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One step ahead in the fight against Calgary’s foxtail barley

Tweaks to Calgary’s Community Standards Bylaw would help control the problematic foxtail barley on nuisance properties earlier in its lifecycle to help avoid further spread and danger to pets.

The item comes to the June 28 Community Development Committee meeting with recommendations to forward the matter on as urgent business for approval at the July 4 regular meeting of Calgary city council.

The City’s current rules require control of grasses and herbaceous plants over 15 centimetres. Proposed changes would require control of foxtail barley that’s grown higher than eight centimetres.

“The proposed amendment provides the ability to regulate the plant before it reaches maturity,” the admin report reads.

Once foxtail barley reaches maturity, it goes to seed. The seeds – or spiked awns – of the plant, when spread, pose a serious health risk to pets.

Last summer, Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer and his ward staff joined concerned community members in a pick-and-pull event around the Mahogany stormwater retention pond.  Foxtail barley had become a growing problem in the area, causing concern for pet owners walking their dogs in the area.

Some Calgary homeowners backing onto the stormwater retention pond had protective drapes on their fences to prevent the spiked awns from reaching their backyards.

Spencer said he’s pleased with where admin has landed on proposed new rules. He said the key is in the potential option to issue a remedial order if a nuisance property isn’t dealt with by the property owner.

They won’t jump at that right away though.

“The preferred pathway will be interacting with landowners, folks that are growing lots of this or whether it’s a developer or someone else and saying, ‘hey, you need to do something about that,’” he said.

“That makes sense to me. It feels like we’ve found a good place in terms of the regulatory framework.”

Ward 12 Coun. Evan Spencer gets a firsthand look at the efficacy of Malissa Sargent’s fabric covering on her back fence, in August 2022. He’s picking the foxtail barley seeds out of it. DARREN KRAUSE / LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Penalties for non-compliance

There is a proposed ticket of $500 for not handling the issue on a nuisance property.

(A nuisance property under the City bylaw is one that shows “serious disregard for general maintenance and upkeep, that adversely affects the safety or health of surrounding residents…”)

After that, Calgary bylaw officers can issue a remedial order. That remedial order requires a property owner to deal with the issue under the bylaw. If the remedial order is ignored, the city does have the option of taking care of the issue and passing the cost off to the landowner, Spencer said.

Foxtail barley is more prevalent in disturbed soil areas and tracts of land with high salinity. The City said it’s these traits that allow the ease of spread through new communities.

The plant itself is a valued member of the ecosystem. The root system and rapid growth make it great for erosion control. Plus, before maturity, it is an important food source for grazing animals and waterfowl, the city said. Widespread removal of foxtail barley would have “extensive ecological impacts,” according to the city.

With proper control and settled soils in time, Spencer expects the problem will solve itself.

“I think, long, long down the road, just through the cycles and through healthy soil, we will see this lower in prominence because it does get out-competed by other grasses and healthy turf stands,” he said.

The city has had awareness campaigns that encourage hand pulling and bagging of foxtail barley by citizens in affected communities.

City admin also did raise the risk of collateral environmental damage if a property owner resorts to herbicide to control larger outbreaks.