Phragmites affect southeast Michigan more than anywhere else

Federal grant puts focus of removal in Macomb County

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published August 6, 2019

 A map identifying the density of phragmites across Michigan shows that southeast Michigan is more negatively affected than any other region.

A map identifying the density of phragmites across Michigan shows that southeast Michigan is more negatively affected than any other region.

Map created by the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network

METRO DETROIT — A new federal grant aims to remove invasive phragmites in southeast Michigan, notably in Macomb County, and to control their spread.

The United States Forest Service recently awarded the $37,865 grant to the Six Rivers Land Conservancy in an effort to regulate phragmites in drainage courses and detention bonds.

Work will support the efforts of the Lake St. Clair Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area, or CISMA, as well as the Macomb County Public Works Office and Oakland University.

There are CISMA headquarters located statewide, encompassing every Michigan region.

This particular project focuses on three main areas in southeast Michigan: the Disco drain, between 25 Mile and 26 Mile roads in Shelby Township; the Murdock-Ballard drain in Harrison Township; and a detention pond located behind Clinton Township Fire Department Station No. 5 on Elizabeth Road.

Oakland University student interns are getting hands-on experience with the species, mapping out and monitoring management units that are part of the Phragmites Adaptive Management Framework.


Phragmites: What they are and why they’re dangerous
Phragmites are quite common in this state and country. Actually, they’ve been around a while.

McKenzi Bergmoser, the coordinator for the Lake St. Clair CISMA, explained how the species originated in Europe. The large grasses are typically found in wetlands and on roadsides, though they do grow in dry locations too. Bluish-green and possessing upright leaves, they tolerate high levels of salt compared to other plant species.

Bergmoser said they can cause harm to the environment by outcompeting native plants for resources like light and water. They grow tall and consume space. Turtles and frogs can get stuck in phragmites “because of how densely the stems can grow.”

“It’s like a person lost in dense woods and they can’t get out, and they end up dying from starving to death or some other cause,” she said.


Short- and long-term impacts
In addition to plant and animal victims, the general welfare of society can be threatened.

Phragmites can be destructive to infrastructure, degrading roads by growing through concrete, which in effect changes local topography.

“It can actually change how the water sits in areas,” Bergmoser said. “It can grow and throw off the pitches, (leading to) the consequences of flooding.”

In the winter, the invasive species poses fire hazards. It can burn so hot, Bergmoser stated, that house siding can melt.

And then there are the economic impacts — the vital tourism industry, which is huge in Michigan, depends on access to lakes and waterways.

As Bergmoser put it, “If you can’t see the water, it inhibits views.”

“If we don’t actively manage it, with time, they could eventually grow where it is beyond state control and we can only manage it locally,” she continued. “Eradication is not in the picture anymore.”


Feeling the effects locally
The Midwest Invasive Species Information Network released a study this year outlining the total number of phragmites found in Michigan. The highest density is in southeast Michigan, with more than 2,500 observed species.

Bergmoser said places like Macomb County become more vulnerable due to location. Lakeshore access becomes more perilous. Drains are being reshaped.

The exact point of introduction for these species in this specific part of the state is unknown, but “where you see more people, you have more invasions,” Bergmoser noted. “When we move, we travel and bring these things with us.”