Extreme Makeover: Wetlands Edition

Before: The Cherry Patch Pond phragmites infestation in 2010. Photo by Brendan Quirion

Just east of Lake Placid, a wetland around Little Cherry Patch Pond is a case study in how the Adirondacks can beat invasive species.

Ten years ago, the very tall and feathery reed Phragmites australis established a foothold there in the midst of the leatherleaf, stunted spruce and other native Adirondack wetland plants. In just seven years, the infestation grew from the size of a trampoline to take over almost the entire wetland, which borders Route 86.

“At its peak, the site was approximately .75 acres in size and expanding at a rate of .2 acres per year,” says Brendan Quirion, terrestrial invasive species project coordinator for the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Project (APIPP). “We tried cutting and mowing and all sorts of techniques that ultimately failed.”

Then, in 2010, state environmental agencies gave APIPP permission to selectively apply an herbicide at the Forest Preserve site. Three years later most of the phragmites is gone, and much of the native vegetation has reclaimed its place.

What APIPP has been able to accomplish at Cherry Patch and several other Adirondack sites is remarkable—possibly a first in conservation management and a source of hope for other parts of the world.

After: The Cherry Patch site in 2012. Native plants are reclaiming their place. Photo by Paul Rischmiller

Quirion explains, “The average size of a phragmites infestation in the interior Adirondacks is a mere .08 acres in size, presenting a real opportunity for true early detection and rapid response at a landscape scale. After just one year of management, 37% of all of the phragmites infestations that the [APIPP] response team treated in 2011 had no phragmites observed in 2012. To put this in perspective, the complete eradication of a single phragmites infestation has rarely if ever been documented in the scientific literature.”

Phragmites was ranked Canada’s worst invasive plant last year. Other places offer lessons in the monotony that can happen without quick action. “A 7,000-acre phragmites infestation in New Jersey stands as a warning for us,” Quirion says. “We have close to 600,000 acres of wetlands in the park so we stand to lose a lot if this threat is not addressed now. Luckily, through the work of our rapid response team, we believe that we have caught the majority if not all of our infestations, within the interior Adirondacks, in time.”

There’s a hitch. A three-year private foundation grant that has funded the APIPP response team expires this year. If the organization doesn’t find another underwriter it might lose capacity during next year’s field season, and eradication sites could relapse. Once an invasive species establishes itself, complete elimination is rare. But Quirion thinks APIPP has a chance of beating the odds at the phragmites sites. Several of them have gone two years without a sign of the plant returning, he says. Next year will be the test.

For more information on APIPP visit its website and blog.

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