Common tansy (Photo by NCC)

Common tansy (Photo by NCC)

Adopt-a-Patch: Another way to help nature

NCC taking new approach to controlling weeds at restoration site with Adopt-a-Patch program
A NCC volunteer controls weeds at Golden Ranches (Photo by NCC)

A NCC volunteer controls weeds at Golden Ranches (Photo by NCC)

Those looking to spend some time outside have a chance to get out and make a difference for a nature — both now and into the future.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has launched a volunteer-driven “Adopt-a-Patch” program to control invasive plant species at Golden Ranches.

The Golden Ranches conservation site, located in the UNESCO Beaver Hills Biosphere, east of Edmonton, is jointly owned and managed by NCC, Alberta Conservation Association, Edmonton and Area Land Trust, and Alberta Fish and Game Association.

In 2021, Project Forest, a non-profit focused on rewilding landscapes, started work at Golden Ranches to return a previously cultivated field there to natural habitats characteristic of the region. To do so, over 100,000 seedlings of native trees and shrubs were planted.

But one challenge standing in the way of these young plants becoming the forest of tomorrow is one that is growing and spreading: invasive plant species. Weeds, such as creeping thistle and common tansy, threaten to choke out the small seedlings fighting to establish.

Weed whackers

Now that Golden Ranches is an active restoration site, with invasive plant species growing among the planted species, weed control there becomes a bit more challenging.

“It means we have to get a little more intentional and creative,” says Delaney Schlemko, NCC’s natural area manager for the Cooking Lake Moraine area of Alberta.

Other common control methods, such as mowing, are challenging to conduct on the site because whatever kills the weeds is likely to harm the tree and shrub seedlings as well.

As a result, manual removal is the way to go, as it is a more selective approach.

“Hand-pulling can be effective, but when you have a lot of weeds on site, you need lots of people doing that work,” says Delaney.

So, to keep the weeds at bay, NCC is calling on nature lovers to sign up to its Adopt-a-Patch program, which started in 2023.

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How Adopt-a-Patch works

For the Adopt-a-Patch program, volunteers oversee a few specific patches of weeds at Golden Ranches over the summer. The hope is this sustained effort will ensure these weeds become less numerous, more stressed and prevented from reproducing.

“If volunteers can hand-pull a couple of times throughout the season, we can really keep on top of it and make sure those weeds do not go to seed later,” says Delaney.

One of the benefits of this approach is the flexibility it provides volunteers.

“We will train everyone, then over the summer, they can go out to site and hand-pull weeds whenever they have time,” says Delaney.

Besides hand-pulling, another control option is cutting off the flower heads of weeds, to ensure they do not go to seed later in the season.

“For some weeds, seeds can be viable for up to 20 years, so even just clipping off those seed heads can make a big difference,” says Delaney.

Bénévoles en train de désherber, Golden Ranches, Alb. (Photo de CNC)

Bénévoles en train de désherber, Golden Ranches, Alb. (Photo de CNC)

Volunteers use a smartphone app to find their assigned path. Then, they log their work and provide before and after photos as well. The goal is to map and log the eradication of each weed patch.

Each volunteer is trained and provided with gloves, bags to store weeds, and a book to identify invasive species.

Adopt-a-Patch has proven effective to control weeds in other places, including Waterton Lakes National Park and Elk Island National Park.

The program is a pilot for NCC. If successful, it could be used at other locations on Golden Ranches or other NCC projects in the country.

“Hopefully we can extend this program elsewhere,” says Delaney. “We’re always trying to get weeds under control and would love the help. “This is a large restoration project involving multiple partnerships and organizations. By volunteering, people can become a part of that, and hopefully over the summer, they will see the benefits of their actions multiply.”

Those interested in participating in Adopt-A-Patch in the summer of 2024 can email our volunteer team at ab.volunteers@natureconsercy.ca with Adopt-a-Patch in the subject line.

Want to help NCC perform key stewardship work, like weed control? Consider donating today!

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