A group fights Phragmites in Lake Bernard

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The Chair of the Lake Bernard Phragmites Working Group has a request for Sundridge, Strong and Joly. Marilee Koenderink asks the three municipalities to promote a clean equipment policy when bringing in heavy equipment to carry out road or construction work in one or other of the three municipalities. The policy is proposed by the Ontario Phragmites Task Force. The rationale for the request is to stop the spread of Phragmites. Phragmites are invasive plants that spread quickly and easily choke out native species. In addition to competing with native plants, Phragmites is also a threat to local fisheries, turtle populations, birds, and amphibians. Phragmites, which appear as tall reeds, also have no natural predators to reduce their numbers. Once they appear, the only sure way to get rid of them is to dig them up, prune them, or dig them up with a shovel. Koenderink promotes the clean equipment policy because Phragmites seeds easily become embedded in the tires or tracks of heavy equipment. Once they land on heavy equipment, this is one of the easiest ways for them to spread from place to place. Phragmites have also been known to spread when they attach themselves to ATV tires or snowmobile tracks. Phragmites have been present in the Lac Bernard area for about 10 years. Koenderink told a meeting of the three municipalities that her exposure to phragmites occurred when one day she noticed a green plant taking over part of her property. She didn’t do anything about it for good reason. “I thought the MRNF (Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry) would be after me if I did anything to an aquatic plant, she said. “By the time we realized it wasn’t a native plant, about a third of my property was covered, and the phragmites completely covered the property next to mine.” It didn’t take long for Phragmites to spread through the region.

Every June for the past few years, approximately 100 volunteers known as Phrag Fighters have undertaken a ground operation to eliminate the invasive plant in various sections of the Lake Bernard area. In mid-July, after the end of the fish spawning season, they wade through the water to remove as many plants as possible until October. Koenderink says the volunteers, many of whom are Lake Bernard landowners, will follow the same plan this year. Koenderink says there are 34 known phragmites sites across Lake Bernard. The goal is to achieve a phragm-free environment in the region by around 2033. Phragmites can grow almost anywhere and Koenderink has seen the plants push through asphalt and destroy ditches. One of the main reasons it’s able to take over an area very quickly is that each plant can produce up to 2,000 seeds, which begin to sprout where they fall. These seeds are also found in other regions when attached to heavy equipment or recreational vehicles. Koenderink notes that they can also ride on boats. That’s why the local group is promoting a cleaning, draining and drying program for boaters in the area so they don’t inadvertently spread the plant. “We know it’s present on other lakes in Almaguin, but we don’t know how many,” Koenderink told the tri-council. One of the goals is to get more homeowners to recognize what the plant looks like so they can take steps to remove it quickly. If this happens, the task of removing phragmites increases several times. “You might not know you have it right away,” Koenderink said. “There may be a lot of people like me who initially think it’s a native aquatic plant and don’t do anything about it.” When people attempt to remove Phragmites, what they see in front of them is a plant about 15 feet tall. But that’s only part. The plant may still be 30 feet underground. Its depth is one of the main reasons why it is difficult to eradicate a specific area in one season. Koenderink says that in some cases, Phrag Fighters have worked at the same site two or three years in a row, but that perseverance has ultimately paid off, with less factory return to those areas. Koenderink commends the volunteers who, in addition to living in the Sundridge area, also come from Burk’s Falls, Magnetawan and Kearney to help. And there is a big age gap among the volunteers. Koenderink says the ages range from a three-year-old to an individual over 80. In the near future, the local group plans to host a webinar to help people recognize the difference between Phragmites and native plants so they know what to remove. .

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works at the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget

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