Invasive phragmites and the wetlands of tomorrow — Ducks Unlimited Canada
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Wetlands, Wildlife

Invasive phragmites and the wetlands of tomorrow

How can we reduce the impacts of non-native phragmites on wetlands?

January 29, 2020
Phrag roller: DUC has been a partner in a large-scale phragmites removal program on Long Point. The invasive plant has taken hold in coastal marshes on the north shore of Lake Erie.
Phrag roller: DUC has been a partner in a large-scale phragmites removal program on Long Point. The invasive plant has taken hold in coastal marshes on the north shore of Lake Erie. © DUC

World Wetlands Day has a special place in our green hearts here at DUC. This year, we’re thinking about the outsize role that wetlands play in the circle of life, providing shelter for a rich diversity of plants and animals—which is known as biodiversity.

In Ontario, we’re worrying about the negative effect that invasive plants are having on wetlands and biodiversity.

A non-native reed, phragmites, has really taken hold in the past 20 years, squeezing out turtles and toads and filling in the open-water pools preferred by wetland birds. Phragmites first gained traction in coastal wetlands on Lake Erie and Lake Huron, then spread inland throughout the southern Great Lakes region.

The fast-growing reeds develop into dense stands that block easy passage for people and animals, including native turtles which can become trapped among the plant’s tall stalks. The plant is an amazing survivor, able to thrive in deep water and along shorelines but also in disturbed spaces like roadside ditches.

In recent years, DUC has been investing more and more in phragmites education and removal. We’ve developed a protocol for managing phragmites in our 3,840 wetland habitat projects in Ontario. And we’re a partner in large-scale control, by helicopter and “phrag roller”, in the coastal marshes of the Long Point region on the north shore of Lake Erie.

The Lambton Shores Phragmites Community Group tries to keep up with invasive phragmites on their local shorelines on Lake Huron.
The Lambton Shores Phragmites Community Group tries to keep up with invasive phragmites on their local shorelines on Lake Huron. © DUC

What does the future look like?

It seems that we are looking at a “new normal” and phragmites will continue to infiltrate wetlands across the province. But in our search for answers, we found reasons for hope too.

We’ve learned that rehabilitated wetlands rebound swiftly and native plants, birds and animals return once the dense reeds are gone.

We’re also far from alone. There is promising, new science led by the University of Toronto in Canada—and developed at Cornell University in the United States over the past two decades—which may provide a long-term solution to help manage the invasive phragmites population.

And we’ve connected with other “phrag fighters” like Nancy Vidler and her team of volunteer vigilantes who have led the charge on local phragmites control in Lambton Shores. And like Ernie and Angela Lynch, who are rallying their neighbours and local councils to be ready for an influx of phragmites in Dufferin County, their central Ontario community.

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We’re confident that the rapid rise of phragmites can be curbed if we continue to work together. DUC is uniquely positioned to help reduce the impacts of non-native phragmites, thanks to our in-house science experts and our deeply felt commitment to protect our thousands of wetland projects and the landowners who look to us for leadership in defending those wetlands.

DUC is investing more and more in phragmites education and removal to protect our 3,840 wetland habitat projects in Ontario. In our search for answers, we’ve found reasons for hope and ways for everyone to help.
DUC is investing more and more in phragmites education and removal to protect our 3,840 wetland habitat projects in Ontario. In our search for answers, we’ve found reasons for hope and ways for everyone to help. © DUC

What can you do about phragmites?

Invasive species are changing the places we love. And you can help.

  1. Clean your gear. When you’re hiking, boating, fishing or other outdoor activities, be sure to clean your boots and equipment so you don’t accidentally walk away with invasive seeds or plants.
  2. Report sightings right from your smartphone. Keep an eye on the shoreline, wetlands or shallow bays—at home, at the cottage, or on nature trips. Report sightings on the Ontario app for iOS or Android devices: Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System (EDD Maps).
  3. Join the phrag fighters. There are many resources to get you started. The Ontario Phragmites Working Group and the Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative have resources to learn about the plant and connect with other people. The Great Lakes Marsh Monitoring Program invites volunteers to collect information in coastal and inland marshes as “citizen scientists.”

Inspiration for this article is due in part to the outstanding series, How do recent changes in Lake Erie affect birds? Part one: Invasive Phragmites by Doug Tozer and Gregor Beck of Birds Canada.