By IAN ROSS
The Emerald Ash Borer and Asian Long-horned beetles are wreaking millions of dollars in property damage to trees in Ontario.
That’s bad news for landowners across the province, but could be a bit of a boon for Sault Ste. Marie.
The City of Locks is getting serious consideration as the future home for a proposed Centre for Invasive Species Management.
The Sault is already blessed with world-class scientific expertise and research capabilties at the Ontario Forest Research Institute and the Great Lakes Forestry Centre on the city’s waterfront. Now senior government forestry officials are putting a bug in the ears of several government agencies about the need for a co-ordination centre to deal specifically with damaging insect species.
Errol Caldwell is the newly appointed executive director of Science Enterprise Algoma, an organization with aiming to commercialize local forestry research and eventually build a research and development park in the Sault.
“When you think of the expertise here already and the Sault’s location, it makes so much sense,” he says.
The centre could be the lead agency in Ontario to fight insect pest control problems in forestry, urban environments and Great Lakes aquatic species, since the Department of Fisheries and Oceans also operates the Sea Lamprey Control Centre at the Sault canal.
It would also have the capacity to deal with the emergence of new species and deal with them quickly without having to go to the government for special funding.
Caldwell says much more should be done to prevent invasive species from spreading. Early detection systems could find them before they become established and allow for proactive measures instead of having the ministry reacting to outbreaks.
For the past year, a steering committee of government researchers and city officials has been working with Ottawa and Queen’s Park to develop a detailed proposal for the centre. The initiative would address pressing issues associated with invasive species and would create 50 full-time, high-paying jobs for researchers, technical positions and support staff.
Those positions would probablty be filled by government researchers re-directed out of their regular activities to deal with pest management, according to Caldwell.
That said, whether the centre will be home to an army of pest researchers or companies specializing in technology transfer is “wide open” at this point, he says.
While the Ministry of Natural Resources and Natural Resource Canada are championing the concept, neither have committed any funds towards the initiative. The City of SaultSte. Marie chipped in $15,000 in mid-January towards a $45,000 feasibility study to develop a comprehensive business plan with an RFP to hire a consultant. It is due out this month.
The plan will include specific functions, an organization and management structure, required staffing levels, building requirements and operating budgets.
Caldwell says there may be some commercialization opportunities for local startups such as BioForest Technologies, which is field testing an environmentally-friendly pesticide and injection kit to fight the Asian long-horned beetle. It was based on a formula developed at the Great Lakes Forestry Centre.
As well, there might be some academic interest since the University of Toronto and the University of Guelph regularly collaborate with the Sault bug labs on research projects with invasives.
“We see that continuing and expanding,” says Caldwell.
There is also a critical need to develop an invasive species database detailing the status of insect pests, their distribution range, climate factors if established and predictative trends.
Though neither the Asian Long-horned beetle nor the Emerald Ash Borer is rampant in Northern Ontario, Caldwell says the ash borer is only two hours south of the Sault in northern Lower Michigan, and the beetle is well-established in the Greater Toronto Area.
The ash borer’s presence has resulted in the destruction of more than 50,000 trees in Essex County near Windsor, many of which were replanted in cities and towns after Dutch elm disease went through in the 1970s.