Action needed to control invasive phragmites, ecologist urges

There's a 'sneaky' invasive plant called phragmites that's doing significant damage to southwestern Ontario and one wetland ecologist says something needs to be done to stop it.
Invasive species, phragmites, is killing habitats along the Great Lakes, wetlands, creeks and highways. (Courtesy Michigan Tech Research Institute)

There's a "sneaky" invasive plant called phragmites that's doing significant damage to southwestern Ontario and one wetland ecologist says something needs to be done to stop it.

Janice Gilbert, who runs a private company that restores areas attacked by the plant, wants people to start paying attention to the threat it has on habitat along shorelines, rural fields, major highways and even in the middle of some cities and towns.

Phragmites is a tall reed with a bushy top. According to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, it has been causing severe damage to wetlands and beaches in Ontario for several decades.

"Every year we wait, the more it expands, more habitat is impacted," said Gilbert. "At some point we have to do something. We can't just keep ignoring it and saying it's too much we can't do anything about it because of what's being lost with the habitat.

"I'm hoping with people are aware of the impact on our wildlife that that will trigger something."

Gilbert said she's not sure why there hasn't been a campaign to raise more awareness of phragmites.  

"Most people don't even know it's an invasive plant growing along the road," she said. "A lot of people stop and pick it and put it in vases and think it's pretty grass. So, we are spreading it around just because we don't know any different."

There's no real effective way to get rid of the plant in Canada. If dealing with a new invasion, it can be removed through mechanical means by continues cutting or ripping it out, said Gilbert.

She said for massive areas where phragmites has spread the only tool available to get rid of it, is a chemical that can only be used over dry areas, not over wet areas, such as shores or wetlands where the plant is spreading.

"Our hands are basically tied, we are trying our best to knock it back where we can when water levels are low, but it's not effective and it's not efficient, and if we had the right chemical...effective, efficient and environmentally responsible, that's my mantra and if we had the right tools we could do it properly."

Gibert is pushing the province to allow a stronger chemical to get rid of the plant.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) is backing up Gilbert and her initiative to control phragmites.

"OFA supports the work of this group, and is taking key recommendations to the Ontario government, centred around four action items to reduce the impact of this invasive species," Mark Wales, president of OFA stated on the organization's website.

"These recommendations include emergency use permits for herbicides, approval of aerial treatment application, establishing a province-wide control program and establishing an Invasive Species Act for Ontario."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.