Winter invasive species fight focuses on tall, grasslike phragmitesSubmitted: 11/19/2013
Story By Ben Meyer

Winter invasive species fight focuses on tall, grasslike phragmites
NORTHWOODS - You likely think of Eurasian water-milfoil and purple loosestrife during the summer as invasive species threats.

But a creeping species in the Northwoods is proving to be as much of a concern.

Containing it may be a tall order.

Fighting your way through a patch of invasive phragmites can feel like moving through a packed crowd at Hodag Country Fest.

"Any native plants that were in here have been killed off and pushed out," says Oneida County Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator Michele Sadauskas, standing in the middle of a patch of dense, reedy plants.

Phragmites are not only incredibly dense - they grow extremely tall.

"We're not looking at a four-foot grass. We're looking at a grass that's ten to fifteen feet tall. So something that's - if I put my hand up here - it's quite tall," says Sadauskas.

That blocks the sun and chokes out just about all other plant life.

There's even something eerily alien about them.

"This is probably one plant. This is a clone. A root got started. The plant just sent out more roots, and those roots sent out more stems," Vilas County AIS Coordinator Ted Ritter comments on the patch.

There are just a handful of known patches in the Northwoods.

But some places are completely overrun near Lake Michigan.

Phragmites grow so thick, an observer can't see the lake beyond.

The Northwoods invasive population is on the front end of the phragmites' spread.

"Let's try to get to those outer edges and contain those outer edges and push those back," Sadauskas says. "There's a little bit that's working its way across Wisconsin. Let's try to get those outer edges and push back."

Oneida, Forest, Vilas, and Langlade Counties got grant money for a "push-back" campaign.

But first, they need to know where all of the phragmites are.

"We need help. We need people around these four counties to keep their eyes open and report anything that is even suspicious of phragmites so we can come out and assess it," Ritter says.

Late fall and winter is the best time to spot phragmites.

Invasive species experts want hunters, hikers, and snowmobilers to look for and report phragmites in the Northwoods.

Contact your county's invasive species office for more.

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