Council approves spraying of phragmites in two small areas within Billings Township

Maria Diebolt of Manitoulin Streams stands next to a dense stand of phragmites near the mouth of the Blue Jay Creek.

KAGAWONG—Billings Township council has approved the application of a small amount of herbicide to be used in two small areas infested by phragmites located within the township.

Judith Jones, coordinator of the Manitoulin Phragmites Project, proposes to use a small amount of Roundup Weathermax to control phragmites infestations along ditches in the Inspiration Point subdivision (Grandor Road). The invasive phragmites can be sprayed if they are completely dry and there is no standing water beneath them. Ms. Jones said the spraying would occur in early August, which is the driest part of summer when ditches tend to be completely dry.

“Phragmites wipes out just about all other vegetation and fish and habitat in areas where they are found,” Ms. Jones told council, showing before and after photographs of Kaboni Beach in Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory and Michael’s Bay at the Manitou River mouth.

Phragmites have a monster root system; nothing kills the roots and it’s very aggressive, she said. The project team does use shovels to control the spread (a technique called spading) and works with a contractor to cut down phragmites stands. “We use a variety of methods of eradicating and controlling phragmites in an area, including cutting in water to drown the roots.”

“The use of herbicide is never the Phragmite Project’s first choice as a course of action,” Ms. Jones wrote in a letter to council. “My team and I have spent most of the last six summers controlling phragmites by cutting and spading. We have very good success getting rid of it when it’s in water. However, when phragmites is on dry land, because of its deep, extensive root system, the only way to kill it is to use herbicide. Cutting, mowing, bulldozing, and even excavating do not harm it or completely remove it.”

One has to weigh the cautious use of a small amount of herbicide against the potential loss of a beach, shoreline or wetland habitat, she said. “No one wants more herbicide in the environment. However, our position is that a small amount used cautiously is better for the natural world than allowing phragmites to completely wipe out natural habitats. We need to reduce phragmites or we will lose fish spawning habitat, turtle nesting areas, species at risk habitat and our own use of beaches and shores.”

Ms. Jones, a licenced exterminator, noted that herbicide use requires approval from Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. Herbicides must be applied by a licenced exterminator and may require other permits or approvals.

Weathermax is the least of the evils and has a two-hour solubility period, Ms. Jones told council. “We prepare the site by cutting out the dead material in early spring so we use less herbicide and get more effective coverage. The method we use is a backpack sprayer and target the spray at phragmites only. We never spray over standing water and it takes place on a calm day or evening. I try to be very cautious in any of this work.”

What Ms. Jones has proposed is not the same as the spraying done by Hydro One or Ministry of Transportation contractors, which always generates a lot of opposition. These agencies blanket-spray all vegetation, Ms. Jones explained. This type of spraying uses more toxic and long-lived chemicals and sometimes is done without notification to the public and adjacent landowners.

“We make sure to communicate directly and frequently with landowners and municipalities so that they/you know our schedule on-site, and we only proceed if there are no issues,” Ms. Jones said. More specifically, if spraying a roadside ditch, Ms. Jones informs the adjacent residents in person and signage is posted as per the Pesticide Act as to the product being used (Roundup Weathermax) with active ingredient glysophate, and indicates the letter of opinion or the municipal approval for roadsides or shoreline allowances. The exact application area, date posted and applied and contact information is included as well.

“We are asking for approval to do a couple of sites, one being a private property on Grandor Road in a ditch, and the opposite side of the Grandor Road where there are just a small number of patches of phragmites,” Ms. Jones said. “I’m quite alarmed at herbicide found in children, but we still need it sometimes. I’ve seen the herbicide used carelessly and that is why I got my own exterminator’s licence so I can do this work carefully and properly.”

She pointed out other sites where Manitoulin Phragmites Project has used herbicide, at Providence Bay, Dominion Bay, Michael’s Bay and Mud Lake. There are no phragmites at two of the areas now and very little in the others. The natural vegetation at these sites has not been harmed and is still lush and healthy.

Councillors Sharon Alkenbrack, Sharon Jackson and Michael Hunt all noted their opposition to herbicide in general but pointed to the many years of successful phragmites eradication accomplished by Ms. Jones and her team. “I am not in favour of herbicides but trust she will do a controlled spray and only what is necessary,” said Councillor Jackson.

“This issue is very important to me,” said Councillor Bryan Barker. “I am not in favour of indiscriminate, blanket spraying of pesticides.” He visited the sites Ms. Jones proposed to spray. “Both locations are on dry land and can be sprayed with very little impact on the environment,” he said.

Council routinely makes decisions, noted Mayor Ian Anderson. “We don’t make this decision lightly. The risk is extremely minimal and the only reasonable alternative in this situation.”

Mayor Anderson also visited the locations where the work is to be carried out. “There is a very significant wetland on Hay Bay,” he noted. “It provides homes to a lot of flora and fauna, not just fish.”

Council passed a motion accepting the proposition from Judith Jones of the Manitoulin Phragmites Project to use a small amount of herbicide in Billings Township for phragmites control in 2022.