Bag the Phrags!

I’ve been doing a lot of research on invasive species lately.

Last month, I traveled through the southeastern U.S. to continue my research on zebra mussels and conduct a composting workshop over in Tarpon Springs, Florida. I discovered a wonderful resource at the University of Gainesville that tracks current zebra mussel shell sightings in seas, rivers, lakes, and quarries.

On my way back to Cleveland, I decided to spend the night in a yurt in Fort Yargo State Park near Winder, Georgia. There, I had an interesting conversation with Randell Meeks, one of the park rangers who is extremely knowledgeable about the park’s massive Marbury Creek Reservoir and the invasive threats to Georgia’s parks, lakes and coastlines.

Meeks made me realize that threats to our ecosystem are everywhere, and it’s everyone’s job to protect our beautiful flowers, trails, birds, and wildlife. We know they won’t always be there for us unless we do something to protect them. Don’t we?

And just like the researchers in Florida and Ohio, scientists over at the University of Georgia have established their own system for tracking things. If you visit the website for the Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, you will learn a great deal about the work being done on invasive species and forest health.

While on the website, the dotted maps and links tend to be a bit overwhelming. I suppose I didn’t realize how many “invasions” there were, till I started reading so much about them. Plus, all of this new interest lead me to think about another invasive threat after I returned home and got settled into my regular routine.

In January, I attended a meeting with some activist friends who started a group called the Brooklyn Centre Naturalists. This grassroots group of Cleveland residents simply wanted to figure out how to protect the beautiful areas near the Cleveland Zoo and all of the wildlife that exists within the 44109 zip code. During the meeting, organizer Gloria Ferris had announced that the BCN is now a “seed” team for the National Wildlife Federation’s launch of Wildlife Nation, a program designed to connect today’s youth with wildlife.

As we talked about upcoming plans for 2014, the conversation quickly turned to a discussion on non-native Phragmites, those tall, dense reeds that are choking their way along interstates and other areas in Old Brooklyn, Brooklyn Centre and all throughout Ohio. After I got home from the meeting, I had remembered the UGA database I looked at before and thought, “How big of a problem are Phragmites throughout Ohio and the rest of the U.S.?

If you visit that site and click on the distribution map, you’ll discover that all but one state is being impacted by invasive Phragmites, which are commonly confused with ornamental grass or switch grass. It’s pretty enough to the casual observer, but it is taking over marshes, busy highway berms and open fields where I live.

As a group, we knew it was a topic worth discussing, but how would we take this thing on? We decided to schedule a tour and assess how they were impacting our neighborhoods, then research what others were doing to alleviate the problem.