Winning the war against invasive phragmites

By MPP Toby Barrett 

Those travelling Long Point Bay can see the progress in the local battle against phragmites – and see that we are winning. 

Phragmites has been called the largest invasive plant facing Ontario by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. It thrives in wetlands and ditches and beyond, crowding out native vegetation and creating a monoculture. It isn’t healthy for birds or native wildlife . 

Since first arriving at Long Point more than 20 years ago, phragmites has become the dominant plant species in a lot of areas around the bay, it’s tall feathery heads swaying in the wind and spreading seed further and further. By 2014, phragmites had covered 40 per cent of the wetlands. It spreads both by the seeds and underground tubers. 

Surveying the Turkey Point Marsh, for example from the Joe Csubak Lookout, we can now see channels with green cattails between them where phragmites dominated a few years earlier. At the Long Point causeway, the Big Creek marsh – owned by the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) – succumbed to a phragmites monoculture. At present, native plants are beginning to come back after spraying last year. 

Spraying of Long Point Provincial Park started in September 2016 and has been 99 per cent successful. This initiative has continued in the private marshes and federal lands of Long Point. 

The success of this initiative is a tribute to many local stakeholders. Eric Cleland of the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has been leading spraying efforts, while Janice Gilbert of Invasive Phragmites Control Centre was an early leader in the fight. Many partners came together to make things happen, including the Long Point Ratepayers Association, Long Point Waterfowlers Association and private marsh owners. MP Diane Finley pushed for spraying on federal wetlands. 

My office worked relentlessly to ensure phragmites were sprayed at Turkey Point Provincial Park beach after several years of inaction by the previous government. This was followed by flattening and burning the plants. We also worked with the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry John Yakabuski last year to help raise awareness of the importance of continuing these efforts on provincial lands. Last year, the Ontario Trillium Foundation aided NCC with the purchase of a boat to control phragmites. 

With four years of action behind us, about half of Long Point’s 2,800 acres of wetland is now under control. Treatment is planned for the remaining stands of phragmites in Long Point Provincial Park and the provincial Crown marsh this year.  

On federal lands, treatment will continue in the Big Creek National Wildlife Area as well as spraying in the Thoroughfare Unit. There is still much work left though, further out on the point. 

With the phragmites removed, Species at Risk such as Fowler’s toad has started to use the areas again. The effort at Long Point is an important one due to it being an internationally important migration staging area for waterfowl and other birds. 

This remarkable control effort has been possible due to the emergency registration with the Pest Management Regulatory Agency. This was to allow a special glysophate formulation to be used over water. Hopefully the manufacturer will pursue full registration to make this tool available to all of us for controlling phragmites. 

There is still much work to do to totally win the war against phragmites and eliminate it. 

Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk