Battling phragmites: County-wide permit, funding may provide homeowners relief

ESCANABA – Areas of Delta County infested by the invasive species phragmites may soon see some relief.

The Delta Conservation District now holds a county-wide phragmites permit through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, removing the need for each individual home or landowner with the invasive species to apply individually for a permit if they sign up under the county-wide permit option.

According to Delta Conservation Executive Director Rory Mattson, the permit covers spraying and mowing of phragmites in acquatic areas.

Mattson said Delta County alone has approximately 1,400 acres of phragmites, up from about 25 acres when he surveyed the county approximately six or seven years ago.

Phragmites are an invasive aquatic grass common in wet areas, ditches, along lakeshores and rivers. However, Mattson said he is starting to notice the species reach the forests in swampy areas, likely spread by birds that eat the seeds of the plant and transport them further inland.

“We had phragmites in this county approximately 10 years ago,” said Mattson. “It wasn’t bad. There was just some isolated spots. Now most of our phragmites are coming from the Green Bay area….When the seed plops in the water and we get the south winds, up it comes.”

Phragmites reproduce by seed and by spreading out to new areas. They have runners that extend certain lengths, depending on their health and weather conditions, and set down a root every so often marking where a new shoot will grow.

“The bad thing about this phragmites is when it gets in an area and takes it over, it totally wipes everything out underneath it,” he said. “Every bit of aquatic habitat that was there is totally gone in a monoculture that’s been around for five or six years.”

The DCD has been working with the Upper Peninsula Resource Conservation & Development Council to treat the issue, since limited funding through an approximately $250,000 federal grant is available to help eradicate the problem U.P.-wide through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

An estimated 400 acres of phragmites throughout the U.P. is expected to be sprayed through using the grant, including 250 acres in Delta County alone.

Mattson said through mapping, the DCD has noticed phragmites growing mostly on the eastern shores of Delta County, from around Rapid River down the eastern shores of the Stonington and Garden peninsulas.

“The west sides have it, but not much,” he said. “Those west sides will be a major priority area for us to start because they’re just small infestations right now. We’re going to target areas where it’s just here and there.”

From July 29 to Aug. 30, landowners affected by phragmites can sign up by for potential funding by stopping into the DCD office at Pioneer Trail Park. According to Mattson, people need to sign up in person, so the DCD can view their land on a map, but he noted the sign-up process is not on a first-come, first-served basis.

“When they come in and sign up, we are going to ask if they can pay for it themselves, so we’ll prioritize what RC&D uses the grant on,” he said. “The information we need is their name, mailing address, address of the phragmites infestation, and the length of beach-front they own.”

A commercialized applicant and sprayer will then begin treatment of phragmites Sept. 4.

A reduced funding mechanism will be available for those landowners who do not receive grant funding assistance.

Those with phragmites infestations inland, away from the Great Lakes, are asked to contact the DCD so they can come out and map it, since the DCD has been working on mapping phragmites in Delta County for the last month and a half.

The DCD is also holding an educational and demonstration-filled Phragmites Field Day Aug. 8 at 1 p.m. at the Breezy Point Bar & Grill in Ford River, where large stands of the invasive species are present. A representative from Davis-Wanic Land Surveyors will be present to show people how the ordinary high water mark can be set, which has a lot to do with jurisdiction from property ownership to the DEQ, said Mattson. CK Invasives will also hold spraying demonstrations. The event is open to the public.

For more information, call Mattson or the DCD at (906) 280-6947 or (906) 553-7700.