First line of defense
AIS volunteers fight to keep an invasive plant rare in Oneida County
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
Over the past few years, a marshy plot of land along Hwy. 8 just west of Rhinelander has become a classroom for the Oneida County Aquatic Invasive Species team. It’s there that volunteers and staff can study and eradicate an invasive plant called phragmites. This site is one of only two in the county with this particular plant.
“We’re really novices when it comes to phragmites,” said AIS Coordinator Stephanie Boismenue. “We’re learning every time we are out here dealing with this.”
Wednesday, a group was there to remove about 100 of the invasive plants and replace them with 200 native plants grown from seeds harvested in the Rhinelander area.
Phragmites have a very long root system, which makes it difficult to eradicate in one step.
The phragmites (pronounced frag-mite-eez) are tall grassy plants that can grow to 15’ and have a bloom at the top that resembles a feather duster. They were discovered along Hwy. 8 in 2011. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources secured a permit to hire an herbicide applicator in 2014. Volunteers went back in 2015, cutting all of the seed heads off into a garbage bag and then cutting each stalk off at ground level. The next phase in the phragmites eradication plan is what took place Thursday.
Prior the herbicide application, the team stopped by a few times a year, took pictures, walked around and marked GPS coordinates and generally kept an eye on how fast the area was growing.
“We’re not sure how it got there; maybe a bird, a passing car or someone’s shoe,” Boismenue said. “But they are opportunists like all invasives are, and look for places to put down roots. It prefers disturbed, wet areas where it can grow quickly.”
Engaging volunteers to work on such tasks does more than get the work done. Boismenue said it’s an opportunity to spread the word about the species, spread the message and get a jump on invasives like the relatively new phragmites.
“They’ll tell their neighbors on the lake, friends and co-workers,” Boismenue explained. “Really with them learning about a new invasive is one of the best ways to help stop invasive species. They are our front line of defense.”
After the invasive species are removed and the native plants placed, the team will mark the new vegetation with red flags and will continue to watch the site this fall, and then again monthly starting in the spring.