Phragmites control program spared provincial cuts, for now

Phragmites gets tackled head on at the Providence Bay beach. Expositor file photo

 ONTARIO – The significant funding cuts to the Ontario Invasive Plant Council (OIPC) will affect at least nine different programs devoted to combating the spread of invasive species and promoting native biodiversity and will have effects throughout the province, including Manitoulin Island. While the effects will not be felt with the phragmites control program on Manitoulin this year, the future is a lot less clear.

 “We’re fortunate that we’re in the third year of a three-year funding cycle program, taking in 2017-2019,” said Judith Jones, coordinator of the phragmites control program on Manitoulin. “We are good for this year, but I don’t know what will happen next year.”

 Ms. Jones explained phragmites control work on all of the south shore of Manitoulin will be done by the end of this summer. However, work needs to take place in areas such as the Blue Jay Creek and the top of South Baymouth. “There is a lot more work to do, but this will all depend on the funding situation and volunteer efforts.”

 She pointed out the local phragmites control Initiative receives a lot of cooperation from landowners, who receive training on what to look for and how to control phragmites on the property. “Our goal is to get enough people taught as to what they can do to control (phragmites) that they are capable of carrying out this work themselves. Phragmites are always going to be around.”

 “My project is okay for this year, and we are so close to totally having phragmites under control,” said Ms. Jones. “But some spots need work to be carried out and this will start this year. We looked at the results of last year’s work and the results were very good.” But as she mentioned, phragmites will always be around and regular measures need to be taken to control them.

 “We are extremely disappointed that the Ontario government has decided to reduce their efforts against invasive plants. This decision will cost Ontarians more in future years. When invasive plants are allowed to establish, they will take over the ecosystem, altering it irreversibly to the detriment of the environment, economy and social enjoyment. They also have profound impacts on tourism, municipal budgets, roads and infrastructure as well as our agricultural economy. The elimination of a provincial co-ordinated strategy will enable invasive species to spread uncontrollably and they will become a costly and difficult issue to resolve in the future,” said Iola Price, OIPC president.

 The OIPC saw funding from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) reduced from $100,000 last year to zero this year. This forced the organization to consider shutting down. The OIPC provides research, education and outreach on controlling invasives like the phragmites, a Eurasian grass species that spreads aggressively across beaches and wetlands and can grow up to five metres in height and suppress other plantsm (by injecting a chemical into the surrounding soil. The grass can break up road beds, clog drain pipes, create fires, mar recreational landscapes and threaten at-risk species like turtles.

 “The OIPC is a very small organization of 2.5 people,” said Belinda Junkin, executive director of OIPC. “We had received no warning of the cuts.” 

 “This has been very much a political decision. We were hit with 100 percent funding cuts.”

 “As you can appreciate, we have spent the past month scrambling to try to figure out budgeting and how to keep the organization operating,” said Ms. Junkin. She explained, “on April 12 the OIPC received notice from the MNRF that we would receive zero funding this year (having received $100,000 last year and $150,000 the year prior). Last year, MNRF (funding) represented over 50 percent of OIPC’s operations. There was no advance warning of this cut and we were totally blindsided. The OIPC has been encouraged by the province to expand the organization over the past two years with the increase in transfer payments. As a result of this funding cut, the OIPC is at risk of being unable to continue to operate unless other funding is quickly found.”

 “Who cares and why?,” asked Ms. Junkin. “Invasive species are relevant to anyone who walks outdoors. Invasive plants pose a public health risk to people and animals. There are plants throughout Ontario such as giant hogweed and wild parsnip that are extremely toxic and will burn skin. Anyone with waterfront property, lakefront property should be concerned. Waterfront can become so overgrown with phragmites that the the water is no longer accessible. Then there are the species at risk that are threatened by invasive plants. OIPC provides resources that  support the management of invasive species.”

 “The greatest potential loss to the province is the loss of thousands and thousands of co-ordinated volunteer hours,” said Ms. Junkin. “OIPC co-ordinates and provides research as to best practices to manage invasive plants, gathering this information by leveraging our extensive network throughout the province. This information then forms the basis on which concerned citizens, cottage owners, horticulturalists, naturalists, conservation authorities, municipalities and many more take action. This co-ordinated effort is at risk if the network, centralized information and research is lost if the (OIPC) is unable to continue.”

 Seija Deschenes, co-ordinator of  Manitoulin Streams Improvement Association told the Recorder, “funding to the invasive species liaison program has been cut this year. We had been involved in the program to hire species liaison workers in the summer to provide education and awareness of invasive species to the public in past years. We usually partner with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters on this program, but funding has been cut this year.  Provincially, 37 positions were to be filled this year by youth invasive species liaison workers this year, but with the funding cuts none of these positions will be filled this year.”