Drones, dogs and DNA the latest weapons against invasive species

By Tamsyn Burgmann


RICHMOND, B.C. _ Field technicians on the hunt for invasive species used to go on foot, by canoe or relied on satellite photographs taken from outer space.

But an ecologist who dispatched a drone to detect invaders in a British Columbia wildlife area is now recommending more remote-controlled robots do the difficult work.

“With a drone we’re looking at pixel sizes that are teeny tiny. The resolution is amazing. You can literally zoom in and see all the petals on that flower,” said Catherine Tarasoff, an adjunct professor at Thompson Rivers University.

“I’ve gotten past the steep learning curve and see the unlimited possibilities.”

Tarasoff trialled the unmanned aerial technology last June at the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, an internationally protected wetland in south-central B.C.

The successful experiment was one of several cutting-edge advancements showcased in Richmond, B.C., on Tuesday in the ongoing battle against invasive species. More than 150 specialists from across the province are gathered for three days to discuss emerging issues and learn about the latest techniques to apply in their own regions.

“There’s way more technology involved than there used to be,” said Gail Wallin, executive director of the Invasive Species Council of B.C., which is hosting the forum. “We’re in a whole new world now.”

Wallin said technology has not only empowered the experts, but is making a dent by enlisting the public. For example, there are now smartphone apps that help identify and report what’s in your backyard.

The council hopes to persuade people to take preventative actions against spreading invasives as a new social norm, just like recycling, she said.

“Now I can give you tools, and without being an invasive species specialist, you can go and find out what is invasive and what to do,” she said, noting the strategies are also being disseminated over social media.

“You don’t need to know about mussels or spartina or milfoil, or anything like that.”

Prof. Tarasoff, who also runs her own consulting firm, ran the drone pilot project after she was approached by the wildlife area’s manager, who suggested she try the increasingly popular technology.

So she sent two students and the drone out for two days to map a vast region being consumed by the yellow flag iris, a plant considered one of the province’s worst invasives. The species with garden-flower appeal was used by landscapers all along the coast before ecologists realized it was swallowing aquatic environments and decimating habitats.

Tarasoff said the camera-mounted drone soared about 50 metres above to snap thousands of photos, which were stitched together into a massive final image. When viewed on a computer, she could move her mouse cursor over any spot to find out its GPS location. The data was handed over to experts tasked with weeding out the invader.

Drones could save money over the long-term and provide an alternative to dangerous, labour-intensive foraging, she said. Her next goal is to train a “smart drone” that can determine on its own which species must be photographed.

Other novel techniques gaining traction and reducing human error include sniffer dogs and DNA analysis, the forum heard.

Cindy Sawchuk, with Alberta’s environment and parks ministry, described using canines’ ultra-sensitive nose as a “game changer” for blocking the entry of zebra and quagga mussels on boats returning to the province after visiting foreign waters.

A double-blind trial that compared dogs to trained watercraft inspectors found the animals outperformed humans in every category, she said. Dogs detected mussel-fouled boats 100 per cent of the time, while the people only caught hitchhikers 75 per cent accurately.

Canada’s federal fisheries department is also getting on board with more sophisticated detection methods, said Davon Callander, who works at its Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, B.C.

She said that invasive species can now be detected in environmental DNA, which is found abundantly in any ecosystem.

“It really is as easy as going out and getting a litre of water,” she said, explaining how the samples are filtered for the “eDNA,” which is then amplified, sequenced and matched to species’ barcodes.

“Times are changing.”


Montreal area hockey player awarded $8 million after being paralyzed

By Stephanie Marin


MONTREAL _ A Montreal-area hockey player who was 16 when he became quadriplegic after a bodycheck from behind propelled him into the boards has been awarded $8 million.

One of Andrew Zaccardo’s lawyers said the amount handed down in a judge’s ruling this week might be a record in such a case in any sport.

Stuart Kugler said the decision is also important for other reasons.

“It is a reminder to all hockey players and coaches that checks from behind are not acceptable and are strictly prohibited because they can cause catastrophic injuries such as those suffered by Andrew Zaccardo,” Kugler said in an interview Wednesday.

Zaccardo has been unable to walk and has had to use a wheelchair since being hit by Ludovic Gauvreau-Beaupre in 2010. He also has limited use of his hands.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Daniel W. Payette concluded in his judgment that the rule of law still applies on the ice.

Payette, who was able to watch the bodycheck because a parent had filmed the incident, dismissed Gauvreau-Beaupre’s argument he did not mean to hit Zaccardo and that he wasn’t able to stop before contact was made.

“There was nothing accidental in the gesture,” Payette wrote, adding that Gauvreau-Beaupre’s version of events was “neither credible nor reliable.”

The judge pointed out that Gauvreau-Beaupre didn’t brake, try to change direction or minimize contact but rather used his arm to slam his opponent into the boards and even jumped in the process.

Gauvreau-Beaupre, who was sanctioned for a similar incident two years earlier, argued bodychecks are part of hockey and that there is an inherent risk when taking to the ice.

“He is wrong,” Payette ruled.

“I hope, and the (Zaccardo) family also hope this judgment, as well as a reminder that players should not hit from behind, will result in no other cases of people playing hockey for fun and then having to spend the rest of their lives in a wheelchair.”

Gauvreau-Beaupre and the insurance company involved have 30 days to appeal the ruling.

The Montreal Gazette quoted Zaccardo’s mother, Anna Marzella, as saying the family is happy with the ruling but still devastated by what happened.

“We truly hope that this judgment reminds all hockey players to never check from behind, and that this judgment helps prevent other hockey players from getting severely injured like my son Andrew did,” she said in a statement to the newspaper.


Alberta may qualify for federal cash injection from little known program

By Andy Blatchford and Joan Bryden


OTTAWA _ The Liberal government is eyeing a little-known federal program as it searches for ways to help Alberta cope with the financial squeeze of sinking commodity prices, The Canadian Press has learned.

The Alberta government is bracing for a steep fall in revenues in 2015-16 due to sliding resource prices, which could result in the province qualifying for cash relief from Ottawa through the so-called fiscal stabilization program.

Provinces can make claims under the program when their revenues tumble by more than five per cent from one year to the next.

But at roughly $250 million, the maximum withdrawal Alberta can claim under the program’s current formula is relatively modest for the province’s economy. Payouts were capped in the late 1980s at $60 per provincial resident; Alberta’s population is about 4.1 million.

A fiscal-stabilization payment is just one of several possibilities Ottawa is exploring as it hunts for ways to ease the pain of hard-hit Alberta, said a senior government source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

As it draws up its spring budget, the federal government has instructed bureaucrats across many departments to come up with “innovative ideas” to help the Alberta economy, said the source, who wasn’t authorized to disclose details publicly.

With the federal budget’s release expected in March, and the province’s treasury facing pressure, the clock is ticking.

The source said potential solutions being floated include speeding up infrastructure spending and tweaking the typical, per-capita infrastructure funding disbursement formula to reflect economic need. Another possibility under consideration is a boost to direct transfers to individuals, perhaps through adjustments to the employment insurance program.

The Liberal government pledged to enhance EI during last fall’s election campaign and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to pump an additional $60 billion over 10 years into infrastructure projects. However, only $17.4 billion was earmarked to flow during the Liberals’ first four-year mandate.

Next week, Trudeau is scheduled to visit Alberta, where the Liberals had an electoral breakthrough in October by winning four ridings. Before that, the party hadn’t won a seat in the province since 2004.

Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci told The Canadian Press in an interview that he’s hoping to discuss his province’s battered books with his federal counterpart, Bill Morneau.

“Certainly, I’m aware that there are some things that we could be following up with together to possibly improve the situation temporarily around the availability of federal monies,” Ceci said Wednesday.

“I would just discuss finances with (Morneau) and I’m interested in seeing if there’s any possibility we can count on federal monies in the near term that would help us through this difficult time.”

Ceci didn’t get into specifics, but when asked whether he might ask Ottawa for a loan, he replied:  “Yeah, potentially.”

Asked for more details, Ceci’s press secretary later said the minister was “really just musing about potential options” when he raised the possibility of requesting financial help from Ottawa.

Leah Holoiday stressed that Ceci remains focused on seeing federal infrastructure investments fast-tracked and more support for getting pipeline access to tidewater.

Ottawa is well aware of Alberta’s significance when it comes to economic growth across Canada, said the federal source.

“Alberta is almost 20 per cent of Canada’s (gross domestic product) even though it’s only 11 per cent of the population,” the source said.

“Alberta’s dragging down the entire Canadian economy.”

When it comes to a more targeted approach to helping Alberta, another senior federal source described a recent article written by University of British Columbia economist Kevin Milligan as making a lot of sense.

Milligan argued that regional strategies are more helpful than a nationwide plan to stimulate the economy because the oil-price shock only causes significant problems in certain areas.

In an interview, Milligan also pointed to EI enhancement as an adjustment that can provide well-targeted, quick relief to the hardest-hit regions, where job losses have been piling up.

The fiscal stabilization program could be another form of assistance, added Milligan, who said he had never heard of it.

“One of the reasons why fiscal federations are a useful thing is that we provide insurance,” Milligan said.  “When one region is doing well, we scoop a little off the top and share it around, as we do with our equalization.”

Equalization payments are designed to transfer funds from so-called “have” provinces, those on a more secure financial footing, to their “have-not” counterparts.

Because it’s calculated on a three-year average, this year’s equalization formula calls for Alberta to continue to pay into the program, even though it is reeling from a precipitous drop in oil prices.

Morneau has rejected calls to tweak the controversial equalization formula, saying that fiddling with the program would be complex.

But Milligan said the federal government might consider adjusting the fiscal-stabilization program to provide more relief to Alberta.

In October, the Alberta government predicted its revenues would drop 11.5 per cent from 2014-15 to 2015-16. Milligan said it could be worse than that, since oil prices have continued to fall.

Albertans are “hurting,” Ceci declared.

“We’re doing what we can here in Alberta to take care of each other, but federal government public sector investment would be a significant help at this time.”


Revenge Porn Leads to $100,000 Award in First of its Kind Case in Canada

When a person shares sexually explicit images with another in confidence and has that confidence betrayed by the recipient posting the images publicly on line are there recognized grounds to sue for damages?  A recent case in Ontario considered this for what I believe to be the first time and  found that such actions indeed attract liability under the existing framework of Canadian tort law.

In the recent case ( Jane Doe464533 v. Doe h/t to the Globe and Mail’s Sean Fine for sharing the case) the court set out the following facts


The video was on line for three weeks and the amount of views it received was unknown.  Justice Stinson awarded $50,000 in compensatory damages, $25,000 in aggravated damages and a further $25,000 in punitive damages along with interest and costs.

In finding this conduct to be tortious the court concluded that the torts of Breach of Confidence, Intentional Infliction of Mental Distress and Invasion of Privacy were all made out by such behavior.

Heiltsuk historically used it to treat a range of ailments, from injuries to eczema

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Canada: Here is some of the best-brewed coffee in the country. Has yours made the list?

Canada: Here is some of the best-brewed coffee in the country. Has yours made the list?

10 trailblazing coffee roasters in Canada

Source: Cottage Life | Vesna Plazacic

Muskoka Roastery, Ontario

With a focus on sustainability, community involvement, and the environment, Muskoka Roastery is the first roaster in Canada to achieve 100% Rainforest Alliance certification. Located in Huntsville, the roastery offers its fine quality beans to retailers across Ontario, and online orders are available to the rest of the country. More info: www.muskokaroastery.com

Kicking Horse Coffee, British Columbia

Nestled at the bottom of the Rocky Mountains, Kicking Horse, an organic, fair trade coffee brewery, uses Japanese Hario Syphons with a mix of mountain water and coffee beans to churn out delicious roasts that come from the best coffee-growing mountains in the world. More info:www.kickinghorsecoffee.com

Coastal Coffee Company, Ontario

What started as a small-scale business run out of a green hippie van, Coastal Coffee, which is micro-roasted on Lake Huron, Ontario’s West Coast, is now available in farmers’ markets, local retailers, and restaurants all year round. More info: www.coastalcoffeecompany.ca

Just Us Coffee, Nova Scotia

With a mission to put “People and the Planet before Profits,” Just Us, based out of Wolfville, Nova Scotia, set out to become Canada’s first Fair Trade coffee roaster in 1995. Focusing on social justice for Latin America, they offer the coffee growers fair prices and, in turn, help push forward the local and international movement towards global justice. More info:http://www.justuscoffee.com

Laughing Whale, Nova Scotia 

This East Coast eco-roaster uses a combination of traditional techniques and the low-emission, heat-recycling roasting technology to produce a delicious nuanced blend. Another organic, Fair Trade roaster, Laughing Whale focuses on the people and environment, rather than short-term profits. More info: www.laughingwhalecoffee.ca

Bean North Roasting, Yukon

Situated in the scenic Takhini Valley, northwest of Whitehorse, Bean North Coffee Roasting Company Ltd has been roasting certified organic fair trade coffee since 1997. The roastery offers fairly traded coffees from around the world, and their café has a special employee named Bear, a dog who serves as the shop’s greeter. More info: www.beannorth.com

Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters, Yukon

Yukoners love cycling, and they love their coffee. This small, family owned and operated coffee roastery has been a Whitehorse community staple for more than 15 years. They are conveniently located inside of Icycle Sport, one of the best bicycle/ski shops in Whitehorse. Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters teamed up with Yukon Brewing to create the Midnight Sun Espresso Stout, a full, thick stout that has won several awards at the Canadian Brewing Awards and tastes delicious on ice cream. But not to worry, they take online orders for those outside of the province. More info: www.midnightsuncoffeeroasters.com

Salt Spring Coffee, British Columbia

Salt Spring Island marches to the beat of its own drum. This small island has a tight-knit community chock full of farmers’ markets, creativity, and entrepreneurs. Salt Spring Coffee is one of those innovators—a family of pioneers with a passion for roasting coffee, building partnerships with farmers, and putting people and the planet first to produce world-changing cups of coffee. More info: www.saltspringcoffee.com

Fratello Coffee Roasters, Alberta

With nearly 30 years of experience in the coffee business under their belt, Fratello Coffee Roasters, based in Calgary, are passionate about coffee culture in Western Canada. The roasters work directly with farmers in the world’s best coffee growing regions to produce ethically-sourced, quality product to their customers. More info: www.fratellocoffee.com

Jumping Bean Coffee, Newfoundland & Labrador

With a focus on sustainability and the environment, this East Coast roaster offers premium coffee that produces 85% fewer Co2 emissions during roasting, and they roast between 300,000 and 400,000 pounds of coffee a year. In addition to supplying local coffee shops, locally roasted coffee can be found at 118 stores coast to coast, and a number of big retailers, such as Target Canada and six Atlantic Costco stores. More info: www.jumpingbeancoffee.ca

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