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Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

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© Betsy Galbraith
© Betsy Galbraith

December 2006

On the "edge of the woods"

Stopping the spread of giant reed grass in wetlands

Betsy Galbraith

If you've driven by the "Edge of the Woods" in the Duck Creek Watershed in northeastern Wisconsin lately, you probably noticed the tall, brown grass covering the site. Giant reed grass, also called Phragmites, is invading many wetlands on the Oneida Reservation.

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Originally from Asia, this grass crowds out native plants and wildlife. "We didn't think there could be anything worse than purple loosestrife in our wetlands, but then Phragmites came along," says Jonas Hill, an intern with the Oneida Environmental Quality Department.

Wetland habitat within this 80-acre tribal-owned property is degraded due to the aggressive giant reed grass invasion. Duck Creek flows across the southern half of the property and its confluence with Trout Creek in the southwestern corner.

In 1998, a series of wetland scrapes and several dikes were constructed on the property to provide habitat for waterfowl. Since that time, Phragmites has gradually invaded the site and currently inhabits about 40 acres.

Much planning and research occurred to determine the best way to remove Phragmites and restore the wetlands. Research shows the best way to fight this aggressive grass is aerial herbicide. Due to the extreme height of the grass, 10-14 feet, a helicopter was used to spray the herbicide. It is likely the site will need to be sprayed next summer too. A strategic reforestation plan will then be implemented with the help of the Oneida conservation crew.

About $35,000 from the NRDAR is supporting the project. Add to that $5,000 from the NRCS Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) and $5,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partner's Program. In-kind services from the Oneida Environmental Quality Department include staff time for design and implementation of the project ($2,000).

Within a few years, the wetlands at the "Edge of the Woods" will once again be an enjoyable place for ducks, frogs and people.

Wetland restoration will improve habitat for waterfowl nesting and rearing broods, and during migration periods. Restoring a portion of Duck Creek's floodplain and adjacent upland habitat are first steps toward restoring the Duck Creek Watershed. Eradication of Phragmites will limit its spread throughout the reservation and adjacent counties. Long-term monitoring will include measuring reforestation success, wildlife use, and a zero tolerance policy for Phragmites reinvasion.

Betsy Galbraith an environmental quality specialist for the Oneida Nation.