November 29, 2014

Land conservancy planning controlled burns this spring

Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy
Phragmites are burned during a controlled burn in 2013.
Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy
Phragmites are burned during a controlled burn in 2013.
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ARENAC COUNTY — Controlled burns will be conducted at the mouths of the Au Gres and Saganing rivers this spring in an effort to remove invasive phragmites.

Trevor Edmonds, a land protection specialist with the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy, said he hopes to have the burns done in April, but added weather will control when they can occur.

“We’re hoping to do them sometime within April, but the nature of them is they’re so dependent on weather condition that we won’t even know before a day or two beforehand,” he said.

Edmonds said similar controlled burns were held at the same two locations last year.

“It’s going to be the same two spots this year, and then there’s a smaller one we’re going to be doing just north of the Saganing mouth area,” he said. “It’s called the Standish nature preserve.”

Overall, about 150 acres of phragmites will be burned, according to Edmonds. He said the invasive plants, which grow up to 15 feet tall, choke out native aquatic plants and block access to habitat for reptiles and amphibians.

“There are very few species at all that actually utilize or thrive in areas with phragmites,” he said. “When they’re right along the shoreline like they are, they actually act like a physical barrier to animals.”

Phragmites grow extremely thick and dense in feeding and breeding grounds for aquatic animals, and also prevent the growth of cattails, marsh grasses and wetland-based wildflowers, Edmonds said. The burns will allow for more dense growth of native species and the growth of plants that have been dormant due to the presence of phragmites, he said.

In the same areas where the controlled burns are slated to occur, herbicide was applied to the phragmites in the fall, Edmonds said. The upcoming controlled burns will be conducted by an Ann Arbor-based contractor, which also applied the herbicide last year, according to Edmonds.

Invasive phragmites can also cause headaches for humans because of their tall, dense growth. Edmonds said they can block lake access for recreational activities and often impede waterfront homeowners’ views of the Saginaw Bay.

“That’s the first gripe most people usually have about them, especially if you’re a waterfront property owner and you had this nice view of the Bay, and now it’s blocked by phragmites,” he said.

If weather permits the burns could all be done on one day, Edmonds said. If not, they will likely be completed over a span of two days.

The Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy is performing the burns with a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

For more information on the controlled burns, contact the land conservancy at 989-891-9986.

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