Battling phragmites is daunting but can be successful

By MPP Toby Barrett

 Standing at the Joe Csubak Lookout on Front Road overlooking the Turkey Point Marsh, one can see a vibrant wetland that was a few years ago a sea of phragmites. 

For those not familiar with this invasive species, Phragmites australis is an invasive non-native plant that grows densely, can reach nearly 19 feet in height, and crowds out native plants and animals. The plant grows mainly in wetlands and along roadway ditches, and it rapidly became the predominant plant in the Long Point Bay marshes. 

Long Point has many designations signifying its importance to migrating birds of all sorts, from waterfowl to songbirds. For example, the Long Point Bay marshes are the most significant staging area for waterfowl in eastern North America. Rondeau Provincial Park, and nearby Point Pelee, are also important bird migration corridors. This is why Long Point and Rondeau were chosen for the first large-scale phragmites control efforts.

Control in the Long Point and Turkey Point marshes was a large undertaking, requiring emergency approval of herbicides for spraying. Spraying was done both by helicopter, and a Marshmaster, which is a specialized shallow draft boat outfitted with sprayers. The Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), along with private wetland owners and the Canadian Wildlife Service, control efforts have been successful on the Long Point and Big Creek National Wildlife Areas with most of the phragmites now eliminated. Those that have not been, will be.  

NCC, working with several groups including Ducks Unlimited, the Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters under the Green Shovel Collaborative, is proposing to make the battle against phragmites a provincial one. 

To begin, a completion of a cost-benefit analysis for prevention, treatment and control of phragmites in Ontario is being undertaken.

The cost-benefit analysis examines the impact phragmites has on the province for items ranging from agriculture impacts to tourism, property values, ecological impacts and road safety. 

Estimates are the elimination of phragmites would benefit the province to the tune of $113.4 million annually across all these sectors. In addition, there is a one-time benefit of an estimated $357 million from not seeing the reduction in the value of waterfront property from phragmites establishment.

Phragmites growing in ditches is a major problem contributing to its spread. Seeds attach to passing vehicles and construction equipment working in the ditches and are transferred to new areas. For instance, the ditches along Highway 402 are thick with phragmites. It also gains a foothold in wet areas of private property and NCC is working with other partners to offer phragmites control for landowners in Norfolk County. 

Elimination of phragmites is a multi-year process, but the big cost is in the first year with herbicide treatment and other elimination techniques. Estimated cost is $90 million to $109 million, depending on the extent of the control efforts.  

Eliminating phragmites province-wide clearly has economic and ecological benefit.

Invasive Species Awareness Week is Feb. 28-March 4 this year. This is a great opportunity for people to learn more about invasive species, to makes efforts to stop the spread and to realize there is hope.

Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk