Winning the war against phragmites

Alex Doty • Feb 15, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Environmental stewards are hailing victories in the battle against invasive phragmites in the lower Grand River.

Work conducted during the past seven years in a stretch of the river from Harbor Island to Indian Channel has resulted in a 98 percent reduction in the invasive plant, according to Wetland Watch’s Leslie Newman.

“We’ve raised awareness,” she said. “When we started, people didn’t know what phragmites were.”

News of the group’s success comes on the heels of the latest round of treatment, which occurred last fall.

“They surveyed in 2016 for what they would have to treat,” Newman said. “In 2017, they treated.”

There has been myriad support for the effort to control the spread of the invasive plant, Newman said — from partnerships with property owners along the Grand River; working collaboratively with the City of Grand Haven, Board of Light & Power and Ottawa County; to grant agreements with the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation.

Evidence of the effectiveness of the treatment includes return of productive wetland areas with native plants, Newman noted, as well as new animal and aquatic life activity.

“We’ve even seen native phragmites come up in some of the treated areas,” she added. “That’s something we will look forward to.”

According to the Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative, native phragmites are frequently found in wetlands with high biodiversity, and also supply food and nesting resources for wetland residents.

Even as Wetland Watch touts its success, the organization notes that the fight isn’t over. According to Newman, a plan is being developed that includes a number of steps to keep invasive phragmites at bay. 

— One step is to identify partners with similar interests and objectives in the region to encourage these groups to keep invasive phragmites on their agendas.

— Ongoing education about invasive phragmites is also a goal, Newman said. Letters would be sent to residential and business partners who helped with treatment in the past, and Newman said volunteers would be trained to help identify areas that may need to be treated.

— Another goal is to keep up with research in order to improve herbicide application methods, improve herbicides and identification methods, and to have the area professionally monitored.

— Finally, officials note that additional treatment will be needed to take care of any unidentified regrowth and new growth. Newman said budget requests would likely be made to local units of government for treatment needs as new growth is identified.

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