Northeast Michigan is no stranger to invasive species and the often harmful effects they have on our natural resources Now a new threat has been found in Alpena in the form of an aquatic plant called European frog bit.
The plant, which was discovered last fall in the Thunder Bay River near Duck Park, appears on first glance to be small lilly pads and often have a tiny white flower on top of them. Don't let the beauty of the plant fool you however, as its impact below the surface is harsh and potentially long lasting.
Last week a team of invasive species experts from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Huron Pines and volunteers from the area took part in the work-be in an attempt to remove as much of the frog bit from around Island Park and the nearby canoe launch as possible.
The volunteers were given buckets and a small rake and utilized kayaks donated by Erin Riopelle to get to the plant. They would use the rake to pull twisted masses of it to the surface and fill their pail, which floated on the side of the kayak via styrofoam swimming "noodle." DNR Invasive Species Coordinator Sue Tangora said Alpena is one of only three places outside of the Wayne, St.Clair and Monroe areas where frog bit has been found, but it is not running rampant in the area as of yet.
"This frogbit in Alpena has probably been here for years, so it won't be a problem that will be solved overnight. This has spread as far as Fletcher's Pond and is fairly entrenched," Tangora said. "With continued efforts like this, however, hopefully we can get it down to a manageable size where it isn't going to be spread to other waterways."
Tangora said the frogbit escaped during a research project in Ontario, Canada, in the 1930s and has spread to the United States. She said thus far it has been found in Ohio and Michigan, but other states are on the lookout for it because it can be easily spread by boat and other recreational water crafts. Tim Engelhardt, invasive species coordinator for Huron Pines, said there are simple steps people can take to be sure they are not going to spread the frogbit after spending time on the water.
"Days like today where everyone is helping to remove it are important, but is more important to educate the public so they understand what it is, what it looks like and what they can do to help prevent it from spreading," Engelhardt said. "One simple thing is people should wash or at least wipe down their boats or canoes or whatever they are using before using it in a different location. Walk around and inspect it to be sure there isn't any plants or vegetation in it. Wipe down all the equipment, such as oars or anchors and even your trailer. Also drain your bilge tanks and live wells before you leave.
Tangora said she has noticed a lot of activity in the river around Island Park and suggested that people take a pail with them and pull a few of the weeds while enjoying the outdoors. She said taking a few minutes to remove the plants will only help in the battle to control it. Tangora said Michigan has passed a law that makes it fairly simple to get rid of invasive species.
She said in the past, landfills were not allowed to take invasive species, but that is no longer the case. She said not all landfills choose to accept them, so call ahead of time. she said burning it is acceptable if the local and state laws are followed.
Engelhardt said frogbit forms a thick tangled web under it and in time it impacts other native plant life, as well as that of fish, aquatic fowl and turtles. He said that basically chokes off needed nutrients other wildlife depend on.
"It creates a huge mat of vegetation under the water which causes a black out basically because the sun light has a difficult time penetrating it," Engelhardt said. "No other vegetation is able to grow. That affects the habitat that other plants and animals use."
More information on frogbit can be found by logging into www.www.michigan.gov/dnr.
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