From left, Robin LaFrance, of Keego Harbor; Paul Steen, of the Huron River Watershed Council; Niklas Krantz; and Leslie Clark, of Keego  Harbor, sit in a boat on Dollar Lake last year.

From left, Robin LaFrance, of Keego Harbor; Paul Steen, of the Huron River Watershed Council; Niklas Krantz; and Leslie Clark, of Keego Harbor, sit in a boat on Dollar Lake last year.

File photo by Deb Jacques

Special committee raises awareness about invasive species

By: Andy Kozlowski | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published July 29, 2019

 Keego Harbor resident Leslie Clark scooped starry stonewort off the bottom of Dollar Lake last summer.

Keego Harbor resident Leslie Clark scooped starry stonewort off the bottom of Dollar Lake last summer.

File photo by Deb Jacques


WEST BLOOMFIELD — With abundant greenery and plentiful lakes, Oakland County has much to protect from invasive species — non-native organisms that can shatter fragile ecosystems by outcompeting indigenous species and spreading out of control.

To this end, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners has formed a special committee to detect and prevent invasive species that would otherwise wreak havoc on habitats. 

The group also aims to raise awareness about the issue, educating the public on the role they can play.

The Special Committee on Invasive Species Prevention was created by Oakland County Board of Commissioners Chairman David Woodward in March. Priority species for the group include Japanese knotweed, non-native phragmites, swallow-worts and flowering rush.

Current members of the committee include Democrat Kristen Nelson, the committee chair; Democrat Gwen Markham; and Republican Thomas Kuhn.

In an email, Nelson described the group’s recent efforts.

“We are currently developing a plan to deploy several mobile boat-washing stations at frequently utilized public boat launches,” said Nelson, who serves as the Oakland County commissioner for District 5, which includes Keego Harbor, Orchard Lake, Sylvan Lake, and portions of Waterford and West Bloomfield. “Education and awareness are key elements in managing the spread of invasive species and protecting our natural resources. … We can do more to teach residents how to make better choices, from planting native for our ecosystem to proper care of fishing gear.”

She said more details on the particulars of these plans will be available in the coming months. In the meantime, she recommends several simple things that residents can do to prevent the spread of invasive species.

These include cleaning and removing aquatic plants, animals and mud from boats, trailers and equipment before launching watercraft into lakes when leaving launch sites; draining wells, bilges and water from boats and disposing of unused bait in the trash; removing plants, seeds and mud from boots, pets, vehicles and gear before leaving a recreation or hunting site; planting native species in one’s garden and yard, as native species are the best natural defense against invasive species; never transporting or releasing aquarium plants, fish or animals into lakes, rivers and ponds, and never flushing them into the sewer system; purchasing local firewood, and avoiding the transport of firewood when camping; and volunteering for local events focused on removing invasive species.

One organization where concerned residents can volunteer to help stop invasive species is the Oakland County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area  — one of several groups that have partnered with the Special Committee on Invasive Species Prevention.

“This is a great way to learn how to do this work and contribute to the health of natural areas that you enjoy,” said Erica Clites, the CISMA director. “The Oakland County CISMA partners with over 20 municipal governments, including West Bloomfield Township, Waterford Township and Keego Harbor. We encourage additional communities to get involved, learn more about invasive species and participate in collaborative control projects.”

Other partners for the special committee include Michigan State University Extension, the Friends of the Rouge, the Clinton River Watershed Council, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Oakland County Parks and Recreation Department, the Oakland County Water Resources Commission and more.

In the crosshairs

It will take a team effort to solve the issue, since invasive species are notoriously difficult to identify and track. Their seeds, eggs, spores and other biological material can spread in many ways, dispersed on the wind and water.

The committee seeks to understand the impact that invasive species have on the environment, the economy and property values, while also discovering ways to combat them through early detection, removal, education and more.

Japanese knotweed is one invasive species that the committee is addressing. This species was originally introduced from Asia as an ornamental plant. One of the ways that it spreads is through fragments of root and stem materials that are dispersed by water and tainted equipment. It harms other species by limiting their access to sunlight, as well as by altering the composition of nutrients in the environment and by releasing toxic or inhibiting chemicals that suppress the growth of potential plant competitors.

Knotweed contributes both to stream bank erosion and flooding, and can also penetrate asphalt and cracks in concrete, destabilizing structures. Knotweed is most common around places frequented by humans. Japanese knotweed is illegal in Michigan and cannot be possessed without a permit from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Another priority species is non-native phragmites, also known as common reed — a perennial wetland grass that can grow up to 15 feet in height. While some are native to Michigan, an invasive non-native variant is becoming widespread, threatening the health of wetlands and the shoreline of the Great Lakes. The threat occurs when invasive phragmites create tall, dense stands that crowd out native plants and animals, block shoreline views, reduce swimming and fishing access, and create fire hazards from dry plant materials. One approach to controlling it has been an herbicide treatment followed by cutting and mowing the plant, done on an annual basis. But early detection is key.

Swallow-worts are twining vines that grow up to 7 feet in length and are generally found in old fields, woodlands and brushy areas, but that also invade perennial crops in pastures, tree farms and no-till fields. Originally from the Ukraine and southwestern Russia, it now threatens Michigan habitats by forming extensive patches that crowd out native plants. The seeds are carried on the wind or transported by water, and the roots are toxic to mammals, including livestock, while the plant itself is toxic to many insect larvae, such as monarch caterpillars that become important pollinator butterflies.

Flowering rush, another restricted species, resembles a large sedge. It’s a perennial, aquatic, herbaceous plant that typically grows in shallow sections of slow-moving streams or rivers, on lake shores, in irrigation ditches and across wetlands, but it has also been known to survive in very clear water up to 20 feet deep. Native to Europe and Asia, it has since spread across most of the northern U.S., endangering ecosystems by out-competing native species for resources and also hindering recreational activities like boating.

These and other invasive species will continue to be closely monitored by the committee in its efforts to contain and control them.

“Invasive species have the potential to cause massive economic and ecological losses,” Nelson said. “Oakland County is home to more lakes than any other county in the entire state. We must do everything in our power to protect this vital natural resource for future generations.”

Call Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at (586) 279-1104.