Phragmites on waterfront property. April 29, 2016. (Photo by Simon Crouch)

Comment: Phragmites A Couple Of Other Opinions

Two weeks ago my editorial comment was on phragmites and my hope that this invasive species could be controlled since I don’t believe it will be eradicated.

I got two very thoughtful emails on that comment, and I appreciate both. One from a farmer on the shores of Lake St. Clair pointed out that no matter the shortcomings of phragmites they do help prevent erosion. Fair enough.

The other is from environmental activist Ken Bell.
“There is an ongoing, meaningful debate on how we, as a society, can react to conserve Natural Heritage in the presence of invasive species.

We know that some species can become invasive in new or disturbed landscapes, while many do not. We also know that species will fill an empty or weakly held ecological niche that has been under-utilized by other species. This is how life spreads across landscapes. Sometimes gradually, sometimes in jumps and starts.

With a few rare exceptions, the vast majority of species on the planet have moved from one area to another. Sometimes they become invasive for short periods of time, until the ecology stabilizes.
A stable ecology has minimal, or periodic disturbance in time scales that allows species to adapt. Keep in mind that a ‘stable’ ecology is not a “Static” ecology. Life is change and slow change, makes for a good life!

There is recent and abundant scientific evidence (quoted below) demonstrating the long term ineffectiveness and ecological damage, brought on by sharp, periodic disturbance like burning, compaction and herbicide pollution.

Humans have used it for thatch, fuel, and fiber for thousands of years and still do today in much of Eurasia and India. It functions as a biological filter, pulling Phosphorus and Nitrogen from the water, builds land along banks and storing nutrients in insoluble fiber.

It is used as a inexpensive and effective method of bioremediation of water, pulling soluble nutrients and toxins and safely storing them.

There are eleven native varieties of Phragmites in North America that have adapted to landscapes, they themselves helped to create.

The new, Eurasian Phragmites thrives in disturbed areas, out-competing other plants including the domestic varities.

Disturbance can be mechanical, chemical, thermal or biological. Natural succession away from phragmites domination can take many decades, or even centuries, depending on the level of consistent disturbance. The lower the level of disturbance, the more quickly landscapes can heal.

Knowing the strengths can help us to design approaches to sustainable control. Phragmites needs light, and lots of it. It won’t do well in shaded conditions. It requires a lot of Phosphorus to store that energy as well as Nitrogen and CO2 to build new cells. It can be out-competed in alkaline and neutral soils by wetland species like Buttonbush and Dogwood. It tends to establish itself in disturbed marshes, usually where tires and machinery have broken the soil. It will, like all species succumb to competition when it finally chokes itself out and depletes the nutrients and water it needs to survive. This process is called Natural Succession.

Long term solutions involve accelerating natural succession through landscape engineering. Basically creating sustainable habitats that exclude Phrag. and resemble post succession landscapes.

These kinds of landscapes would include, but not be dominated by Phrag. or any single species.

This is beyond the scope of present management cycles and requires some societal change.

Chatham-Kent can help in this respect.

There are submerged properties that occasionally come up for tax sale. C-K could, waive the $5500.00 administrative fee tagged on to the tax sale price, then purchase the land for the cost of the arrears. At that point, wetlands could be gifted to the Province or the Nature Conservancy through a program like Eco-Gifts.

Environmental management need not look like warfare! Scorching the Earth, Compacting with Heavy Machinery or Poisoning the Land and Water with toxins is no longer acceptable given our present knowledge of Succession Ecology.

We can do much better, but only with knowledge and realistic goals.”