Wednesday, June 22, 2011


An example of the vigor with which the phragmites
plant has taken hold on Washington Island shores,
here on the sandy beach overlooking Rock Island.

Washington Island, Wisconsin -

Consider the lowly zebra mussel on Lake Michigan rock bottoms, the wild parsnip of the Door County roadside ditch, the garlic mustard that has taken over wooded glens, and the ever-increasing clumps of phragmites that grow in wet and low shoreline areas.  

Each of the above species, and many others, became the focus of attention from approximately 15 representatives of federal, state, county, town and non-profit foundation organizations today at the Island Community Center.

Working from memory, those organizations represented were:   U.S. Fish and Wildlife;  Wisconsin DNR; Door County Soil and Water;  Town of Washington Town Board and Parks Committee members; the Ridges Sanctuary, Baileys Harbor; the Nature Conservancy;  the Door County Land Trust...each of whom interact with one another and the various agencies, to exchange information, promote ecology and slow or stop invasive plants and animals, and provide grant assistance to communities and groups to actually apply measures that will hamper the spread of species that choke out native plants and animals.
Joined together, their expertise and resources fall under the heading, Door County Invasive Species Team, or DCIST.

A question that I should have asked early in the presentation, that might have led to my greater understanding of the much more specific topic of waging battle against a particular plant or animal:

     Who decides what is an invasive specie?    Once on the list, have any plants or animals placed on an official invasive species list been removed, following concerted efforts to eliminate them?

It was clear from the comments of both the professional biologists and the audience members (some of whom have organized against the spread of phragmites and other exotic plants) that a line had been drawn to stop an advance.  Identification of problem areas, of money sources to bring expertise and hands to bear (and in some cases, chemicals), seemed to comprise the greatest audience expression.

There is a natural tendency to be most concerned about one's own property, and after that, one's own community (in this case, Washington Island), and after that, the county, northeastern Wisconsin and perhaps the Great Lakes as a whole.    But mostly, people seemed concerned about what could be done for them, now and in the near future, if I read audience comments correctly.

Representatives of WDNR explained how Door County and neighboring counties have been studied, with Priority Conservation areas (highlighted on a map) for concentration of efforts.  A good share of those areas are public lands considered to have a significant ecology... of not only local, but of global significance.  (Again, we didn't find out who decided this, or how such designation was decided.)

The air turned a bit prickly when a question was asked of a USFWS speaker, "Aren't cormorants an invasive specie?"   The response:   USFWS considers the cormorant to be a protected bird, and not invasive.   It was noted that as an exception to this policy (if that is what it is) WDNR has oiled cormorant eggs on remote nesting island these past several years.  Nests on Hog Island were similarly destroyed, apparently, by USFWS personnel.  However, Pilot Island's USFWS protected rookery was noted as being a discrepancy, an exception to current accepted bureaucratic/administrative policy for those birds.  

Again, who decides what is protected, or not? Or what is invasive, or not?  Is it Congress? State legislature, designated scientific or an enforcement organization?  Public outcry?

An observation hard to overlook, made on my trip north along the western shore to the U.P. two  weekends ago, were the acres upon acres of phragmites that grew along the shoreline, both in lower Green Bay and along the shoreline of upper Green Bay as far as Escanaba.  

If thousands of dollars are being spent to eradicate phragmites from Washington Island and Door County's shores by highly organized and motivated citizenry, while little or nothing is being done to stop phragmites by our Michigan counterparts some 20 miles as the cormorant flies, would our efforts be like spitting in the wind?   It was acknowledged by several speakers that phragmites is an aquatic specie.  So it stands to reason that water currents, or bird droppings with plant seeds embedded, or perhaps uprooted plants floating on the surface, might continually reseed stretches of shoreline where there is not yet a phragmites problem, or reinfest shores where the problem had been eliminated.  What sort of broad coordination is there to ensure this won't be the case?

I suppose this piece sounds like that of a defeatist, by saying that for at least some species that have Washington Island or Wisconsin or the Great Lakes as their new home, it seems that no number of well-intentioned work parties with gloves, shovels and plastic sacks, or jugs of chemicals, will ever completely eradicate these plants and animals, now that they are here.    

Is getting rid of one invasive specie on one's own property the most we can do as individuals, allowing us to claim victory in a much larger battle? Or must one's neighbors and community invest similar amounts of money, time, energy?

Perhaps we need to more wisely pick our battles, given our rather limited resources and energy, and figure out ways we can either use these species in a positive way, or ignore them, and still live our lives in relative peace and harmony with what is the new natural world around us.  

 -   Dick Purinton

No comments: