More Eyes = Better Weed Control

A brilliant ‘Of Course!’ idea that launched an inventive app for identifying and reporting invasive and noxious weed species has more than proven its worth.

The Alberta Weed Spotter app has generated more than 600 reports from City staff and the public about one or more of the 75 invasive and noxious weeds regulated under the provincial Weed Control Act, says Daniel Laubhann, the app’s project lead and environmental technician with the Buildings and Parks Operations Branch.

The app was first released in the fall of 2014. Initial media attention, subsequent promotion and word of mouth have generated 8,000 iPhone downloads to date (it’s not available for Android quite yet).

The app makes it easy to identify all regulated weed species by leading the user through logical description points (leaf, flower, stem, colour, etc.). When they get a positive match, users take a photo of the plant and send it to Daniel’s team along with other information such as how many plants were seen in the immediate area.

“The photo contains GPS location data, so we know exactly where the weed was seen, and we have an idea of how large a problem our weed control people will face when they visit the site,” says Daniel.

“Getting many reports from the public to add to the observations of our regional weed monitoring teams gives us a much better idea of where our weed control activity priorities must be focused.”

“We have 12,000 hectares of green space in the City, so we can’t be everywhere at any given time. That’s why the public’s help, especially in looking for new established weeds, is so valuable,” says Daniel.

Daniel Laubhann worked with Athabasca University to cost-effectively develop an all-Alberta invasive and noxious weed reporting app.
Daniel Laubhann worked with Athabasca University to cost-effectively develop an all-Alberta invasive and noxious weed reporting app.

City vegetation management staff (12 permanent staff and as many as 40 more in the summer) know the biology and normal regions in which they grow, so they’re able to assess the seriousness of a report and judge the timing of their reaction accordingly.

“Knowing the locations and the extent of the problem in each location enables us to plan our work much more effectively.”

With many additional pairs of eyes helping them, the City’s Vegetation Management Team has already been able to head off the potential spread of one weed, a shrub called Common Barberry, which is sometimes used as an ornamental plant.

“We knew it only from the University of Alberta campus where it is used as an ornamental plant. We also knew they had plans to handle and control it, keeping it contained to the University,” says Daniel.

“But then we got a report from a weed app user that a single plant was also growing in the river valley. The seed was likely carried by a bird. At any rate, we wasted no time in locating the plant and removing it. We didn’t want to allow it a chance to spread.

“That event alone made the City’s very modest investment in developing the app worthwhile.”

The app also enables homeowners to identify regulated weeds that they may have on their property. They then can take control actions without the City having to enforce the Weed Control Act.

The app was co-developed with the help of an Athabasca University masters student, and with financial support from the City and the provincial government.

Since the initial publicity about the app was mostly in Edmonton media, Daniel figures that more than 90 per cent of the app’s users are in the Edmonton area. The app, however, is applicable to the whole province, so over time, he hopes its popularity and usefulness in other regions will grow.