In 2012, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Division of Fish and Wildlife Phragmites Control Program treated more than 6,700 acres statewide by helicopter with the EPA-approved aquatic herbicides glyphosate and imazapyr, including 5,720 acres in the Delaware Bayshore Initiative project area between Delaware City and Cape Henlopen.
The targeted plant, Phragmites australis, is a non-native, fast-growing, extremely hardy invasive species. Its extensive rhizome and root system can extend down as deep as three feet and spread out more than 30 feet in a single year. The tall reed with its familiar feathery seedhead has taken over large areas of Delaware wetlands, displacing native plants that provide better food and cover for wildlife. Breaking up stands of invasive phragmites helps restore wetlands by encouraging greater diversity of both plants and wildlife and supporting the reestablishment of native plant species.
The Delaware Bayshore Initiative takes a landscape approach to conserving and restoring natural resources. Its conservation and ecological restoration goals include controlling invasive species such as phragmites to help restore native wetland habitats. To meet its goals, the Bayshore Initiative also encourages leveraging resources, pairing with existing programs and forging public-private partnerships.
“By utilizing federal, state and private funding sources and partnerships, the phragmites control program is not only key for advancing the Delaware Bayshore Initiative, the program exemplifies the Initiative’s core spirit of working together to achieve significant conservation impact,” said Karen Bennett, DNREC’s Delaware Bayshore Initiative coordinator.
Of the 5,720 acres treated in the Bayshore region, 3,346 acres were public lands, including state-owned wildlife areas, state parklands, DelDOT wetland sites and Northern Delaware Wetland Rehabilitation Projects. Wildlife areas treated included Milford Neck, Ted Harvey, Little Creek, Woodland Beach, Cedar Swamp and Augustine wildlife areas. Parts of Fort Delaware and Cape Henlopen state parks also were treated, with the Division of Fish and Wildlife partnering with the Division of Parks and Recreation on federal and state funding. Through DNREC’s cost-sharing program, an additional 2,374 acres of phragmites were treated in wetland areas on private lands in the Bayshore region, with 26 private landowners participating.
In existence since 1986, the cost-share portion of the phragmites control program is currently supported by federal funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s State Wildlife Grant Program, paired with matching state funds. The Division of Fish and Wildlife purchases the herbicide, determines its application timing and rates, coordinates aerial spraying and provides technical advice. Most participating landowners also partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service through their Farm Bill programs to further reduce the landowner portion of the spraying costs as well as DNREC’s share.
Eligible wetlands include tidal or non-tidal freshwater and brackish marshes, ponds and impoundments. Though landowners statewide are eligible for the Phragmites Control Program, interest in the program is largely concentrated in the Bayshore region because phragmites has impacted extensive areas of tidal wetland habitat in the central part of the state.
For more information on Delaware’s Phragmites Control Program, including the cost-share program, go to the DNREC website and find Phragmites Control.