LETTERS: Island biologist clarifies use of herbicide in phragmites control

There is a lot at stake when phragmites takes over the shorelines

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is an open letter to the mayor and council of Central Manitoulin. It has been reprinted here at the author’s request.

Dear members of Central Manitoulin council, and Manitoulin friends and neighbours:

Following up on the Expositor article ‘Central Manitoulin against Hydro One Garlon use,’ I would like to clarify the use of herbicide for phragmites control. First of all, the Manitoulin Phragmites Project does not use Garlon, which is a product designed to target woody plants. As phragmites is a grass, Garlon is not effective for control, so restricting its use does not affect our work in any way.

We do occasionally use herbicide for phragmites control—only when the plants are on dry land, the patches are very large, and there really is no other control method that will work. Our field team spends all summer doing very labour intensive, back-breaking work, shoveling or wearing waders all day in 30˚ heat to control phragmites without having to resort to the use of poison. Believe me, when we do use it, it is the last resort and at the point where its choice between a small amount of herbicide or the potential loss of important natural habitat.

Herbicide for phragmites control has to be applied by a trained, licenced exterminator (in this case me or Mike Laende of Manitoulin Tree Service). We have to have Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry approval for each site where we use it. We never use it over standing water. We apply it with a backpack sprayer or sometimes even by hand with a mitten so that we treat only phragmites and not anything else. At Michael’s Bay, threatened plant species that were growing underneath phragmites stems are now thriving after we sprayed the phragmites, so I know we are achieving a very careful application.

We are currently using the glyphosate product Round-up Weathermax. The reason for choosing this product is that (according to the manufacturer) it is only soluble for a few hours, and after that it does not dissolve in water. Dr. Janice Gilbert of the Invasive Phragmites Control Centre has researched where the glyphosate goes in the environment and has found that it ends up tightly bound to soil particles—so yes, it is still in the environment, but no, it is not in the ground water. It also breaks down fairly quickly compared to some other products. I feel this is the lesser or least of the evils that will get the job done.

No one wants more herbicide in the environment, especially not me, and especially not people with children and grandchildren who will receive more exposure to these chemicals over the course of their lifetimes. I am firmly against the broad use of herbicide to control vegetation in ditches and utility corridors simply because it is cheaper than paying people to manually mow or brush.

Is it really worth putting herbicide in the environment just to control phragmites? I believe it is. The beautiful new beaches at Providence Bay and Michael’s Bay would not have been possible without the use of herbicide, because phragmites was blocking the wave-rush from the lake that brings in new sand. Before we started the Manitoulin Phragmites Project, I watched as phragmites took over half of Dominion Bay and acres of sand at Kaboni Beach in just four years. What good is having a cottage on Manitoulin Island if you can’t see the water or walk on the beach? Where will fish spawn if all the shallow water is full of phragmites? This is what’s at stake.


Judith Jones, biologist

The Manitoulin Phragmites Project


Facebook @manitoulinphrag