ALPENA -The Thunder Bay River watershed system in Alpena County has come under attack by a new invasive species. From the Fletcher's Floodwaters to the Ninth Avenue Dam, European frogbit has been spreading, and if not eradicated it could have a large and lasting impact to the ecosystem of local waters and plant life.
This week a rapid response team from the Michigan State University was in Alpena to study and take initial steps to deal with the invasive threat. It will not be known for some time however if the measures taken will have a permanent impact, or if other, more dramatic, action will be needed.
Wildlife sanctuary board Chairman Roger Witherbee said the plant resembles small lilly pads and has a wild flower on them. He said seeds develop in the flower and once they fall from the plant, they will cause rapid growth. He said the team in Alpena, as well as volunteers from the sanctuary board pulled the weeds from the river this week, but because it is late in the year, many of the seeds may have been dropped into the water already. He said MSU has dealt with the frogbit in a couple other locations south of Alpena, but is still learning about it and how to address it.
"They came and assessed the problem, and to identify the locations where it is at," Witherbee said. "It basically runs from the Fletcher Floodwaters to the dam in Alpena. We pulled over 1,000 pounds of it from the river near Camper's Cove and another couple hundred pounds from around the canoe launch at the Duck Park. We'll look at the impact pulling the plants had this spring and see if it was effective. If not we might have to spray it."
Witherbee said pulling the plant would be more effective during the spring, when the seeds, or "pods," are still on the plant and not a threat to fall from the flower. He said there are still a lot of unknowns about the invasive plant, but states that boarder Michigan are dealing with it on a larger scale.
"It is fairly new to Michigan and the state is attempting to stay on top of it," Witherbee said. "They still question if it can be eradicate it pulling pulling it alone or if spraying will be necessary. Nobody wants to have to do that though if we don't have to."
Judy Kalmanek, who is also on the sanctuary board, said roots of the plant weave themselves together to form a web or mat, which can strangle other native plants like water lilies, lilly pads or fish. She said if these native plants are harmed it could have a spill over effect on the fish and other wildlife that depend on the plants for food and protection. She said like other invasive special that have leaked into the wild, the speading of European frogbit more than likely began on someone's personal property as a decoration and escaped into the rivers and lakes.
Kalmanek said frogbit was discovered in Alpena sometime in July at Duck Park and MSU scientists were notified and visited to verify the plant was indeed the invasive species. The rapid response team reasponded after it handled another matter involving frogbit in a small area near Sault Ste. Marie in the Upper Penninsula. It also has been confirmed in Bay City, Saginaw Bay and near Toledo.
Witherbee said it was primarily the wildlife sanctuary board and the response team that pulled the plants from the river this week. He said if it is decided pulling the weed is affective recruiting a lot more help will be needed.
"We really hope to build a team of 400-500 volunteers to help pull if that is what we are going to have to do," Witherbee said. "We need to try to hold this back and fight it. It is going to have to be a community effort because it will affect the entire community."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com.