2017-12-07 / News

Three Shores CISMA Explains Chemical Herbicide Spraying in Clark Township

By Erich T. Doerr

The topic of chemical spray herbicides has become an item of discussion in Clark Township during recent months since the chemical glyphosate was used in the area last fall in an effort to battle invasive types of phragmites grasses along the shoreline. The invasive species control effort has led into discussions about the need and role of chemical sprays and if the township should take action to limit or ban their use. While township organizations continue to look at their options for chemical use or future restrictions the task of controlling invasive species in the Eastern Upper Peninsula is handled by the team at the Chippewa Luce Mackinac Conservation District under its Three Shores Cooperative Invasive Species Area (CISMA) program.

Conservation District Executive Director Mike McCarthy said his organization uses sprays when it finds they are the best available option for invasive species control and he believes they are safe if used correctly. The organization is required by law to make a public posting in local newspapers before it begins any phragmites treatments, and one such posting in an August issue of The St. Ignace News is what triggered Clark Township’s current discussions.

Laws about chemical use also regulate the type of clothing that must be worn when applying them and how they can be stored. The chemicals’ labels must be followed at all times to assure they are applied correctly and safely in the recommended amount. Applying too little of a chemical won’t get the job done, but putting down too much can have other impacts, like making it less effective or causing residual effects that could impact other species. Mr. McCarthy said they always follow these labels and never over apply when spraying.

The labels on the chemicals are approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the law requires following them. The information on them includes how long it will take for the chemical to naturally break down, marking the time at which an area that has been sprayed would again be safe for human use. Some chemical sprays have no residual effects. If Three Shores CISMA uses one that does it selects this spray based on management practice recommendations from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and Michigan Department of Natural Resources that has a limit of 48 hours or less to break down after its application.

Mr. McCarthy pointed out that the control of invasive species makes up only a very small portion of the chemical spraying use in the Eastern Upper Peninsula. The amount of chemicals used is much higher for purposes such as residential pest control or lawn care.

Chemical spraying is usually an effective way to handle invasive species, and Mr. McCarthy noted they have to take care to use the best management practices that are specifically designed for the each species in question, adjusting their tactics as needed. Any time the Three Shores CISMA team uses chemical sprays, they are applied directly to the area affected with a handheld backpack sprayer tool. They have no other type of equipment for applying it. Three Shores CISMA never conducts any aerial sprays using aircraft in this area. Glyphosate is one of the chemicals used as a spray because of its effectiveness in battling phragmites. The chemical is available under a number of brand names, such as Roundup.

Mr. McCarthy told The St. Ignace News he has heard about the criticism of chemical spraying, including the use of glyphosate, but notes that the sprays are just one of several tactics Three Shores CISMA uses to battle invasive species, with other options available depending on the species. When it comes to phragmites, using sprays is likely the only feasible or economically viable option to eliminate the plants.

Phragmites can grow back from just fragments of their roots, so outside of spraying, the only other way to completely eliminate the plants is to dig up both them and their entire root systems, something Mr. Mc- Carthy described as an almost impossible task. Since phragmites grow in the water near the shoreline, in addition to being much more labor intensive this kind of work would also require permits from the state to dig up its bottomlands, something the state is unlikely to approve.

Three Shores CISMA has been treating phragmites for more than five years and its efforts are covered by grants from various sources including the state, the United States Forest Service, and the Upper Peninsula Resource Conservation and Development Council. Phragmites is the plant they most often use chemicals to combat. The invasive species is only seen in scattered patches in the EUP in the Les Cheneaux Islands and Brevort areas, but is sporadic along the Lake Michigan shoreline elsewhere, with larger concentrations found in the Delta County, Menominee, and Green Bay, Wisconsin areas. Control efforts have succeeded in assuring no large areas remain in the Eastern Upper Peninsula.

Three Shores CISMA also has other chemical sprays it can use, depending on the plant and the need. One of them is triclopyr, a selective spray going by many brand names, which it uses to combat invasive broadleaf species like garlic mustard and wild parsnips. Garlic mustard and wild parsnips are usually dealt with by pulling the plants manually. Chemicals are only used to combat them in the rare occurrence that an area about the size of a typical lawn or larger is completely infested with them. Of the more than 140 acres of garlic mustard Three Shores CISMA worked to control in 2017, less than two acres involved the spraying of chemicals.

The effectiveness of chemicals in handling plants varies depending on the spray and the species. While Mr. McCarthy noted glyphosate works well against phragmites, using its store-bought variant Roundup against invasive Japanese knotweed is more likely to cause the plant to spread rather than kill it. A better management practice requires the use of the chemical spray imazapyr, applying it with a handheld sprayer in the fall before the first frost sets in. Imazapyr is a restricted-use pesticide that is not available to the public.

Mr. McCarthy said the biggest tool Three Shores CISMA uses to combat invasive species is not pulling plants or spraying them, but education. It works to bring attention to the invasive species issue and show people what they can and cannot plant in the EUP area.

Local resident Kate Rudolph first spoke to the Clark Township Board of Trustees about the concerns she sees with using chemical sprays at its September 20 meeting, and she favors a local ban on their large-scale use. She wanted to start discussions on how this could be accomplished. Ms. Rudolph, citizen Monica Katy, and the Les Cheneaux Watershed Council were to further research the topic and see if anything could be done about it.

Ms. Rudolph returned and updated the township board at its Wednesday, November 8, meeting about the progress of these talks, saying that the group had been meeting for six weeks and prepared a resolution about the spraying. At a recent watershed council meeting, she said it met little interest, with some opposition from members of the group who favor spraying glyphosate to counteract invasive species. The proposal drew little discussion from that group. She continued to work with a few members on the proposal and hopes to present a draft resolution to the board in advance of its December meeting.

Ms. Rudolph asked the board if putting out a public petition against spraying would be helpful. Township Supervisor Mark Clymer responded that would not be necessary, suggesting instead she could look to local groups to gain support or have local residents write letters to the board on the topic. He said the spraying issue won’t be an imminent one for the township because of the onset of winter, allowing it time to look over Ms. Rudolph’s resolution and develop a consensus on it before advertising for community feedback via a public hearing, a poll, or some other means. Mr. Clymer does not expect any action will be necessary on this topic until the new year. Ms. Rudolph said her goal with these efforts is to raise awareness about this topic, not create a new law with fines for non-compliance.

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