An environmental consultant’s plea for assistance with phragmites

It matters if the entire shoreline becomes wall to wall phragmites

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an open letter to Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha.

Dear Michael Mantha,

I’m a biologist and environmental consultant from Manitoulin Island. I work on many types of environmental projects—some deal with applications for new developments and aggregates licences, some deal with conservation, endangered species, and natural areas.

Last year, one of my projects involved habitat improvement for Pitcher’s Thistle, an endangered plant found only on Great Lakes dunes. The project was funded by the OMNRF’s Species at Risk Stewardship Fund. Part of that work involved removing and controlling the spread of invasive phragmites in the thistle’s habitat.

Phragmites is a gigantic grass, three metres or more tall, that spreads quickly and grows into patches so dense that a person cannot climb through them and no other plants can grow under it. Loons and ducks can’t nest in it, and even frogs and turtles can’t get through it. It thrives on beaches, shores, wetlands, and ditches.

Agriculture Canada has called phragmites Canada’s worst invasive species.

On southern Lake Huron, there are places where cottagers can no longer get across the beach to the lake, where a summer camp had to build a pool because the kids couldn’t use the beach, and where the crops keep getting flooded after rain because the agricultural ditches are so full of this grass.

I really don’t want to see that happen to Manitoulin Island, especially because our beaches are one of our most important economic features in terms of tourism and cottaging.

In 2015, I found the Phragmites problem was a lot more widespread here than I expected, so for 2016, I applied for a bigger amount of funding under the federal Habitat Stewardship Fund (Environment and Climate Change Canada), hired three people to work on Phragmites, and really went at the problem.

Now it’s nearly the end of the summer and what I’ve found is that there is a lot of Phragmites on Manitoulin, and there are several places where the spread of this grass is well beyond controlling it with manual labour (cutting, digging, backpack spraying, etc.). There are now at least five major areas of Manitoulin’s shoreline that have hectares and hectares of nothing but Phragmites, and what we’ve done this summer is still not enough!

I invite you to come to Manitoulin and spend an hour or two so I can show you this problem first hand.

Please feel free to call me any time you are coming to the Island if you have time to have a look.

I’m a biologist, and large labour projects are not really my expertise. I don’t see why it should have to be up to me to apply for yet more funding to buy machinery, hire trained workers, purchase liability insurance, and spend all summer trying to remove this awful grass from Manitoulin’s beaches and wetlands. Yet, there is still a chance to get this problem under some kind of control before it’s beyond any hope. However, who really should be handling it and paying for it?

We need is a provincial strategy to coordinate the control of this problem across Ontario and make it clear who is responsible and how it should be paid for. This is not about the cosmetic look of the landscape. It’s about the economic reality of property value and land function, about whether frogs can still live in the marsh, and whether kids can use the beach. It may not matter if the entire side of the 401 is solid phragmites for 300 km, but it does matter if the entire shoreline of Manitoulin Island becomes wall to wall phragmites.

Please, can you bring this matter to the legislature? This is a huge province-wide problem.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Thanks very much for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Judith Jones

Winter Spider Eco-Consulting

Manitowaning