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Deadly Alien Beauty

Ranger Steve

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Recently a Cedar Springs Post reader submitted a picture of a deadly beauty (reposted this week). When I first saw the plant in a ditch a few decades ago in front of a home, I thought about planting it by the road at Ody Brook to create a winter visual barrier. It is Phragmites that grow tall. I learned it is a deadly alien beauty.

This photo was taken recently on 22 Mile Road between White Creek Ave and US131 near Sand Lake. Someone painted many of the plumes various colors. Photo taken by Cherri Rose.

The plant hid Moses when he was a baby and saved his life but in our native habitats it is deadly.

Phragmites has a healthy nature niche across the ocean in Egypt but here it is a killer costing a large amount of money, time, and energy from natural resource agencies and volunteers to control it in wetland habitats. 

It is an example of a pandemic species like those I wrote about in last week’s article. Phragmites do not support native species and eliminates them from habitats. It crowds out cattails and other native plants that are residences for many insects supporting Red-winged Blackbirds, Marsh Wrens, and Song Sparrows. Muskrats food and shelter building materials are lost. Minks and otters lose muskrats, fish and crustaceans from their diet. 

This beautiful plant causes significant harm to the wetland ecosystem, causes human economic damage, and interferes with production of a food source many people desire. It reduces fishing opportunities. Phragmites control is completed by a variety methods that include draining wetlands and use of herbicide chemicals. 

The Kent Conservation District (KCD) expends a majority of time, effort, and money assisting farmers and other landowners to manage family property and businesses. Among other work, it supports best practices for agriculture, livestock, and animal waste control to prevent contamination of streams and lakes. It facilitates grants to help families manage woodlots. The additional work necessary to control species like Phragmites that kill massive numbers of native species goes unnoticed by most. KCD helps prevent environmental pandemics. 

The Cedar Springs Public Schools had an actively used outdoor study site along Northland Drive with a portable outdoor classroom. The primary teacher facilitating the program retired and site use diminished. The Kent Conservation District was recently instrumental in controlling Phragmites that established in the ditch along the road and threatened survival of native species on school grounds and the outdoor study site. 

Last week I mentioned there are 180 pandemic exotic species causing havoc in the Great Lakes. Many alien species are doing damage in our yards, communities, and public lands. Much of the native timber harvest comes from land owned by private community members. State and national forests are managed for timber and wildlife resources that support local economies. Preventing establishment of pandemic species is essential work.

Many people do not realize the economic and social impacts of human caused introduction of exotic pandemic species into native habitats. Recent laws, 50 years late, address control of ballast water from ships that release exotics into the Great Lakes. Single focus short term monetary interests, often supported by industry, undermine long term community health and sustainability and negatively impact environmental health supporting us. 

The current coronavirus pandemic onslaught devastating the human economy, social structure, and environment is systematic of occurrences in native ecosystems in our neighborhoods. Most do not have the immediate effect of the virus on people but they threaten the long-term sustainability for our communities for future generations. 

Many people do not embrace the importance of human caused climate change that is driving major problems that will flood continental shorelines to a greater extent than the highwater problems occurring in the Great Lakes. Large cities will be flooded and displaced. This will dwarf the problems caused by the covid-19 outbreak. Better leadership from the president and administration is needed to address climate change and the impact it will have on controlling pandemics.  Our role is to require elected leaders to protect environmental conditions that sustain our communities and family heritage for a healthy future. We need elected leaders to focus on inclusive economic, social, and environmental nature niche sustainability of to insure a healthy future. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

Visit http://cedarspringspost.com/category/outdoors/ranger-steves-nature-niche/ for last week’s article.

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