The Importance of Environmental Stewardship in Fighting Phragmites

By Hannah DeHetre, MNA Intern

The Michigan Nature Association is a land conservation organization that works to protect and preserve natural areas in Michigan by recruiting local volunteers to help maintain MNA sanctuaries as well as implementing conservation education. MNA was founded in 1952, as a bird study group, and now the organization owns and manages over 175 sanctuaries across Michigan. MNA relies heavily on volunteers and environmental stewardship. According to Rachel Maranto, the Stewardship Coordinator in the Lower Peninsula, volunteers are the “bread and butter” for MNA because “Michigan is such a big state and there are very few staff covering the state, so what is accomplished hinges on volunteer participation.”

rattlesnake

A massasauga rattlesnake that we saw at one of the MNA sanctuaries this summer. The Massasauga is, as of 2016, listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act (Service, U. F.), demonstrating the importance of preserving MNA sanctuaries (photo: Rachel Maranto).

To manage over 175 sanctuaries across Michigan, volunteers come out and help with work days. Over the summer, the work days involved the removal of invasive species such as autumn-olive, garlic mustard, and phragmites. According to Maranto, the management practice that is predominately used to control phragmites is spraying of herbicide. Due to her limited time, volunteers, and funding, herbicide backpacks are the tools used to deal with phrags, and it normally takes three days throughout the season to hit all the phrags in Saginaw Wetlands. Maranto also said that ideally, she would like to try mowing the phrags in the winter when the ground is frozen, and then spraying in the spring so that the vegetation is shorter, and therefore less herbicide would have to be used and it would be easier to spray. According to Maranto, the main goal of MNA in dealing with phragmites, especially at Saginaw Wetlands, is containment. Right around the sanctuary is a large invasion of phragmites around Lake Huron, and so without large-scale cooperation, all MNA can do is control the phrag invasion within their own sanctuary.

This summer, I interned at the Michigan Nature Association as a Stewardship Assistant. I spent the summer traveling to sanctuaries all around southeastern Michigan doing site-monitoring, setting up boundary markers, and most importantly: removing invasive species. We used various techniques to remove invasive species (not just phrags), such as just pulling them out of the ground, herbicide spraying, and cutting the plant and dabbing herbicide sponges on the cut stem. During my time with MNA, I got to meet some really great and dedicated volunteers, who were taking time out of their day, in the heat, to make their neighborhood a nicer place by managing their local sanctuary. Maranto told me that MNA attracts volunteers who are engaged and dedicated to helping MNA, so whenever someone leaves, it is hard to fill their shoes. For a small-scale conservation organization like the Michigan Nature Association, volunteers are vital for invasive species management. This was an interesting thing for me to learn this summer, as it really emphasizes the importance of local people caring about their neighborhood.

Lefglen sign

The entrance sign to Leflgen Sanctuary (photo: Hannah DeHetre)

My last day interning for MNA was phrag spraying at Saginaw Wetlands. Rachel, another intern, and I spent hours walking around and spraying any phragmites that we saw. It was hot and sunny, I had on a really heavy herbicide backpack, and it was really hard work. It takes real dedication and passion to work that hard for a goal that some people think is impossible to achieve, and when I asked Maranto if she ever feels discouraged, or like she is fighting a losing battle, she said that overall she is not discouraged with the work the MNA does and any discouragement that she may feel just comes from a tough day spraying phrags in the heat. She also says that overall she has seen an improvement in the phrag management in the five years that she has worked for MNA. She says that typically, one year they spray a large stand of phragmites, the next year they are dead, and the following years, volunteers just have to come back and spray any repsouts- so there is improvement, which is why Maranto does not feel discouraged.

The areas around Saginaw Wetlands are really infested, and MNA has to fight against that, and as I said before, MNA’s goal in phragmites management is containment, and that the best invasive management practice is to discover the invasion and remove it before it can get out of control, which MNA is doing well. When asked about MNA’s future plans for dealing with phragmites, Maranto said that if resources and personnel do not change, then it will be more of the same: spraying herbicide with volunteers who are willing to help. However, if some sort of biocontrol were to be developed and implemented, MNA would be a willing participant in that management practice. Another opportunity that Maranto would be interested in would be more collaborating with neighbors of sanctuaries, and with the help of partners to share the administrative burden and workload, bigger equipment could be used for ecological management.

volunteers

Another intern, Liz, and I taking a break after LOTS of phrag spraying. We still have a smile on our faces! (photo: Rachel Maranto)

The Michigan Nature Association is a conservation organization that manages and protects over 175 sanctuaries throughout Michigan. While working there this summer, I learned about and employed various management practices used by MNA to remove invasive species from their sanctuaries. More than that though, I learned about the power of local volunteers. These are people who just care about nature, and about their neighborhoods, and are willing to spend hours in the summer working hard outside for the sake of taking care of these sanctuaries. Effective conservation and management can only happen with the help of these volunteers (so go out and volunteer)!

monarch

Bonus: Monarch caterpillar that we saw at Saginaw Wetlands (photo: Rachel Maranto)

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Upcoming Stewardship Workshops & More

Looking to get more involved? The Michigan State University Extension offers many workshops, volunteer, and educational opportunities in spring to make a difference in your community. Sign up today! Then bring those new skills to Michigan Nature Association as a volunteer!

Free Saginaw Bay Phragmites workshop series set (MSU Extension): A new series of free public workshops planned in the region will provide information on current efforts to control Phragmites across Saginaw Bay, as well as give practical information for landowners on how to treat Phragmites on their property and how to enroll in larger group treatment programs. The workshops are free and no registration is required.

Exotic Aquatic Plant Watch helps volunteers detect invasive species in Michigan inland lakes (MSU Extension): Recently, during National Invasive Species Awareness Week, Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant featured aquatic invasive plants of special interest to Michigan. If you want to help detect invasive plants in your favorite lake, enroll in the Exotic Aquatic Plant Watch by April 1.

Register now to get students on board with the Great Lakes Education Program (MSU Extension): An excellent way for teachers to introduce their students to the Great Lakes is by participating in the Great Lakes Education Program, which will soon begin its 26th year of classroom and vessel-based education in southeast Michigan. Registration is now open for the spring 2016 season, which runs from mid-April through mid-June. The program allows students to understand the value of combined classroom and out-of-classroom learning, while understanding the shared ownership and stewardship responsibility we all have for the Great Lakes.

Eradicating Invasive Phragmites

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Seedheads near water. Photo via MNA archives.

Seedheads near water. Photo via MNA archives.

A straw-like plant ranging from 6-13 feet in height may seem quite harmless to come across. Yet, this plant, known as Phragmites, is an invasive species threatening the natural flora of Michigan.

Phragmites is the most common invasive plant species in Michigan.

Phragmites has a tall stalk with blades along its shaft and a red-colored seedhead that can fade to a straw-like color with age. Phragmites is usually found in wetland habitats like marshes and swamps.

This invasive species poses alarming impacts on biodiversity because it grows tall and in dense stands, squelching out any native plant and animal life by blocking sunlight and taking up space. Animals find it difficult to make habitats because of the density of the stands and find they have reduced vegetation to eat.

A thick Phragmites stand. Photo via MNA archives.

A thick Phragmites stand. Photo via MNA archives.

Phragmites obstructs views and can make it difficult for people to enjoy nature because of the difficulty of traveling through the thick reeds to get to bodies of water. It also can negatively affect navigation on highways and waterways because of its height.  Phragmites has a rapid growth rate and are prone to catching and spreading fires quickly, killing natural vegetation around it and posing threat to homes and buildings nearby.

Learn how to identify invasive species like Phragmites by clicking here.

Two methods of eliminating invasive Phragmites are prescribed burns and the use of herbicides. Prescribed burns are controlled fires that kill the invasive species, allowing a chance for native vegetation to grow. Herbicides must always be used carefully and some areas even require permits before use. Mowing is recommended post-chemical treatment.

Fracking waste legislation, oil spills, and phragmites: this week in environmental news

Each week, the Michigan Nature Association gathers news stories related to conservation and the environment from around the state and country. Here is a brief recap of what happened this week in environmental news:

 

Enbridge workers continue cleanup efforts on the Kalamazoo River near East Burnham Street in Battle Creek on Aug. 31, 2011. / Kevin Hare/The Enquirer

Bill would keep other states’ radioactive fracking waste out of Michigan (Detroit Free Press): Michigan Sen. Rick Jones says he plans to introduce legislation to stop companies in other states from dumping low-level radioactive waste materials in Michigan landfills. This comes on the heels of news that a hazardous-waste landfill in Van Buren Township is to receive 36 tons of radioactive sludge that was rejected by landfills in Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Other states have tightened regulations on radioactive fracking waste, and Sen. Jones hopes Michigan can adopt similar legislation.

Michigan business owners sue over 2010 Enbridge oil spill (Lansing State Journal): Businesses in Michigan have filed approximately 30 cases against Enbridge, the company responsible for the oil spill that dumped nearly 1 million gallons of oil in the Kalamazoo River in 2010. More than 20 of those cases have already been settled without a trial, but several remain pending. One pending case is that of Charles Blakeman, Jr. and Robert Patterson who say their business, Extreme Adventures, lost money due to the spill.

 

A boater maneuvers in Lake Michigan waves during windy conditions at Holland State Park Tuesday, July 15, 2014. (Cory Morse | MLive.com)

Will Lake Michigan’s water temperatures warm before fall? Hot weekend could help (MLive): Lake Michigan’s average surface water temperature is about 64 degrees, which is six degrees below a 21-year average. Last winter’s colder-than-average temperatures and several summertime fronts that have swept through with strong winds have kept the lake chilly. This weekend will likely be the warmest of the summer, and it is expected that the lake’s temperatures will tick a degree or two higher.

Oakland Township joins fight against phragmites (The Oakland Press): Invasive phragmites have been impacting wetlands in Oakland Township for more than five years, and the township is now working together with nearby Orion, Oxford, and Independence townships on a solution. Oakland Township has set aside funding for treatment of the plant and has applied for a treatment permit with the DEQ, hoping to begin eradication efforts this fall.

Leaking petroleum judgement gains $800,000 for state (Great Lakes Echo): The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that Strefling Oil Co. owes more than $800,000 for cleanup costs, civil fines, and administrative penalties for failure to properly remediate sites with leaking underground storage tanks in Berrien County. According to the court, petroleum products leaked into the ground at all three of the company’s storage tanks between 1994 and 2001.

Algae blooms, planting beaches, and sky glow: this week in environmental news

Each Friday, MNA highlights environmental news stories from around the state and country. Read on for this week’s news stories:

Climate change aids toxic algae, group says (The Columbus Dispatch): According to a new report, spring rainstorms made more powerful by climate change will wash more fertilizers off farms and grow even bigger toxic-algae blooms in Lake Erie. More frequent and stronger spring rains and hotter, drier summers have contributed to algae growth. The toxic algae can produce liver and nerve toxins that can sicken people and kill pets.

Low water is high time to plant beaches (Great Lakes Echo): Ecologists are urging waterfront property owners to plant their beaches. In addition to being attractive, native plants are home to insects and coastal birds, and help protect against erosion from waves. Planting natives can also impede phragmites, which degrades wetland quality and drives wildlife away. Property owners can work with environmental organizations to obtain permits and learn about identifying native and nonnative plants.

Artificial sky glow could disrupt wildlife cycles (Conservation Magazine): A new study suggests that artificial “sky glow” produced when light from cities and roads bounces off the atmosphere back to earth could disrupt wildlife cycles. The study found the urban organisms experience more hours per night in which the sky is as bright as it would be with a full moon. Nocturnal species could increase their time hunting for food, while their prey may spend more time on the run.

EPA American Wetlands Month Book Display (University of Michigan Library): May is American Wetlands Month and the University of Michigan’s Shapiro Science Library is celebrating with an exhibit of books relating to the ecology, wildlife, and conservation of America’s wetlands. Those with MLibrary borrowing privileges may check out the books, and anyone is welcome to use the books on-site.

National Invasive Species Awareness Week: March 3-8

By Katherine Hollins, Regional Stewardship Organizer – Eastern Lower Peninsula

Autumn Olive by Tracy Lee Carroll

Autumn Olive by Tracy Lee Carroll

Stewardship staff and volunteers here at MNA spend a lot of time thinking about, looking at, pulling, chopping, and otherwise dealing with invasive plants. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine what anyone did to keep busy before they arrived!

Since we spend so much time dealing with established populations, it’s easy to forget that the best time to manage invasive plants is when you barely notice their presence. That’s why the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN) was established.

Garlic Mustard by eLeSeA

Garlic Mustard by eLeSeA

The MISIN website is host to a great collection of tools and information to help you keep an eye out for invasive plants that may have just arrived in your neighborhood. MISIN has a series of identification tutorials  to help you learn the distinctive features of different invasives, and a free app to let you submit information right from the field.

If the list of tutorials is overwhelming, try starting with some pretty common plants like autumn olive, phragmites, or garlic mustard. See if you can find them along the road or in your neighborhood. Once you’re familiar with those, move on to some less-common, but on-the-move invasives like black swallowwort. MNA staff and seasoned volunteers are always happy to help you learn new invasives at our regularly scheduled volunteer days.

Volunteers at a Dauner Martin Nature Sanctuary workday

Volunteers at a Dauner Martin Nature Sanctuary workday

What’s even better than early detection? Prevention! Check out this short video about preventing aquatic hitchhikers, or if you’re eager to cozy up on a long winter night, the US Department of the Interior put together a hefty guide to cleaning equipment and vehicles to prevent the transport of invasives. And if you’re planning some new landscaping at your house, you can use this app or pdf to identify alternatives to invasive plants.

There are also many national events going on during National Invasive Species Awareness Week. For a complete list, visit the NISAW website. The first step is raising awareness, so don’t forget to share what you learn with your friends and neighbors!