Volunteers make progress in eradicating invasive plant from Sundridge’s Lake Bernard

·5 min read

Since mid-July residents of Sundridge, Strong and Joly have been wading into Lake Bernard cutting down the invasive plant known as phragmites.

The plant spreads quickly and easily chokes out native species.

The volunteers are known as Phrag Fighters and this is the fourth summer they’ve been hard at work trying to rid the lake of the harmful plant.

Marilee Koenderink is the chair of the Phragmites Working Group Lake Bernard and told The Nugget the group is making headway.

Koenderink says the Phrag Fighters are seeing a noticeable change in the water and they’ll continue their cutting efforts until Oct. 1.

Koenderink says the water remains warm for now but by mid-September the temperature will have dropped “so by then they’re working in very cold water.”

The invasive plant species present on Lake Bernard is called phragmites australis.

Koenderink says it has no natural predators and was introduced to Ontario during the 1800s by ships navigating through the St. Lawrence Seaway making its way to the Great Lakes.

The plants were attached to the ships’ ballasts.

Koenderink says phragmites australis made its way up Highway 11 during the 1990s by embedding itself in the wheels of vehicles including ATVs and construction vehicles.

The plant also grows on land and when it does that, it’s even tougher to remove because it establishes itself among native plants and now to get rid of it, people have to cut or spade it and even undertake the use of herbicides although Koenderink adds this is not the preferred method.

Once established and unless serious efforts are undertaken to eradicate the phragmites, it has an easy time spreading because a mature plant can carry anywhere from 200 to 2,000 seeds.

Koenderink says the plant has been known to block drainage ditches, it brings down property values when present in large numbers, the plant is also a fire hazard and can kill native plants.

But the damage doesn’t stop there.

Koenderink says “25 per cent of all species at risk are negatively affected by phragmites because the plant destroys the hydrology of lakes and wetlands.”

“So nesting birds, nesting turtles and amphibians on the list that are species at risk are further at risk,” Koenderink said.

Last year and again this summer the Phrag Fighters got help from a specialty vehicle known as a Truxor which an operator moves slowly over the water and uses the scissor-like portion in the front to cut large amounts of the plant.

The Truxor is in heavy demand in many parts of Ontario and could only spend two days at Lake Bernard.

But Koenderink said in those two days the vehicle cut 3.2 acres of phragmites on Lake Bernard.

Phrag Fighters bring the cut plant to shore where it’s bundled and ready to be taken to the local landfill where it’s either burned or buried in a special section at the landfill.

The plants’ size can be deceptive.

It easily stands 15 feet above the water but there is another 30 feet hidden from view below stressing the need to rid the site of as much of the plant as possible.

Koenderink says the Phrag Fighters will be back next summer and for a few more summers after that.

The goal is to make Lake Bernard phrag-free by 2033, an objective Koenderink says is achievable.

She says this depends on individual property owners managing their own land but also seeing the municipalities introduce a Clean Equipment Policy when tendering out work to outside companies.

Koenderink says this is to prevent construction vehicles from introducing more phragmites to the area.

“So the equipment is cleaned upon their arrival and cleaned before they leave,” Koenderink said.

She adds recreationalists also have a key role to play in this to ensure their vehicles are free of the plant.

And for boaters they have to abide by a new measure introduced by the provincial government where they have to clean, drain and dry their watercraft to make sure they don’t carry any invasive species, including phragmites australis, and inadvertently transport them to another site.

Koenderink says the local effort has been able to achieve so much because of the many partners that have stepped up to help.

In addition to the three municipalities doing their part, the Lake Bernard Property Owners Association and the Near North Enviro Education Centre are there to help.

And then there are the Phrag Fighters volunteers.

This group had 108 volunteers, including students, take on the phragmites challenge last year and a similar number is doing the same this summer.

“Without all these players, none of this is possible,” said Koenderink, adding other organizations that have helped include the Trillium Foundation and the Kawartha Credit Union in addition to people making individual donations.

Koenderink says to demonstrate thanks, a volunteer appreciation event will take place the weekend before Labour Day Weekend while the students are still around.

Koenderink says although 2033 is the year the Phrag Fighters want the lake to be phrag-free, regular annual maintenance will be needed afterwards in order to prevent a resurgence of phragmites australis.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget