Shoring Up Resources To Fight Phragmites

Door County is on Money magazine's "Top 10 Vacation Destinations in North America" and was voted "Best Small Town Getaway in the Midwest" by Midwest Living magazine in 2007. The Door Peninsula, which juts into Lake Michigan just north of Green Bay, Wis., is studded with small towns and villages, as well as 15 parks and 10 lighthouses.

Visitors flock here for shopping, arts and entertainment, and a wealth of water-based recreation, from sailing to fishing to riding the car ferry to nearby Washington Island. Nature lovers also admire Door County as one of the most diverse ecosystems in Wisconsin. More rare and endangered plants and animals live here than anywhere else in the state.

Unfortunately, conditions are also ideal for one of nature's most aggressive invasive plants — nonnative phragmites.

Confronting the Invader

In the world of grasses, nonnative phragmites is a monster. Growing three to 20 feet tall, the perennial forms dense, sometimes impenetrable, stands that drive out native plants and wildlife. Phragmites thrives in wet soil, making it especially dangerous for Door County's 300 miles of shoreline.

For decades, the waters of Lake Michigan lapped up against retaining walls along that shoreline. Today, lake levels are at historically low levels and, in some cases, the shoreline is 500 feet from the retaining walls. This has created prime real estate for phragmites.

DCIST is supported by the Door County Soil and Conservation Department, and is part of an important group that includes Mark Martin with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WI DNR), Dick Campbell with Invasive Species Control Specialists (ISCS), Rick Schulte with UAP Distribution and Randy Lusher with BASF. Together with local businesses and residents, they are spearheading efforts to combat phragmites, and educating the entire community about control measures.

Education and Involvement

While in the area for some time, phragmites was not a real problem until a few years ago. Bultman was hired as the DCIST coordinator in charge of public education initiatives and serving as the community's liaison to the control efforts. Since this was the WI DNR's first effort to tackle phragmites, reaching out to the local community in the process was vital.

Phragmites isn't easy to miss, so many residents and business owners already were aware of the problem. For Bultman and Martin, this meant focusing on gaining their cooperation and support to move forward with a control plan.

DCIST organizes and promotes demonstration "work parties" for neighborhoods and volunteers working to control invasives on their private properties, and for volunteers trying to clear trails and public beaches. DCIST also presents to interested community groups and schools.

In addition, the DCIST team makes invasive species presentations to municipalities in Door County using grant funds from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. These sessions provide training for municipal workers on proper application methods and safety, and establish a forum for sharing information on the latest treatment options, application techniques and results.

Integrated Implementation

"When Rick Schulte from UAP Distribution and I held our initial meetings with Bob and Mark, we discussed the need for an integrated approach to Door County's phragmites problem," said Lusher, BASF sales specialist. "This approach was a necessity given the extent of the phragmites infestations along the shorelines."

The DCIST and WI DNR management plan involved a multi-method process of cutting, burning and herbicide treatments over the course of a few months. Team members determined this would be the most effective program to reduce the volume of phragmites.

Campbell was in charge of the initial herbicide application, which occurred between August and October of 2007. The team applied Habitat® herbicide using a power sprayer pulled by an ATV in larger areas, and a backpack sprayer in smaller areas. Campbell not only treated previously cut sites, but also areas where the tall phragmites required a foliar application over the top of the stands. Habitat was the primary product in the tank and, under a 2007 Experimental Use Permit (EUP) granted by the Environmental Protection Agency, Campbell's team applied Clearcast® herbicide as well.

During the winter of 2007-2008, Bultman, who also is a trained firefighter in the town of Bailey's Harbor, burned a few treated sites to remove the organic matter left behind.

In June 2008, Campbell's team went back to treat additional colonies of phragmites, using Clearcast in areas where desirable hardwoods were found, and Habitat in areas where the goal was complete weed control.

"We started our program much earlier this year than last, working in May to clean up the dead and dormant canes of phragmites as a result of last year's work," said Campbell. "Since Clearcast was approved for use this year and we were happy with the results of the applications under the EUP, we used more in our 2008 program. Clearcast worked great in the areas where we wanted to protect the desirable hardwoods. In areas where we wanted to knock back a combination of hardwoods and phragmites, we used Habitat."

Herbicide applications were completed in June and July of 2008. Campbell's crew used a combination of backpack sprayers in hard-to-reach areas and their Cub Cadet® utility vehicle in the larger, denser stands. Follow-up treatments were necessary in areas where the phragmites were so dense when sprayed last summer that it was nearly impossible for the herbicide to reach every plant. Still, the team has achieved 95 percent control with their two-year treatment program.

"The beaches are clear, and home and business owners are excited to again offer guests the pristine views that Door County is known for," said Campbell.

Communication Delivers Control

Communication among all those involved in the phragmites control project has been key as the team learns and develops control plans for phragmites and other invasives in Door County. Through BASF and WI DNR Aquatic Invasive Species monies, volunteer efforts and a dedication to returning the shoreline to its original state, more people are aware of the problem and support the groups' goal of stopping the spread of phragmites.

"If we continue at the pace we have set over the past two seasons, I think we have a real chance of getting on top of phragmites in Door County," said Bultman. "We have a way to go, and we're moving in the right direction."

Controlling Phragmites: Solution Depends on Control Goals

Habitat is ideal for areas where total control is desired. To control phragmites, BASF recommends applying Habitat to actively growing, green foliage after full leaf elongation, ensuring 100 percent coverage. If the stand has a substantial amount of old stem tissue, mow or burn, and allow regrowth to approximately 5 feet tall before treatment.

Clearcast is ideal for areas where selectivity is desired. To control phragmites using Clearcast, BASF recommends applying in the late vegetative state up to hard frost.


Clearcast and Habitat are registered trademarks of BASF.
Cub Cadet is a registered trademark of Cub Cadet.