Invasive species in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan is home to over 100 000 lakes and rivers, making the prairie province a hotspot for anglers, boaters, and recreational cottagers from near and far. There are unique and diverse water bodies found all across Saskatchewan, from the salty Little Manitou Lake where you can float just like the Dead Sea, to vast Lake Athabasca in the north where you can fish for deep, cold water species like lake trout. 

Just like many other provinces and territories across Canada, Saskatchewan is in the midst of preventing damage to these fragile ecosystems from invasive species. These species, which can be plants, animals, or fish, are species that come from another ecosystem and quickly establish themselves – potentially outcompeting native species and causing ecological or economic damage. 

The best way to battle invasive species is to prevent them from establishing before they become a problem. This is done through awareness, making sure anglers and boaters know the risks of spreading invasive species and the strategies to prevent the spread. Once invasive species are established, they are extremely difficult — if not impossible – to get rid of. 

Preventing the spread of zebra mussels in Saskatchewan

One of the most well known and well documented invasive species in aquatic ecosystems are the closely related Zebra and Quagga Mussels. In the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence basin, these small molluscs have already changed the dynamics of the water systems and caused numerous native mussels to decline. 

Luckily, these species are currently not present in Saskatchewan, and folks are working to make sure it stays that way. The Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment has launched an aquatic invasive species prevention program, targeting recreational boaters to clean, drain, and dry their watercraft after a day on the water. Washing with hot water, draining any and all bilge or ballast water, and ensuring a complete drying period will kill any mussel larvae potentially attached to your watercraft and prevent cross contamination that spreads invasive species.

Know what else can spread invasives, inadvertently? Water testing equipment!

Make sure you clean, drain, wash, and dry any and all water testing equipment when moving between water bodies to stop the spread of invasive species.

A close up of an invasive zebra mussel. Although not currently in Saskatchewan, it is a large focus of aquatic invasive species prevention and education.
An example of a zebra mussel, not currently present in Saskatchewan but a target of prevention efforts. Credit: Dave Brenner, Michigan Sea Grant

Purple loosestrife 

Although Saskatchewan is Zebra Mussel free, there are other invasives species currently present, established, and affecting ecosystems. One of these is purple loosestrife, a perennial weed that is rapidly spreading all across North American lakes, rivers, wetlands, and roadside ditches. 

Originally from Europe and introduced as an ornamental plant for beekeeping, it establishes and spreads rapidly along shorelines, crowding out native plants and reducing habitat for native wildlife, including turtles, birds, and frogs.

If you spend time along Saskatchewan’s shorelines, or are out water testing, learn to identify this plant to avoid spreading seeds on your tools or watercraft. If there is a manageable patch near you, a group of volunteers can potentially eradicate a small area with an afternoon of pulling weeds!

For more serious management, contact your local Ministry of Environment office. 

A field of invasive purple loosestrife, blooming with purple flowers. This is a common aquatic invasive species in Saskatchewan.
A field of invasive purple loosestrife Credit: Liz West, Flickr

Take action!

  • Invasive species prevention strategies often rely on citizen scientists and volunteers to conduct early response monitoring and surveys of lakes to examine for the presence of invasives.
  • Getting started with Water Rangers water testing is also a great way to understand your watershed, look for early warning signals in water quality data, and track invasive species at your testing sites.
  • Contact us for more information or to get your watershed group set up with the tools and equipment you need for comprehensive water quality testing.