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Town looking for a regional phragmites control program

Town looking for a regional phragmites control program

Amherstburg town council is turning to the County of Essex to get a regional phragmites program.


The motion came after an impassioned delegation by local wildlife photographer and observer Greg Nemeth looking for action on the subject. He noted the Big Creek watershed has suffered a negative impact from the invasive species of grass.


“Twenty years have passed since I started consistently photographing Amherstburg’s Big Creek watershed, a once abundant ecosystem,” Nemeth told town council last Tuesday night. 


Nemeth said the Big Creek watershed was proved to be flora and fauna productive but said in the last few years, the phragmites have made species documenting more challenging.


“Phragmites, the invasive grass, is now out-competing our own native species with its aggressive nature, transforming a once vibrant and valuable ecosystem to a battered and wounded landscape,” said Nemeth. “Wildlife would like to survive. It can’t without a place to live.”


According to Nemeth, there are over 90 families of birds in North America with half of that amount residing in this region. He said he has photographed most of those species.


The big concern for Nemeth was north of Alma St. and south of the greenway trail.


“I have photographed most butterflies - although difficult to find – moths, nearly all of our mammals, our flora and lots of insects,” he said. “The amphibians and reptiles knew where they belonged. North of Alma was a sanctuary. There is only one big problem. Much more care is needed. Phragmites is taking over.”


Nemeth said it hurts to watch “the Big Creek die” particularly when it was given recognition from the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) and the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR).


“I’m watching a once vibrant and colourful ecosystem fade away to the colour brown,” said Nemeth.


The MNR gave a presentation to town council in Nov. 2011, he added, with progress made. Nemeth added Big Creek hasn’t gotten the protection it needs since.


“The Ministry said the Big Creek watershed is very, very productive,” said Nemeth. “All of this leaves me with one question. Why, when wildlife and habitat are declining annually, why isn’t our largest wetland in the County of Essex treated as an asset? There is no other landscape and no other wetland close to the value of this Big Creek watershed anywhere. This region has the most species at risk of both plants and animals anywhere in Canada and unfortunately Essex County has the most fragmented habitat.”


Habitat loss and phragmites are two reasons for the loss of wildlife.


“Wetlands are sponges, storing and releasing water and reducing the damaging effects of flooding and drought. Wetlands, when healthy, act as kidneys of the Earth, purifying water runoff, have the ability to store large amounts of carbon, and play a key role in regulating greenhouse gasses while buffering the impacts of climate change,” said Nemeth. “Why aren’t we doing our part and maintaining the wetlands so they function at 100 per cent? We see phragmites species everywhere. Eradicate this nuisance weed. The wetland ecosystem, if it is to survive at all, needs our physical presence.”


Nemeth called for wider distribution of the dollars being allocated for habitat restoration.


“The Big Creek watershed north of Alma St. is a maintenance priority,” said Nemeth. “Birds have declined by three billion worldwide since the 1970’s. What does that tell us? If wildlife has a chance at all of surviving, we need to care for our habitat they use consistently. I have no issue of putting money in any of our parks, but to put all of the money at one park isn’t spending money responsibly.”

Nemeth said $11.2 million was invested by the federal government in 2015 and another $20 million in 2019 at Point Pelee and asked how much has been given to Amherstburg or ERCA for the Big Creek watershed.


“Was there ever money spent at the south end of the Big Creek watershed?” he asked. “The whole creek from the south end to the north end needs to be cared for. Not just pieces.”


Over the past 100 years, Nemeth added urbanization has occurred with ecologically productive land being fragmented and transformed into lawns and exotic ornamental plants. 


“The human-dominated landscape no longer supports functioning ecosystems, and the remaining natural acres are not large enough to support wildlife,” he said. “With new development and continued loss of wildlife habitat, what is the plan to save green space before homes are built? When will we make habitat preservation a priority? It save lives?”


Councillor Peter Courtney asked what Nemeth would like to see from town council, noting the town can only deal with its phragmites issues.


“It’s bigger than Amherstburg,” he said.


Nemeth believed “there is money available” from upper levels of government to deal with the issue.


“We have to have a professional come in, get an estimate to come in to eradicate phragmites north of Alma,” said Nemeth. “You get a professional come in and when they leave Amherstburg, phragmites is on the way out.”


Every municipality should get involved, he added, with Nemeth stating “it’s not difficult.” A professional comes in, gives an estimate, and then municipalities apply for the government for cash.


“We can’t sit back and stay idle,” said Nemeth. “I don’t want to be here tonight but I have to be.”


Nemeth said he documents the wildlife there and species are declining.

Councillor Don McArthur questioned how much land along the Big Creek watershed is town owned, with Nemeth stating 33 acres of it is.


Nemeth said he sent correspondence to upper levels of government and was encouraged to try and make the area a provincial park.


“If they are encouraging us to go that route, the money is probably more lucrative,” said Nemeth. “Developed over time and professionally landscaped, it would be second to none. It would be a second Navy Yard Park.”


Councillor Molly Allaire says an administrative report shows the town has been trying to address the issue, with manager of roads and fleet Eric Chamberlain stating the town has budgeted $20,000 for the phragmites issue.


“On an annual basis, we map the phragmites and we do actually have a contractor come in the fall and spray the roadsides. We do the county roads too,” he said. “We’ve been doing that for the past five years.”


An area on Lowes Side Road near the south gateway was sprayed. Allaire said phragmites was brought up at the recent ERCA board meeting, adding the conservation authority was selected through Environment Canada to use moth-larvae to control phragmites at the Collavino property in Amherstburg.


“We can continually study it to see if the moth larvae are working but it’s such a slow process,” she said. “It takes a year basically to create these bugs and then they are released, and they eat the core of the phragmites and it stops them from reproducing.”


Allaire added “we definitely have to work as a group to take care of it” and the work continues.


“We’re working on it but the process is just slow and it’s taking more time than we all would probably want to admit,” said Allaire. “ERCA is definitely doing their part and working really hard on it.”


Councillor Diane Pouget said larvae for the two types of moths Allaire referenced have been released in 2022 and that the herbicide treatment was used as well. She asked which was more effective. Chamberlain said both ways are effective and “both doing equal works.”


Using the herbicide requires approvals from the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, he added.


Chamberlain’s report noted there is a county working group to deal with the issue, noting the work they do is primarily in the fall and the money would be used later in 2024.


Courtney wanted to know if other municipalities had their own programs. Chamberlain said the approach being sought is regional, noting Lakeshore does a similar program as Amherstburg with Essex and Leamington also known to have their own programs as well.


Mapping is key, Courtney said, and believed it has to be a regional approach.


“I think we’re all trying to do something but we are all trying to come together and come to this regional sort of plan,” he said. “There are some communities that have mapped their phragmites, not as extensive as us, but again we are looking to try and get that information in, get an overall map of what phragmites looks like across the county and actually come to some sort of program where we can come back to council and outreach to the landowners and other partners in the area to come to a program.”Much of the land around Big Creek is private and Chamberlain said they would need permission from landowners to enter on to those lands.


“There’s a lot of work out there to do,” he said.


Courtney underscored his belief it should be dealt with at a county level and also encouraged staff to work with colleagues in other municipalities to show what Amherstburg is doing.


“It’s pretty clear phragmites are a regional problem that requires a regional solution,” said McArthur. “The seeds that fly in the air don’t observe municipal borders.”


McArthur believed compelling private property owners to do it is a challenge, but added the county is the better body to implement a program.


“There’s a lot of work out there to do,” he said.


Courtney underscored his belief it should be dealt with at a county level and also encouraged staff to work with colleagues in other municipalities to show what Amherstburg is doing.


“It’s pretty clear phragmites are a regional problem that requires a regional solution,” said McArthur. “The seeds that fly in the air don’t observe municipal borders.”


McArthur believed compelling private property owners to do it is a challenge, but added the county is the better body to implement a program.

Town looking for a regional phragmites control program

By Ron Giofu



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