DWR battles invasive plant on northern Utah wetlands

Apr 11, 2018, 6:12 PM | Updated: 9:26 pm

FARMINGTON, Utah – An aggressive non-native plant has been taking over wetland areas in northern Utah, and for the past month, the Division of Wildlife has been in full attack mode.

Phragmites have been in Utah since the mid-1990’s. The plant spreads extremely fast, uses a lot of water, and chokes out plants that are vital to the wildlife in the area.

For the past month, a big machine has been chewing up acres and acres of the plant at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area.

“We’re crushing it down, trying to get it mashed up into the soil and water to help it decompose a lot faster,” said Chad Cranney, assistant wildlife manager for DWR and wetland invasive weed coordinator. “If we just let that dead material stand it would take 6 or 7 years to decompose, and by that time you have a lot more new phragmites coming back.”

The plant can grow up to 15 feet tall, and according to DWR, there are about 26,000 acres of this plant growing along the shores of the Great Salt Lake, one of the most important migratory areas in the country.

Phragmites invade around 26,000 acres of wetlands on the east shoreline of the Great Salt Lake.

“We have over 200 species of birds that visit these wetlands each year,” Cranney said Wednesday.

“These Great Salt Lake wetlands are really important for a number of birds. All these species [of native plants] provide food and nesting cover for all the birds that come here. So it’s choking out those types of habitat and vegetation and we really need to try to open that back up for these birds.”

In 2006, the Division of Wildlife began a large-scale program to try and knock these plants down a little.

It’s a multi-step process.

In the Farmington Bay Wildlife area, the plants were sprayed with an herbicide last fall. Now, the plants are being rolled and crushed; and they’ll be sprayed again.

DWR has spent about $250,000 each year on the effort. Studies have shown that the effort has helped reduce the numbers.

“In a lot of these areas we went from 80 to 90 percent phragmites coverage down to about 20 percent or less. But it’s a never ending battle,” Cranney said.

It’s a battle worth having, to protect these very sensitive and important areas for the wildlife.

“Some of these birds – a quarter or more of the western population – come here to Utah. So these wetlands are really, really important. You think about where the Great Salt Lake is situated, not just in Utah, but in the great basin area, it’s really a desert oasis for these birds,” he said.

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DWR battles invasive plant on northern Utah wetlands