spraying efforts; Dream Development has committed to an early spray herbicide program in Brighton; Saskatoon Land has advised that spraying will continue to be limited to small, concentrated areas of significant concern due to cost.
- Establish a Response Strategy for Areas with Significant Issues: Trouble spots in established parks will need to be inventoried and managed using a multiyear approach that would include: herbicide use, mowing before seed set, mowing and raking after seed set, and in areas where topsoil is present, establishment of other grasses to outcompete Foxtail over the course of five or more years. For unserviced land, it may involve the use of delayed stripping, cover crops, strategically timed mows, tillage, and herbicide use. An inventory of city – wide Foxtail problem areas will be pursued as well.
The Administration will report back in winter 2021-2022 on the effectiveness of the improvements made in 2021, complaints received, and any additional amendments to existing bylaws and/or policies that may be required.