Collaboration key to stopping spread of invasive species across southeast Michigan

You've seen them everywhere in parks and wetlands across metro Detroit-- dense thickets of the 10-foot-tall grass towering over highways and parks, obscuring views and crowding out native habitats.
That's Phragmites, and it's earned a reputation as the poster child of non-native species invading southeast Michigan.
The plant has served as kindling for 100-acre-plus fire disasters, most notably near Great Lakes Crossing in 2012 and on Harsens Island in 2013. Despite the plant's ubiquity, it provides little shelter for wildlife. And seeds carried by wind or animals spread quickly to new areas, taking root and starting new invasions in natural areas all across metro Detroit.
“Invasive species know no jurisdictional boundaries," says Brittany Bird, vice chair of the new Oakland County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA). "We can pour tons of money into controlling an invasive on our side of the fence, and it comes back every year from the neighbors who are not doing anything to control it.”
CISMAs are a new model of collaborative management unfolding across the state. They are designed to get people working together to address the threats posed by invasive species.
The approach is just beginning to develop in southeast Michigan. The Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program, launched by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in 2014, awarded $4.2 million to groups in its first year for projects ranging from mapping oak wilt on private lands to creating a network for data on invasive species.
The program recently announced another $3.6-million round that will expand the range and impact of the program around the state. Two of the grants are going to groups in metro Detroit.
“This funding is creating an opportunity for people to work together to address problems,” says Spencer Kellum of The Stewardship Network. Kellum coordinates funding proposals for two CISMAs in southeast Michigan, the Oakland County CISMA and another focused on coastal Lake St. Clair. Among their many goals, the CISMAs aim to make the issue of rapidly spreading phragmites and other troublesome invasive species a lot more manageable.
Sharing data across municipal lines in Oakland County
“We have, in Oakland County alone, 62 cities, villages, and townships that all have independent home rule,” says Bird, “The county doesn’t step in and have jurisdiction over them. So you’re having to knit together each of those interests and bring them to the table and come to consensus and agreement.”
So far, the Oakland County CISMA has brought 19 parties to the table -- a mix of cities, townships, county agencies, land conservancies, and nonprofits -- to pool resources and knowledge about the different invasive species that affect each area.
In the last couple of years, they’ve all signed memoranda of understanding, agreeing to work together to fight six invasive plants: phragmites, black swallow-wort, flowering rush, japanese knotweed, European frogbit, and Chinese yam.
And they just received notice that they were successful in their grant application to the MDNR. The Oakland County CISMA will receive $243,775 to develop a collaborative strategic plan for to detect, prevent, and control invasives in Oakland County.
“We can start to, on a larger scale, map out where some of the satellite populations are… where it seems to be starting to spread,” says Bird. For example, only three townships in Oakland County are heavily impacted by swallow-wort, but it’s starting to spread east. Because of the CISMA's shared knowledge, townships just starting to see black swallow-wort can now begin attacking the species earlier than if they hadn’t known it was an issue.
As part of the grant project, Bird plans to develop a mobile app for Oakland County residents to use to input locations of invasive species so that the CISMA can better utilize the area’s population to understand which areas are most in need of care.
Bird says the organization also plans to hire a third-party coordinator to oversee their workings and progress, as well as to identify and prioritize emerging invasive species. The coordinator position would serve not only the Oakland County CISMA, but also a new one growing around Lake St. Clair.
Coming together for coastal Lake St. Clair
The Lake St. Clair Collaborative Invasive Species Control also received a grant -- $254,526 to facilitate interjurisdictional collaboration to manage a host of invasives like phragmites along coastal Lake St. Clair.
The CISMA includes a mix of 17 partners including local, county and state agencies, as well as nonprofit organizations.
“Much of our focus is higher up in the watershed," says Bill Parkus, an environmental planner with the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments. "We’re focusing on going after phragmites along the county roads, in natural green infrastructure areas such as county parks, as well as sites of recreation and ecotourism.”
Phragmites is the Lake St. Clair CISMA's number one target, says Parkus, who estimates about 17,000 acres of phragmites across the entire watershed. But black swallow-wort, Japanese knotweed, European frogbit, and flowering rush are also priorities.
“Success will look like 500 to 1,000 acres of invasive vegetation on the run…under management pressure.” says Parkus. He says the grants would help make the issue more manageable for communities, so that areas only need some annual maintenance to remain free of invasive species.
The grant will also fund a project to detect and map invasive species in the network. Parkus says he hopes to train about 50 individuals to determine how much work different regions need to manage their invasive species issues.
According to Kellum, the two CISMAs will work with the Stewardship Council and each other to mobilize new areas for collaboration and care for their shared land and water. Their ultimate goal: bringing people together.
“All of a sudden we’re in a room together talking about these problems, and they’re trying to sort out how we can efficiently work across organizational boundaries,” says Kellum.
This story is a part of a statewide Invasive Species Community Impact Series. Support for this series is provided by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
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