Phragmites in Betsie Bay


Benzie County Resolution: Identify, Control, Eradicate Phragmites – August 2, 2011

What YOU can do to help with Betsie Bay’s Phragmites problem

• Help Monitor area of the Bay for new stands or treated areas of phragmites for new infestations. This will be an ongoing project to keep phragmites in check. Many areas can be viewed from the Betsie Valley Trail or on the water, both great ways to really see the Bay area.
• Get your Cameras ready…We need before and after photos of treated areas to determine if water levels, wildlife or more phragmites come back. Also just ways to admire the beauty of the Bay by those spectacular sunsets, eagles soaring overhead, cranes and all the recreational activity.
• Talk to your friends and neighbors about the importance of this project and your memories of the Bay prior to the invasion of phragmites. Assist in the property notification process so all neighboring properties can be effectively treated.
• Get Educated. There are many resources listed on the Friends of Betsie Bay website but don’t forget your local resources as well. Visit the Benzie Conservation District
• Donate! Need we say more…Any amount is gratefully appreciated and you can give online, as well. Check out

Friends of Betsie Bay’s Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Phragmites Treatment in the Betsie Bay area

First, FoBB defines BMPs as the best method or technique found to be the most effective and practical in achieving an objective while making optimum use of our resources.

• Education: FoBB will utilize all methods available to offer public education for the identification of native vs invasive phragmites and potential problems created by this invasive specie
• Identification: Bay Area residents and property owners will be assisted to properly identify and map any questionable stands of phragmites
• Property owners with identified phragmites stands: Owners will receive written notification containing brief educational materials, given contact information for any questions raised, with the intent of receiving a signed ‘permission to treat’ form to ensure all infested neighboring property owners’ treatment is most effective and helps to maintain ALL property values. We hope to do many of these notifications in person.
• Fund Raising to treat identified infestations through donations, grants and any other means possible.
• Monitoring: This will be an ongoing process to ensure the phragmites is kept in check around the Bay area

Phragmites australis in Betsie Bay

Float Report- October 7, 2010
Liz Padalino, Invasive Species Program Coordinator, NWM CWMA

Betsie Bay Phragmites

Phragmites australis is an invasive reed that has found its way into the Betsie Bay. It is an aggressive plant that forms very dense, nearly impenetrable patches that can grow up to 10 feet tall. The dense monocultures of phragmites out-compete native plants and destroy habitat for many species of plants and animals. A serious threat to biodiversity, the Friends of the Betsie Bay decided to take action before the problem becomes unmanageable.

As a first step in getting an idea of the extent and density of phragmites in the bay, a group of people floated down the river to mark the locations of both native and invasive infestations along the way. Seven people in two canoes and one kayak were trained in the identification of native vs. invasive phragmites and how to use a GPS unit. Upon encountering a patch of phragmites, the following information was recorded into the GPS waypoint name:*

1. Species
2. Native or Invasive
3. Patch size
4. Patch density

The marsh was not entirely navigable by canoe or kayak. A very large patch of Phragmites in the southeast region of the bay could not be reached, and I suspect that there are quite a few phragmites infestations we did not see. This report is meant to give an idea of the extent and scope of the problem. Further scouting will be necessary prior to permitting and treatment.

There was no phragmites along the river (the float began at the River rd. access site) until the tree cover opened up to the marsh. There were three patches of native phragmites at this point- one of them covered a fairly large area but they were all of medium to low plant density. These occurrences, along with a few small patches along the bike trail near the bridge adjacent to Betsie Lake, were the only stands of native phragmites encountered.

About 30 stands of invasive phragmites were identified in the marsh, ranging in size from just a few isolated stalks to large (> 20’ x20’) dense patches. 8 stands of invasive phragmites were small, ranging from just a few stalks up to a 10’ square area. 8 of the invasive phragmites stands we encountered were large, >20’ squared. Five of the stands we encountered were very sparsely populated, and only about five of the patches were very dense.

The float ended at the M-22 Bridge. One patch of phragmites was recorded past the bridge, but the edges of the Betsie Lake were not surveyed on either the Frankfort or Elberta sides.

In conclusion, the patch size and density is highly variable throughout the bay. The marsh is not yet dominated by invasive phragmites, and cattail and sedges make up the majority of the vegetation. The phragmites is at a manageable level, but there are many isolated populations that have the potential to become very dense, large patches, and should be stopped as soon as possible.

*The information collected corresponds to the MIPIN (Midwest Invasive Plant Information Network) data requirements for their invasive plant reporting system. The data we collected will be shared with them.

Controlling the Common Reed in Our Common Places

Phragmites in the Betsie Bay

By Aubrey Ann Parker

Imagine the wind in your hair, the sun on your face, and the sense of adventure you feelas you switch gears. You are zipping along on your bike, winding through the 22 miles of trail that snake along the Betsie River from Thompsonville to Frankfort. You end the day with dinner on the Coho Café patio, and then meet your friends for drinks at the Cabbage Shed before a skinny dip at Elberta Beach.

Public Discussion on Phragmites in Betsie Bay
Public Discussion on Phragmites in Betsie Bay occurred on August 28th.

Now imagine the same beautiful Northern Michigan day, but with just a few minor changes.

There are no cattails swaying in the breeze; no migratory birds navigating a trail of young through the clear waters; no fisherman boasting their catch; no sailboats moored in the harbor. Only a narrow channel of water remains at the center of the riverbed—the rest has been taken over by reeds and sediment. As you sit at a bonfire on Lake Michigan, you are fearful that the encroaching thicket of tall, dense grasses will catch fire.

And forget about trying to get a decent price for your waterfront property now that the common reed has set up summer camp on the beaches of Benzie County.

The Great Lakes Basin is home to two types of “common reed,” scientifically known as Phragmites. One species is historically native to this region and can coexist with other wetland plants. Its European brother, however, is exceptionally invasive and can drastically change the natural habitat, biological composition, wetland hydrology, and overall aesthetic of a shoreline—as we may find out the hard way.

When the non-native common reed—which can reach up to 10-feet tall—becomes rooted along a water’s edge, it blocks light to other plants and inhabits much of the growing area, consequently creating a monoculture. Phragmites can multiply at an astonishing rate because it gives birth at both its head and its base. Seeds are airborne, while root systems spread along and below the ground upwards of 30-50 feet per year.

Common reed, or Phragmites, is a tall, perennial grass that can grow to over 15 feet in height. In North America, both native phragmites (Phragmites australis ssp. americanus Saltonstall, P.M. Peterson & Soreng) and introduced subspecies are found.
Common reed, or Phragmites, is a tall, perennial grass that can grow to over 15 feet in height. In North America, both native phragmites and introduced subspecies are found. Source:

A variety of methods are used to control Phragmites, including burning, cutting, digging, draining, dredging, mowing, mulching, and pulling. Grazing by certain types of moths, aphids, and mites is another form of control. Additionally, studies in both Nebraska and Virginia have shown 50-100 percent control of Phragmites in just one season using chemical herbicides like Rodeo.

The costs can be colossal and the work arduous, but the payoff for proactively controlling Phragmites invaluable. Saginaw Bay paid $75,000 to aerially release herbicide over 120 acres, while Beaver Island spent an estimated $17,000 on 27 acres in 2007. But by 2008, only three additional acres required treatment on Beaver Island—this diminishment thanks to the quick action by a community who understood that tending one beach and The common reed is a commonplace problem. Come discuss what can and should be done about Phragmites with our community. Saturday, August 28th from 4-5:30pm at the
Elberta Farmers’ Market Pavillion. Ryan Locke, park ranger for the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, will be present to give a more detailed background and answer questions from the public.

Aubrey Ann Parker is a Northern Michigan native and graduate of both Kalamazoo College and the University of Michigan. She is a reporter for Circle of Blue, a Traverse City-based organization reporting the global freshwater crisis.






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