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Panel discussion on wetland management: Stewardship Network Conference

Satellite image from the Worldview2 satellite (left) and interpreted images (right) of pre- and post-treatment of a coastal wetland. The loss of dark purple and bright magenta areas in the lower right panel show the eradication of Phragmites from large areas after treatment with herbicide.  Courtesy Laura Bourgeau-Chavez, MTRI.

Laura Bourgeau-Chavez (Michigan Tech Research Institute), Phyllis Higman (Michigan Natural Features Inventory), and Bill Currie gave a presentation and panel discussion at “The Science, Practice & Art of Restoring Native Ecosystems 2018” conference organized by The Stewardship Network in East Lansing, MI, January 12-13, 2018. We gave a tag-team presentation titled “Sharing insights on invasive Phragmites management,” followed by a 45-minute panel discussion in which we discussed questions from the audience. Our presentation and discussion focused on work we have been doing with the Saginaw Bay CISMA (Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area) to develop an adaptive management framework to reduce invasions of Phragmites and restore native vegetation in Great Lakes coastal wetlands. Phragmites australis (common name: common reed) is an invasive reed that grows so thick and tall over such large areas that it displaces native marsh plants in coastal and inland wetlands, destroying habitat for birds, amphibians, and fish, harming human uses of wetlands including navigation, recreation, and views, and harming property values.

Laura presented state-of-the-art methods of using satellite imagery and drones to identify areas of invasive plants in Great Lakes coastal wetlands (shown in the image above; more detail and a Great Lakes¬†basin-wide coastal wetland map is available at the MTRI website). Her presentation included before-and-after aerial images that she has used to assess the effectiveness of management efforts by our partners at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Phyllis gave an informative and, as usual, highly motivational presentation about the damages caused by invasive plants in wetlands. Bill gave an overview of the Mondrian model that we are using to predict the effectiveness of wetland management and restoration efforts — including using the model to predict the likely effectiveness of burning, mowing and herbicide treatments to remove Phragmites (this modeling research is in collaboration with Kenneth Elgersma, Jason Martina, and Deborah Goldberg). The session was very well attended; about 50 people, mainly environmental professionals who manage wetlands, were present and participated in the group discussion. Before this session, many of the attendees were not aware that elevated nutrient inflows are an important trigger for large invasive plants like Phragmites.

The role of elevated nutrient inflows in triggering Phragmites invasions is important because it illustrates an example of how excess nutrient runoff, mainly from agricultural land, harms ecosystems downstream. From a larger perspective, this represents a wicked problem in the environment and sustainability science because stakeholders often can not agree on the definition or causes of the problem. It also represents a market failure in the food system, because the environmental harms, habitat loss, and damages to property values caused by the excess runoff of nutrients in agricultural fertilizer are not included in prices in the food system.