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FOCA AGM Presentations on Invasive Species

The FOCA (Federation of Ontario Cottagers' Associations) Annual General Meeting (AGM) and Spring Seminar was held on March 3rd, 2018.  Heather Sarjeant, representative of Georgian Bay Forever, presented on behalf of the Honey Harbour Association. 

The presentation on local invasive species highlights the need to continue the fight against Phragmites. Along with Georgian Bay Forever, our goal is to help raise awareness of Phragmites and other invasive plant species threatening our waterways and to educate people about how to avoid the accidental spread of these invaders via boat or by other means. 

To view the presentation, click here.

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Momentum Builds as Phragmites Education Lends Positive Results

Georgian Bay Forever (GBF) is planning two workshops entitled “Removal and Management of invasive Phragmites” to help Georgian Bays coastal wetlands. Several of our very own volunteers from Honey Harbour attended last year's workshop and came away with valuable knowledge which helped in our efforts to eradicate a large Phragmites stand near Bide-a-Wee.

The workshop is to help protect the precious ecosystems of Georgian Bay by combatting invasive Phragmites, a type of grass that is taking over wetlands and choking growth of native, often endangered species of plants and aquatic animals.  View our Phragmites Fact Sheet.

Last year, with your help, over 8000 kilograms of Phragmites were removed from Georgian Bay! We need your help to do even better this year – the goal is to remove 2x as much!

Please come and share your findings and the activities that took place in your community last year and help us to plan and prepare for this year.

(there may be a follow up article after this workshop is over sharing some findings and possibly stories from last year’s community events.)

Space will be limited. Please let me know by return email by Friday January 10th how many are attending (limit 2 per invitee), which day, and what region of Georgian Bay you represent.

The two dates and locations for the workshops are:

  • Toronto (location TBD): Saturday April 16th (9.30 am to 2.30 pm)
  • Collingwood (location TBD): Thursday April 21st (9.30 am to 2.30 pm)

Topics and issues proposed will include (also open to your suggestions):

  • Summer 2015 success (and difficulties) stories, lessons to be learned
  • The threat this plant poses to wetlands, and current state of the fight (GBF)
  • Identifying invasive Phragmites vs. native Phragmites (GBF)
  • How to establish a phrag-busting community group (GBF and group discussion)
  • Mapping (GBF)
  • Planning - tools, timing, resources (GBF and group discussion)
  • When and How to do the cut in wetlands (GBF)
  • The commitment (GBF and group discussion)

There is no charge for this event. Georgian Bay Forever is a small non-profit charity that works to protect and enhance the waters of Georgian Bay. Your donations help to support projects like invasive phragmites training, education and eradication in Georgian Bay. Please visit our website (ww.gbf.org) to learn more about us and consider giving to GBF.

Looking forward to seeing you there and please remember to email me your confirmation information.

Aid for Local Groups Organizing Phrag Busting Events

Georgian Bay Forever currently has capacity and funding available to help local community groups planning Phragmites eradication events (cutting, digging, hauling and responsible disposal) around Georgian Bay.  If you would like their assistance, email ExecutiveDirector@georgianbayforever.org or gba@georgianbay.ca and someone will put you in touch with them.  Be prepared to provide your name, email address and location on the Bay as well as a general description of the size, age and location of the stand of Phragmites that you wish to eradicate.  Also provide a photo of the stand of Phrag that you wish to eradicate to help organizers prioritize and to better understand the nature of your challenge.

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Would You Recognize the “Mighty Phrag”?

“Mighty” in that it is huge, aggressive, invasive and really, really strong. “Phrag” as in the invasive species Phragmites. 

Have you noticed any large or small stands along your shoreline of what looks to be beautiful grass that blows in the wind and produces a reddish flower/seed head in the fall? You may be looking at it daily if you commute on highways to work or to and from your cottage. It is rampant in the gullies on the 404, 407, the 401 and parts of the 400. It lines many shorelines in Georgian Bay and other bodies of water in our province.

Invasive Phragmites is an invasive grass that has been outcompeting native wetland species in freshwater and coastal wetlands and it has definitely invaded Honey Harbour. There are stands of it visible in many channels that we are all familiar with including Bide a Wee, behind Deer Island, and along the shore beside the Parks Canada docks.   Below you will find  a map of some of the known Phragmites stands in the Honey Harbour area compiled by cottagers using the Phragspotter app (more on this below), but there are doubtless many more.

Phragmites can and will choke out most other native vegetation. Most people don't even realize that it’s an invasive plant growing along the road, or along the shoreline.  To help you recognize it, here’s a picture of a stand in the centre of Honey Harbour.

Currently it is challenging to get rid of an established stand in Ontario.  Different groups advocate somewhat different approaches to eradication.  A herbicide-based approach (which is limited in its use in Ontario as a result of both Federal and Provincial laws) can only be considered in cases where large stands have become established that are NOT in water (no herbicide is licensed for use over water) – and even then only with a Letter of Opinion (basically permission) from the Ministry of Natural Resources & Forestry.  For smaller stands, including over water, team cutting events can be effective but require annual repeats over 3-4 years in order to finallly kill the plant.  The bottom line is the earlier you identify a new stand, the easier it is to get rid of, so learning a bit and keeping your eyes open could help you avoid real problems on your property.

Last August I had the opportunity to participate in a pilot eradication project in conjunction with folks from both Georgian Bay Forever and Stop the Invasion. We used a process of cutting below the water line and bagging the Phrag for removal to a municipal recycling/burning site. The weed was tough, hard to cut, hard to bag, and had a root system that went on forever. The dangers of trying to remove Phrag in this manner is the potential to just spread the weed even further by allowing the spread of pieces of the root system or seeds. Any errant pieces will happily re root themselves in a new location. One current thought for boat access locations is to cut the plant at the root level and bag it in brown recycling bags to dry out and burn on site.

A great site to learn more about Phrag is www.StopTheInvasion.ca ,brought to you by the folks who brought us Stop the Drop. As you saw above, members of this online community are currently mapping Phrag stands all over the Province, trying to help raise awareness among people and governments.  They could use all of our help. We need to map as much Phragmites as possible in our area to help our municipality get a handle on how serious this problem is.  Please visit their site to access the free mapping app which will make it easy for you to upload photos, along with their geo-locations, of what you know or think might be a Phrag stand on or around your property.  

For your information, there is a native subspecies of Phragmites that is not destructive. Information on the distinction of the 2 species, along with suggestions on eradication can be found on the Ministry of Natural Resource’s website:

http://www.mnr.gov.on.ca/en/Business/SORR/2ColumnSubPage/STDPROD_086823.html 

This issue of The Mighty Phrag is one that will affect us all.  It is a community issue that will require a community to help battle the spread.  Because if you spend time and money cleaning up your property, but your neighbour doesn’t know about the problem and just ignores it, the plant will make its way back to your property.  Stay tuned for more information and eblasts on how to eradicate Phragmites on the HHA web site this spring:

For now what can we do:

  1. Map the stands by using the PhragSpotter app  - available on StopTheInvasion Website
  2. Read and learn as much as you can about Phrag – knowledge is power
  3. Be cautious in your attempts to remove Phrag without consulting an expert……there will be a workshop this spring hosted by the GBA
  4. Be aware of what it looks like, educate yourself and your neighbours!!!!!!

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Phragmites Fact Sheet

Phragmites, or Common Reed, is an alien invasive aquatic plant that has the potential to degrade wetlands. The Georgian Bay Association encourages removal of invasive Phragmites because of the threat it poses to the biodiversity of the Georgian Bay area. 

The plant’s scientific name is Phragmites australis. Introduced to North America more than 100 years ago, Phragmites has spread widely and is becoming rooted across Canada, including around Georgian Bay. Canada has labeled Phragmites one of Canada’s worst invasive plant species. Why? It can take over wetland habitats, crowd out native plants, and reduce habitat for a wide variety of animals, including species at risk. In North America there are no pests or pathogens to keep Phragmites populations in check. There is a closely related, native subspecies of Phragmites that is not invasive and is a modest component of many healthy wetlands. 

How to Identify Invasive Phragmites

Invasive Phragmites

  • Dense stands or monoculture (up to 200 stems per square metre)

  • Height to 5m (16 ft.)

  • Flowers August – September

  • Seed heads dense, full and prolific

  • Leaves wide, dark blue-green at about 45 degree angle to stem

  • Stems rough, dull, rigid and tan colour at base 

Native (non-invasive) Phragmites

  • Sparse stands with other species

  • Height to 2m (6 ft.)

  • Flowers July – August

  • Seed heads smaller, less dense

  • Leaves narrow, light yellow-green at about 30 degree angle to stem

  • Stems smooth, shiny, flexible and red/chestnut at base 

Get more details and photos that will help you tell invasive and non-invasive Phragmites apart.

Method of Control

Phragmites is primarily a concern in wetlands. In Ontario herbicides may be used to control Phragmites on dry land; licensed applicators can be hired to do so, or plants may be mowed in the spring while short. However, no herbicides for Phragmites control are approved for use in aquatic environments (this may change eventually but the review/approval process will take some time). Consequently, mechanical removal is the only practical method1 for “grass roots” efforts to control the spread of Phragmites.

Pilot projects undertaken with the assistance of Georgian Bay Forever (GBF) developed the following recommended approach for removal of stands of invasive Phragmites.

  • Undertake removal in late July/early August when the plants have reached full size and

    seed heads are formed but not ripe for dispersal. The objective is to remove as much of

    plants’ biomass as possible before seeds disperse.

  • Cut (do not pull out) the stems at a height of 10cm (4 in.) or less. This can be done with a

    machete, pruning knife, scythe, power brush-cutter, or other appropriate tool.

  • For small stands it may be possible to dig out the plants including their roots/rhizomes.

    However, this is very hard work and it is necessary to ensure that all roots/rhizomes are removed lest these drift away and spread, or become the basis for reproduction the following season.

  • Gather cut vegetation in a dry location away from water. Do not place cut vegetation in your compost pile or leave it near the shoreline. There are three options for proper disposal:

o Take it to a municipal disposal site; contact your municipality to ensure that your local disposal site is able to dispose of the cut vegetation properly

o Cover the cut vegetation with a tarp and leave tarp in place through the next growing season

o Allow the vegetation to dry out and burn it, subject to municipal by-laws.  Be prepared to cut vegetation again after a year has passed. Experience has shown that it will come back, but less prolifically, because the roots/rhizomes will have less energy stored. More desirable native plants should begin to seed in and grow. A third cut may be required.

Removal of Invasive Phragmites from Crown Land

Aquatic habitats where invasive Phragmites has become established are likely to be provincial Crown land (generally Ontario lakebeds are property of the Crown in Right of Ontario). The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests (OMNRF) administers Crown land. OMNRF will not likely require that formal approval be obtained to remove invasive Phragmites. When removing Phragmites be certain not to harm species at risk or other animal species. Consult your local OMNRF office where appropriate.

Additional Information

Good information is available on the Internet. Simply search under “Phragmites control”. Publications available for downloading are useful, especially for species identification and background. However, United States based information focuses on herbicide use; herbicides are not licensed for aquatic use in Ontario. Some good sources of information include:

www.stoptheinvation.ca - A website dedicated to encouraging community action to address invasive Phragmites; you can sign up for social media updates
www.opwg.ca - the website of the Ontario Phragmites Working Group www.web2.mnr.gov.on.ca/mnr/Biodiversity/Invasive_Species/Phragmites_Fact_Sheet.pdf - OMNRF Phragmites Fact Sheet https://www.michigan.gov/documents/deq/deq-ogl-Guide-Phragmites_204659_7.pdf - A Landowner’s Guide to Phragmites Control (State of Michigan) 

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