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Councillor hoping for rules around foxtail barley control in Calgary

Spencer wants to have some foxtail barley rules in place on larger, developing tracts of land.

A Calgary city councillor is hoping to take the next step toward curbing the spread of foxtail barley in city communities.

Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer will bring forward a Notice of Motion to Tuesday’s Executive Committee Meeting, looking for amendments to the City’s Community Standards Bylaw to deal with foxtail barley on larger, non-residential parcels of land.

The motion will only be reviewed for procedure before being sent for full debate at an upcoming regular meeting of council.

Foxtail barley spread has been a growing issue in some parts of Calgary. It becomes particularly thorny for animals, who ingest or inhale the seeds (awns).  

“It really became an issue that was hard to ignore as some land sat fallow in the neighbourhood of Mahogany and then also the Seton area as well,” Spencer told LiveWire Calgary.

“When you end up having essentially a whole field that looks like it was seeded with it, impacts can be quite extreme for folks that are downwind of it.”

He said citizens were continually bringing it up on community pages. Some residents said that it blanketed their yards like snow.  Spencer said some area residents take their dogs for walks elsewhere in the city to avoid the dangers.

Last summer, Spencer, along with community members held a foxtail-picking event around one of Ward 12’s wetlands.

According to the city’s website, foxtail barley is part of a healthy prairie ecosystem but does cause issues for dogs.

“Foxtail barley is a native plant found in Calgary that thrives in disturbed soil like construction sites and roadsides with low nutrients and high salinity (salt),” their website reads.  

The city said they’re trialing micro clover and urban grass mixes in areas with foxtail barley to minimize weeding and to outcompete these plants.

Focus on the developing land

Spencer said the city has been responsive when there are problem areas, as have some developers.

“(A developer) sprayed pre-emergents on the field that was causing all the issues for some of the residents in Mahogany,” Spencer said.

“They actually went out and spent a good amount of money to ensure that that didn’t happen again.  But it’s not every developer.”

BILD Calgary was contacted for comment on this story. LWC did not receive a response.

Spencer’s not the only councillor that has logged concern about foxtail barley in Calgary. Last summer, Ward 2 Coun. Jennifer Wyness also posted about it on her ward website.

“Foxtail barley has spread rapidly throughout many communities in Calgary, and we’ve received many complaints in Ward 2 as foxtails are harmful to dogs – even life-threatening without medical intervention,” the website read.

In small patches, the foxtail barley spread isn’t so much a problem, Spencer said.

“Really comes down to, is there something for us to do with those large parcels of land that cause some of the more extreme cases of this where it’s not just a nuisance, it genuinely lowers the quality of liveability for a group of people, if they’re in the wrong place,” he said.

The motion calls for amendments that would deal with it on those larger parcels. It’s also asking for a public awareness campaign so citizens can protect their pets and show actions that can be taken.

“Essentially, we’re asking the administration to explore something where if we have a patch of land that is growing this and that there’s a regulatory framework that makes it a little harder to ignore,” Spencer said.