July 28, 2014 at 1:00 am

Grand River burn planned to remove invasive plants

Lansing — State officials are planning a series of fires on two islands in the Grand River in Ottawa County to get rid of an invasive, reedy plant called phragmites (frag-MY’-tees).

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources said it will conduct the prescribed burn in Spring Lake Township this summer or early this fall, when conditions are favorable. The coverage area will include 15 sites ranging in size from one-eighth of an acre to two acres.

Phragmites control is important for the health of wetlands and many wildlife species, according to DNR biologist Nick Kalejs. He said that phragmites competes with native vegetation and produces thick stands with little value to wildlife.

While one species of phragmites is native to Michigan, “an invasive, non-native, variety of phragmites is becoming widespread and is threatening the ecological health of wetlands and the Great Lakes coastal shoreline,” according to the department’s website.

The plants can grow to 15 feet, it said.

“The invasive variety of phragmites creates tall, dense stands which degrade wetlands and coastal areas by crowding out native plants and animals, blocking shoreline views, reducing access for swimming, fishing, and hunting and can create fire hazards from dry plant material,” the state said.

Experts say they believe the invaders were introduced to North America in the early 20th century from packing material and ballast on ships from Europe that contained peat and sediments.

Thus far in 2014, the department said it has completed 102 prescribed burns on 10,287 acres.