A convoy of four trucks and four Louisiana-style marsh vehicles left the Brodhead, Wisconsin, headquarters of Applied Ecological Services (AES) at the end of August to begin a month-long attack in Green Bay on the insidious invasive wetland plant, Phragmites australis (Common Reed, or Giant Reed).
For this huge undertaking, perhaps unprecedented in the Great Lakes, the enemy is known as the Phrag Dragon by the slayers who are facing quite a monster.
“Phragmites is one of the worst bullies in the marsh,” said Josh LaPointe, regional manager of ecological restoration for AES. “When it takes over – and it will take over – it annihilates every other plant and becomes a monoculture. And it stays there. Until something is done about it.
“The Phrag Dragon in Green Bay is probably the largest, most dense concentration of the plant in the state, and undoubtedly one of the worst in the Great Lakes. It’ll be a challenge, but we’re excited to see the work get started on the ground.”
What’s being done is an herbicide treatment of 420 acres in perhaps the worst infested wetlands of Green Bay and the Village of Howard, including Renard Island. In pairs, AES crews will cover the sloppy terrain in four amphibious tracked vehicles – three known as Marsh Masters, trucked up from Louisiana, and a Land Tamer, for the month of September.
The project was contracted to AES in August 2016 by the Bay-Lake Regional Planning Commission. The Commission was awarded a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Great Lake Restoration Initiative to suppress non-native Phragmites australis on private and public lands in the lower Green Bay and Fox River areas. The entire project to apply ground herbicide in the EPA’s Area of Concern covers approximately 780 acres.
Wetlands in the lower Green Bay and Fox River area have been devastated by the “Phrag Dragon” for decades, as motorists and casual observers along I-43 and Highway 41 know well. The areas being sprayed by AES are in the City of Green Bay and the Village of Howard.
Because Phragmites grows from 8 to 20 feet tall, AES restoration specialists adapted boom systems on the Marsh Masters and Land Tamer to spray from the top down, in terrain that at times can feel like a jungle.
“We’ve been looking forward to getting in the field,” said ecosystem restoration manager Aaron Kubichka. “It’s definitely a unique experience to be driving in the marsh, surrounded by 15-foot tall plants.
“We ramped up quickly with three Marsh Masters to get the spray work done in the window of time we have, which is the perfect time of year for spraying Phrag.”
Following the September spray work, which is intended to kill 90% of the Phragmites treated, AES will return in late winter/early spring to cover the same 420 acres with wetland-adapted mowing equipment.
A year ago, the Bay-Lake RPC commissioned AES to conduct high-resolution aerial photography and remote sensing of the 50-square mile Lower Green Bay/Fox River EPA Area of Concern, to precisely detect and map stands of Phragmites.
This mapping is now serving to guide this year’s herbicide treatment work. The boundaries of treated areas will be GPS-located by AES restoration crews for integration with previous mapping of well-defined locations and boundaries of Phragmites.
“Remote sensing for this kind of application has really come of age in the last three to five years,” said Jason Carlson, AES geospatial and mapping services director. “Identifying plants by detecting differences in how their leaves reflect light, from a sensor in a Cessna, is really just the start of the analytical process.
“It’s really pretty interesting, and gratifying, to see how GIS and remote sensing is blending with ecological scientists and restoration practitioners in this project. It’s like – the maps and data aren’t sitting on the shelf. They’re on the ground.”