“We have what was a really big problem under control,” said Leslie Newman, president of the local environment group Wetland Watch.
According to officials, there’s been a 92 percent reduction in invasive phragmites stands along the lower Grand River since the group began treatment efforts in 2010.
“That is quite a wonderful number,” Newman said.
Experts say invasive phragmites are a problem because of the plant’s extensive root system, making it extremely difficult to control. In addition to spreading quickly, the plant is harmful to wetland ecosystems.
Phragmites also increases the risk of flooding and soil erosion, leading to cloudy water, lower water quality and silted spawning beds. This can lead to a decrease in native biodiversity and quality of wetland habitat, particularly for migrating waders and waterfowl species.
According to Newman, the latest findings are the result of a collaborative effort of the Ottawa County Invasive Phragmites Control Group and a grant from the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation.
Newman said the community foundation started the effort with a grant to treat the phragmites on Harbor Island in 2010. Since then, treatment has stretched from Harbor Island all the way upstream to about 144th Avenue. Work included treatment of both public and private lands along the river.
“We’ve had wonderful cooperation from property owners,” Newman said.
Newman said treatment progress was evaluated in 2016 with aerial and land monitoring, which led to the discovery that 92 percent of the phragmites population had been reduced.
“It’s just back to what it should be,” she said. “We’ll see new growth of wetland plants and wetland diversity.”
The findings also pinpointed remaining stands of phragmites so that treatment of those stragglers can proceed this year, also subsidized by the grant.
“We have $12,000 to subsidize and we may have money left over for a second round of treatment,” Newman said.
And while officials tout their success, they say the work is ongoing due to the nature of the phragmites plant.
“We will always be maintaining because the seeds are quite viable,” Newman said.