Phragmites australis is a tall grass species with origins in Europe believed to be introduced to Canada in the late 1800s. In Ontario, there is also a native species of Phragmites found in similar habitats however it grows in balance with other native vegetation and must be protected as part of any management plans.
The aggressive invasive Phragmites began being monitored by biologists in the wetlands of Long Point over 20 years ago. Since then, the growth and spread of this species at Long Point has been exponential.
Phragmites is an aggressive invader, growing up to 6 metres in height, crowding out native vegetation and reducing biodiversity by producing dense monoculture stands. These stands impact native species, especially Species at Risk, since they provide poor habitat and food for wildlife, and impede the ecosystem from functioning as normal.
The impact of invasive Phragmites on these ecosystems has a direct impact on people too, says Eric Cleland, Director of the Invasive Species Program for the Ontario region at the Nature Conservancy of Canada, “invasive Phragmites can impact critical items in our daily lives like infrastructure, property values, and agricultural productivity, along with the recreational and environmental values that make the Priority Place so important.”
Phragmites can be exceptionally tricky to remove once it’s become established in an area due to its deep root system and fast spread, but targeting this invasive species is an important task to make sure our wetlands and ecosystems are healthy and functioning.
In 2015, NCC and MNRF spearheaded a gathering of stakeholders: “the presentations and discussions that took place during that gathering formed the groundwork for a coordinated control effort in the Long Point region. This day led to the creation of the Long Point Phragmites Action Alliance,” says Cleland.
This collaborative is made up of 29 partnering organizations which include all levels of government, environmental control groups, and local landowners with interests in conserving and managing the diverse wetland habitat within the Long Point region.
“It’s critically important to work collaboratively to ensure no populations are left behind,” says Cleland, “If one area is left untreated, Phragmites can rapidly re-invade, jeopardizing the whole program. Control at a landscape scale is only feasible where landowners and organizations work together to pool funds, labour, skills, and equipment.”
According to Heather Braun, Habitat biologist at CWS, the leadership of the MNRF and NCC has been the key to the success of this program. “The province and NCC have built a program that has gained community support and is resulting in positive changes for wildlife and SAR. We have a goal to manage 90% of the Phragmites in the Priority Place, and I am confident that together we can achieve that goal.”
While this work is ongoing, these groups can be proud of what they’ve accomplished so far. Since 2016, over 1,400 hectares in the Long Point area have undergone invasive Phragmites control in a multi-phase strategy. Despite Covid-19 this work is slated to continue and build in 2021, largely through the Phragmites Working Group, with funding from the Canadian Wildlife Service, MNRF, US Fish and Wildlife Service and several other private supporters.
Before (left) and after (right) treatment for Phragmites in Turkey Point, showing native species re-establishing. Photo: NCC.