Removing Invasive Plants from Stanley Park

   Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Home   English Ivy   Blackberry  Lamium, Periwinkle, Laurel, Bindweed   Knotweed   Obstruction   


The disconnect between policy and practice is extreme. The Parks Board policy on invasive plants in the official Forest Management Plan is "To promote resilient and diverse forest ecosystems in Stanley Park by managing and controlling alien invasive species in a timely, environmentally sensitive and effective manner." Its objectives are to: "
(a) Regularly monitor forested areas and surroundings to ensure that emergent invasive plant infestations are recognized before they have a significant impact on ecosystems.
(b) Prioritize management efforts to focus on invasive species according to their potential and realized threats to forest ecosystems ... the density of coverage, degree of establishment, and size of the area infested.
(c) Apply the best management practices for invasive plants while taking into account legal requirements, impacts on park ecosystems, as well as the safety of park staff, volunteers and visitors.
They claim a policy to "Liaise with park gardeners to guard against the importation of new threats" and to "Encourage volunteer groups to assist with control programs."

Obstruction by Parks Administrators

MONITOR - Bureaucracies love to study things. They confuse 'studying' with 'doing something about'. SPES was given $10,000 (Ecological Action Plan pg 10) to map invasives. This resulted in their 2012 Mapping Update. But was the effort of any use?

  • They only reported invasives alongside the trails and ignored what was in the woods. While they found a small Laurel plant beside the trail they missed the 7-foot tall parent plant 6 feet further back. While they found small English Ivy plants along the trail, new since my last clearing, they missed the large established patches inside (see the map of two patches I found on my 2014 upkeep).
  • They completely missed a 50-foot long patch of Periwinkle right beside the trail and half a dozen other Laurel plants.
  • Their detailed mapping of one blowdown area (S8) show only 3 or 4 blackberry plants, yet I have removed about 3 dozen established plants since, and there are still more.
  • Spots of English Ivy that were cleared before the 2006 wind storm are still showing as existing, along with many other previously cleared areas. Clearly they liked to add, but not to subtract.
  • The test of whether this is all wasted effort is determined by what actions have been changed as a result of this monitoring. I have seen no change at all.

PRIORITIZE - This is not seen in action.

  • Management still supports SPES's choices of work areas for English Ivy removal (see Waste Of Volunteers below).
  • Management refuses to assume responsibility for the one remaining English Ivy plant in the middle of the west park, even though they have the necessary ladders and climbing equipment. It is self-supporting very high up a stump, and so cannot be removed by volunteers (see red dot on map on English Ivy page)
  • Parks has put no resources at all into the wild west portion of the park which would be the priority by their own definition.
  • $12,000 was budgeted for equipment to remove Japanese Knotweed in the Ecological Action Plan pg 10. That was 2011. At the end of 2014 there are signs posted and fancy plastic taping specially printed with "invasive plants", but all the plants behind the signs are perfectly happy and obviously nothing has been done.
  • Yellow Lamium has the potential to be the most damaging to the west-park, yet the outstanding patch beside 3rd Beach is on nobody's priority list. (See map on Lamium page) The Forest Management Plan (page 45) , and subsequent documents, prioritizes a Lamium patch they claim is "near to E2". Whaaaaat? Grid maps (see only grid map of SP I ever found) allow you to locate any spot within a box. The spot is either in one box or in another box. It is never "near to" a box. I think it is quite possible that this Lamium site does not even exist. Certainly no one can check that staff have cleared it, because they won't say where it is (if it exists).

BEST PRACTICES - Of course you have to actually do something before anyone can decide what 'practice' you used.

  • Reports to the Board use language to imply that work to control invasives has been ongoing, but without success. For example from the 2011 Ecological Action Plan pg 9, "Two weeds currently found in Stanley Park that have resisted all mechanical means of removal...". Believe me no work had/has been undertaken. At best staff may have monitored a small test plot.
  • Staff refuse to do the necessary work. Donations to pay the salaries and benefits of staff to finish clearing English Ivy from the small remaining area of the wild west park were refused (see white area on map on Ivy page). This is an explicit refusal to accomplish the policy objectives.
  • A job created to prevent the establishment of invasives in replanted areas after the wind storm was allowed to ignore that objective (SP Forest Management Plan, pg 32: "Brush Control Recommendations: Aggressively control invasive plants in seedling establishment areas."). The staff never removed any invasive plants.
  • Not mentioned below is the problem of SPES prioritizing English Ivy on sites with steep gradients. While not the best slope stabilizer, the Ivy is better than nothing. And 'nothing' is what SPES leaves. Any slopes subject to erosion should be progressively cleared, starting with a band at the top. Only when this area has been replanted, and those plants have developed sufficient root systems to hold the soil, should the next band down be cleared of Ivy. SPES and Parks don't apply this common sense.
  • At a small isolated patch of English Ivy in the middle of a lawn - a patch that could be cleared by one person in one hour without any tools - I watched 6 gardeners standing and chopping at the ivy with hoes, sending pieces flying in all directions for re-rooting. Needless to say the ivy is still growing well.
  • An ivy plant growing up a tree in the middle of another lawn caused the gardeners to pull it down. But they left all the pieces created just lying on the grass waiting for the next wind to blow them into the base of a nice shrub for re-rooting. Other gardeners just out of sight refused to lend me their rake to collect the pieces.
  • The trail crews that mow the sides of trails refuse to raise the weed-whacker - spreading the multiplied ivy plants with a leaf-blower.
  • Staff continue to 'manage' blackberries by pulling the canes off root node - a guaranteed make-work-project. Recently the gardeners have started dumping wood chips a foot deep onto the Blackberry sites in their gardens after the plants' tops have been pulled off --- obviously hoping the new growth will not be able to push through. Wrong. They are now left with viable plants waaaaay harder to dig up correctly, and a layer of chips preventing any other 'good' plant from replacing any Blackberries correctly removed in the future. A waste of money to buy the chips and deliver them and offload them and spread them. Time that would probably have been sufficient to simply dig up the roots in the first place.
  • The 2015-18 Capital Budget includes money and facilities for The Invasive Species Council, as promised on page 42 of the 2014 Stewardship Action Plan. These people have spent $100s of thousands of taxpayers' money at the provincial level and produced nothing of value that is not found elsewhere on the WWW. They come up with educational booklets like this one for Blackberries. Their recommended Blackberry removal strategies DO NOT include simply digging up the roots. Why? No doubt because this organization is quasi-government, and reflects the POV of union employees who really, really, really don't want to do any physically hard work that might actually accomplish something.

LIAISE WITH GARDENERS - That has clearly never happened.

  • The General Manager's response during a Parks's Board meeting to my claim (that gardeners were cultivating the same plants I was breaking my back to clear) was (to paraphrase) "The Yellow Lamium does no harm in cultivated beds adjacent to the wild west of SP because it is 'under control'." Five years later those cultivated beds are completely overrun.
  • Union members make no effort to weed new infestations of invasives in cultivated flower beds, even when specifically asked, even after they were originally cleared by volunteers. UPDATE Aug 2014 -- for the very first time I have seen a gardener pull up some blackberry plants by their roots. This was a bottom-up decision resulting from a conversation, not from management.
  • Gardeners continue to decrease lawn-mowing schedules that allow blackberries to invade - at which point they stop mowing all together.
  • The $10,000 given to SPES to 'educate' Parks staff about invasive plants has been a waste (Ecological Action Plan pg 10). More and more of Park's gardens have become infested with these ground covers. Thus they become the point sources of new infestations in the woods.


  • After the wind-storm all fallen trees in the wild west park were removed except for the ONE on top of an Ivy patch - even though right beside the trail. This directly violated the stated policy to "reduce risk of forest fires by removing fine woody debris within five meters of all trails" (from page 24 of the SP Restoration Plan). Park's refusal to remove this particular tree (dozens of requests to all possible workers/administrators over three years) was justified with such ludicrous excuses that pure obstruction was the obvious motive.
  • When the Yellow Lamium at Hollow Tree was being dug up, garbage cans used for disposal (because it cannot be composted) were removed, and staff refused to empty the remaining one.
  • Parks was asked for the loan of landscaping fabric with which to smother the Lamium - but they refused. The excuse given was that foreign material was not allowed in the park ...... even though this fabric was extensively used on the north-facing bluffs, although its use was only to be short-term, and although the use of landscape fabric is noted as a successful method in the Ecological Action Plan pg 9.
  • A request to NOT re-seed with grass (because the Lamium would continue to send up new shoots) was refused. Not surprisingly the area WAS never re-seeded and most probably was never planned for re-seeding, so Park's refusal to give their assurance was just an obstructive power-trip.
  • When the borders of a patch of Lesser Periwinkle were pulled, and a newspaper mulch put down to prevent the further expansion of the plot, until it could be properly cleared, Parks staff took away the mulch, leaving bare ground for expansion. They have time for destruction, but not construction.
  • No doubt Parks gives great support to SPES. Because SPES has a yearly payroll of $500,000 coming mostly from taxpayers, they have become Park's captive 'expert'. If Parks wants a dinosaur park, SPEC will provide the claims to support it. If Parks want to cut a new path through the woods for bicycles, even while a perfectly good road already exists, SPEC gives their stamp of approval. Etc.
  • Parks staff refuse to deal with Blackberry plants I have pulled up and stacked neatly at trail junctions and gargage cans. Leaving them creates a hazard for dogs and feet in flipflops, because the thorns don't disintegrate. I appreciate that green-matter should not go into landfills, but I have been forced to eventually stuff the plants into gargage cans, so that work-to-rule workers are forced to clear it. The only time my pullings are removed is when my pile is 6 feet tall in a very public spot. Obviously staff don't want the public knowing I am accomplishing anything. They will remove the recent 6-foot pile and still leave behind the wilted plants underneath from previous work.
  • Seven years after the SP Restoration Plan, the 2014 Environmental, Education and Stewardship Action Plan was passed by the Board that promises all kinds of collaboration, communication, sharing, support, etc, etc on remediation efforts. All promises that the last 7 years have proven over and over to be nothing but hot air.

Waste of Volunteer Efforts by SPES

The Parks Board works with the Stanley Park Ecological Society (SPES) who have multiple mandates to educate, entertain and also work doing ecological remediation. There is no doubt that most all of the 1,000 and 1,000 and 1,000 volunteers who have worked with SPES clearing English Ivy thought their efforts were accomplishing something. But after close to a decade of work SPES has cleared no defensible area of the wild.

They direct efforts to cultivated areas that are the responsibility of staff gardeners, where there is no 'ecology' to be saved. They work on tiny strips of land between roads not large enough to have any natural ecology. They have worked in so many different small spots that they don't bother marking them on their own maps. The spots are not connected and the area within a defensible boundary is never completed - so the surrounding ivy start to re-grow immediately.

All natural areas include rough ground where clearing Ivy is difficult. SPES simply ignores the ivy there, even while their maps show the area completely cleared. They crowd many volunteers into small areas where only a few could properly work. This makes 'no one' responsible for complete clearing. It creates a 'rush' to pull as fast as possible before your neighbor can. They don't even give volunteers garbage bags into which to stuff their pullings. As a result the work is incomplete - leaving many visible plants and even more broken stems underground. Their 'cleared' areas sprout healthy new crops within two years.

SPES invented the objective to remove ivy growing up trees, without thinking of the consequences. Tree-ivy is the easily seen visual clue that ground-ivy exists. Once removed, the remaining ground-ivy will easily be missed. SPES volunteers cut tree-ivy but LEAVE the ground ivy. This is sheer idiocy unless the ground ivy can (and will) be clearly seen. Very little of the tree-ivy is of a size to cause a problems, and the ground-ivy left in place will quickly send new stems up the trunk. This is a make-work project.

Obstruction by SPES

  • In 2006,my first year of work, after volunteering with SPES once, I asked SPES to borrow a shovel during their next organized event. I specified where I was working. Within 24 hours my pile of pullings left at the trail-side were vandalized and thrown back into the woods. Obviously they refused the shovel too.
  • I have asked them to allocate their volunteers to the remaining area of the wild west park (the white area of map on Ivy page), but they refuse.
  • A request of SPES and Parks, to assume responsibility for the ongoing maintenance of the west park already cleared of Ivy was refused by both.
  • Their map (below) of work they claim to have done clearing tree-ivy in the areas I had already cleared (and revisited once), raises the possibility that they have found some sites I missed. I needed to find out 'where' exactly, because the ground-ivy would still exist. They refused to loan me their GPS maps or allow any of their staff to show me the sites -- claiming that would be 'unprofessional' of them.

The Disingenuous Claims of SPES

In the 2012 Invasive Plant Mapping Update document SPES published maps of their successful 'removals'. One of their maps is below from page 32. But they have not cleared ANY defensible area of ivy.

  • Area #1 on the map is wall-to-wall well established ivy - none of which has ever been touched for at least 25 years. SPES did not respond to my query.
  • Area #2 has been worked on three times over the years. It completely regrew the first two times, and is half-way to being regrown this third time. This is not a testament to the powers of English Ivy. It is a testament to ineffective clearing. If you blow up their image enough you see that they do not colour all the way to the road boundary. They left the ivy all along there. And they left untouched lots of other spots inside their coloured area as well.
  • Area #3 is also wishful thinking. Work has been done alongside the road but even there lots of ivy patches have never been touched. Where work was done it has started to regrow from broken stems left underground. None of the ivy all along the trail boundary has been touched. All the little dots on the right are small areas of work surrounded by ivy that will quickly re-populate the little worked areas.

The piece de resistance is their taking credit for work done by others. The map below is of their own work clearing tree-ivy -- cutting off ivy that is climbing trees, while leaving what is growing on the ground. You can see that the yellows inside the wild-west-park include the areas I had already cleared -- of both tree and ground ivy -- years previously. About which they had been informed.