This commentary comes from Mark Wales, President, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Phragmites australis is spreading across Ontario and needs to be stopped. It’s Canada’s worst invasive plant and is threatening Ontario’s biodiversity. At heights of five metres or more, this reed-like plant forms large, dense stands in wetlands, waterways and drainage systems, choking out animal habitats and native species. Phragmites is already found across the province and throughout Eastern Canada, and becoming a real problem for Ontario farmers.
That’s why the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) supports the work of the Ontario Phragmites Working Group. This industry advisory team has established four recommendations to help control and manage Phragmites. And OFA hopes decision makers at Queen’s Park will act on these recommendations to stop the continued spread of this invasive plant.
Phragmites spreads at an alarming rate, sending shoots in all directions. The plant also releases toxins from their roots, cutting off other plants access to nutrients and water. Phragmites is also easily transported on vehicles and equipment, spreading it even farther across the province.
The really disturbing news on Phragmites is there are very few effective control options. Mechanical control by cutting or burning will work on specific sites. Herbicides are the most effective option but can’t be used around water, where the invasive grass is often growing. There are registered herbicides in the US to control Phragmites, but are not currently registered in Canada.
The search for effective control measures has led to the formation of the Ontario Phragmites Working Group. This group is tasked with developing control recommendations that would require buy in from all levels of government. Success would see a large scale, coordinated effort to control the plant.
OFA supports the work of this group, and is taking key recommendations to the Ontario government, centred around four action items to reduce the impact of this invasive species. These recommendations include emergency use permits for herbicides, approval of aerial treatment application, establishing a province-wide control program and establishing an Invasive Species Act for Ontario.
With the proper tools and a coordinated approach to combat Phragmites, the impact of this invasive plant can be mitigated. But everyone needs to work together, including all levels of government. If we ignore this invader, we’ll all pay for the loss of wetland habitat, reduction in biodiversity, impact on private landowners and farmers. Ontario has already lost hundreds of habitat acres to Phragmites. It’s clogging our drainage ditches and cutting off our waterways. This species must be stopped.