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Approve essential herbicide tools to control Phragmites, and establish a control program

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Phragmites is a rapidly spreading grass that can reach heights of 5 m or more and is considered by reputable scientists to be the most aggressive invasive species of marsh ecosystems in North America, and may be Canada’s worst invasive plant. Phragmites poses a significant threat to Ontario’s biodiversity and economy. It forms large, dense stands that negatively impact wildlife, block shoreline views and recreational access, pose fire risks, and impede drainage in roadside and agricultural ditches. There are no natural controls for Phragmites and, therefore, human action is required to keep this plant in check. It is estimated that current cost of control projects in Ontario ranges between $865 and $1,112 per hectare (Ontario’s Biodiversity Strategy, 2012) and that land managers in the United States spend over $4.6 million per year restoring habitats impacted by Phragmites (Hazelton et al., 2014). Because this plant grows so rapidly once established, the longer the plant is ignored the more effort and money is required to get it under control. Due to the significant, negative impact of this plant, non-action is not an option.  

Phragmites has become so pervasive throughout southern Ontario that a large scale, well-coordinated effort is now required to achieve any meaningful results. To date, effective, efficient and environmentally responsible control efforts have been hampered by the lack of appropriate herbicides to deal with infestations in wet areas, the lack of a coordinated plan to stop continued spread, the lack of infrastructure to enable rapid response, the lack of financial and logistical support for community groups trying to deal with local invasions and the lack of an effective public education and awareness campaign.

During this past year the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) have been actively engaged in addressing the challenges stated above. Staff that have been involved on this file are to be commended for their tireless efforts in the process of   getting the much needed herbicides available in Ontario. We are grateful for  support provided by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) on this issue. We hope that the Ministry of Transportation (MTO) will continue and expand their efforts of controlling Phragmites along our provincial highways to prevent further spread into our natural areas. 

I am requesting your support and assurance that all of our Provincial agencies be supporting and working with MNRF on the following initiatives:

 1.       Expedited and streamlined approval of herbicides to enable control in aquatic environments. Legal chemical treatment options in Canada are limited to two products, Weathermax® and Vision®. Although both products are glyphosate-based, neither can be applied to aquatic environments because they also contain the surfactant polyethyloxylated tallowamine (POEA) which is harmful to aquatic life. The most safe, effective and efficient control of Phragmites thus far has been in the United States and has been achieved using glyphosate and imazapyr-based herbicides which do not contain surfactants. With the proper permits, these products can be legally used there and be applied over wet areas and, when used in combination, have been shown to have a control efficacy of up to 100% after one treatment. The ability to use these water-safe herbicides to control Phragmites in sensitive habitats in Canada will significantly reduce potential harm to wildlife and be far more environmentally responsible than use of the products currently available. Having access to these products will also allow for control in wet ditches which are major spread vectors and will significantly reduce control costs and improve efficacy for numerous Phragmites management programs already underway. Political assistance is requested to help expedite the regulatory approval process to allow the use of products that are safe for aquatic environments by the 2016 growing season so that control efforts can begin in earnest and in a responsible fashion to protect our biodiversity, reduce control costs and reduce negative impacts. 

  2.       Expedited and streamlined approval of aerial treatments. There is also a need, on a restricted basis, for aerial herbicide application to enable the control of Phragmites in large, remote, and difficult to access locations. This control option is available in the United States and has been shown to be the best option for controlling large infestations in their coastal wetlands. Without this tool, control of Phragmites currently expanding throughout a number of large, Provincially Significant Coastal wetlands will not be feasible.   Political assistance is requested to expedite the regulatory approval process to allow for this control tool at specific sites. 

 3.       Establishing a province-wide Phragmites control program. Phragmites management is achievable, but only with a well-funded, well-coordinated Phragmites control program that will ensure effective, efficient and environmentally responsible locally driven efforts are initiated and supported. Funding to support this program should come from and be shared by federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as concerned citizens and environmental protection groups. In Ontario, this program could be managed by the OIPC/OPWG. Political assistance is required to financially and logistically support this initiative.

  4.       Controlling Phragmites along Provincial highways.  While it is acknowledged that there are significant kilometres of highways infested with Phragmites, the contribution of these corridors for continued spread makes inaction indefensible. Control costs will only increase as Phragmites rapidly expands and therefore the sooner control efforts are implemented the more cost savings will incur. Recommended priorities are highways within northern Ontario and cottage country. Political assistance is required to make Phragmites control an annual priority within MTO.

5. Encouraging the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) to approve our request for expanded herbicide tools to control Phragmites. Without the approval of these tools as described above, our efforts to restore wetlands are subject to ever-fluctuating water levels, and we can do nothing but watch as Phragmites gains ground in aquatic environments.  

Availability of the required tools, along with a large scale, well-coordinated approach to this issue will help to protect biodiversity, reduce the impact on species at risk (SAR) and reduce the impact on Ontario’s economy. I believe that this invasive plant can be dealt with effectively, efficiently and in an environmentally responsible way but needs the support from all levels of government to make this happen. The OPWG is keen to work with all levels of government to assist in implementing an effective control plan. Without these efforts the loss of wetland habitat, reduction in biodiversity, impact on private landowners and impact on the economy will continue to increase.       

 Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I greatly appreciate your consideration in supporting this issue.

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