The Waterton Weed Crew
With a domain that spans across 116,000 gross acres from Yarrow Canyon to Highway 3 and a four-month timeline, the Weed Crew has their work cut out for them.
The crew, made up of Tomas Scherger and Anthony Beebe, is responsible for supporting the management of the spread of invasive species on the land that surrounds Pieridae’s largest gas complex. Reporting to the Waterton Environmental Coordinator, they are also involved in spring/summer maintenance activities in the plant and field and supporting operations where possible.
Most mornings they head out from the Waterton plant, navigating the hilly roads in a company truck, equipped with shovels, gloves and garbage bags. Weeds in the Waterton area are managed through an integrated approach using hand picking, mowing and chemical spray. By the end of the summer, they can collect 80 large bags full of weeds; the small team is responsible for hauling upwards of 4800 lbs of plants out of the area each year.
This work is essential in Pieridae’s commitment to protect the environment, maintain regulatory requirements with the Alberta Weed Control Act and be a good neighbour to locals in the community, as invasive species – that are usually brought into the area with construction materials such as gravel – spread rapidly, choking out native species and causing severe crop loss.
TOMAS AND ANTHONY
“We make sure things are improved for future generations.”
Tomas is the Weed Crew Lead. This is his fourth season on the crew. During the fall and winter, he is pursuing a double major in Education and Political Science at the University of Lethbridge.
“Without a Weed Crew, you could see fields and no-spray areas fill up with invasive plants over the decades, and all of a sudden, it’s a much bigger issue. The system we have now keeps the weeds down and reduces the problem.”
In his second season he was alone on the crew because of COVID regulations that prohibited him from having passengers in the vehicle. “It was just me running around,” he says, “That was pretty entertaining – but definitely a bit of a headscratcher at times.”
The signature look of the Weed Crew's work boots - split down the sole from constantly stepping on their shovels.
The Weed Crew is not a one-man job, but if it had to be anyone, Tomas is well suited for the role. He is a local, his family has resided in the Pincher Creek area for almost 150 years, affording him a practical perspective of how site operations affect the local ranchers and farmers.
Maintaining the positive relationships between the plant and the locals is the Weed Crew’s most important goal, Tomas says. “We wouldn’t be here without the landowners – they are willing to let us operate on their land.”
“The Weed Crew is a very small aspect of a gas plant,” Tomas says, “but it is important for the company to be meeting all landowner concerns in a timely manner, and we do that.”
This was Anthony’s first season on the crew. When he first accepted the offer of employment, he didn’t fully realize what he was getting into. “I thought we’d be weeding around the plant,” he says, “I didn’t expect to be driving around the countryside.”
But the position suits him very well – he says that working outdoors in the breathtakingly scenic region has been an amazing opportunity. Originally from Calgary, Anthony is learning the area well before he goes into his first year in Political Sciences at the University of Lethbridge.
Nothing escapes the notice of the Weed Crew, able to stop on a dime when a flash of colour from the ditch catches their eye. The Weed Crew has identified their favourite and least favourite species to deal with.
Bladder Campion is a challenging weed to pull. New plants can grow from broken roots, so the crew must carefully remove all of the root with the plant. With a gnarly underground network that contains roots as thin as hair, pulling bladder campion is a fickle task.
Pulling out a full root, intact, is a proud moment for the crew. Tomas remembers one instance in particular, “It wrapped and wrapped around my hand; it was like pulling fishing line. We had to measure it when we took it back to the truck and, yep – 16 feet.”
On the contrary, the prolific blueweed has a single taproot in the place of a complicated root system, and the weed crew admits they like encountering this species.
“It’s always easier to solve a small problem then to let the problem grow for fifteen years and become a big one.” - Tomas Scherger
Blueweed is a large plant; its stem can grow past their waists and its taproot larger than their wrists. Left unchecked, a single blueweed plant will release as many as 2800 seeds that stay viable for years. The weed grows in large patches, which makes clearing an area of blueweed is a satisfying experience for the crew.
“If you buried a seed 10 feet underground, dug it up years later and put it three inches below soil, it would grow a fully viable blueweed plant,” says Tomas, “We try to be pretty harsh and careful with blueweed.”
The Weed Crew pulls weeds by hand and removes them from the fields completely. Often, they operate in no-spray zones or fields whose owners prefer they don’t use chemicals.
Weed whacking is also effective against some species like small patches of leafy spurge. Cutting the plant off before it produces and spreads seeds helps keep the plant contained, but it can also reproduce from the roots up. To help with this, our partner company All Terrain Vegetation Services comes to spray the chopped-off plants during the crew’s off-season.
In 2019, a European flea-beetle species was introduced to the area to eradicate the leafy spurge. Previously, the weed had no natural predators in Waterton, which allowed it to be so invasive. The beetles were expected to eat their way down to the root system and kill the plant during the winter.
“I think the winter killed them all off,” Tomas says. He and the plant’s Environmental Coordinator, Stephen DeCock, were disappointed.
But in some ways, that was expected. The Weed Crew knows better than anybody that invasive species do not simply disappear. Tomas says, “You can’t pick a spot really well this year and expect it to not grow back. It can get a little tiring, especially if you’re revisiting the same spots year after year. There is progress that I can see, but there are new weed spots every year too.”
A NEVER-ENDING JOB WELL DONE
The Weed Crew’s work is never done. They will be back next year to continue mitigating the spread of invasive species and help manage the land around Pieridae sites.
“It’s always easier to solve a small problem then to let the problem grow for fifteen years and become a big one.”