NRTH would like volunteers to treat invasive species

ALPENA – A member of the Negwegon, Rockport and Thompson’s Harbor Advisory Committee wants the Department of Natural Resources to train volunteers to treat an invasive species of plant.

NRTH member Bill Grigg said he has seen stands of phragmites growing at Thompson’s Harbor State Park and Rockport State Recreation Area. He believes using volunteers alongside certified herbicide applicators will greatly reduce the effort and money needed to treat and kill the plants.

However, any volunteer would need to be trained first, Thompson’s Harbor State Park Supervisor Blake Gingrich said. He, Rockport Supervisor Eric Ostrander and DNR Parks and Recreation District Supervisor Rich Hill have contacted the department’s stewardship department, and hope to have an answer by June.

“Volunteers fall under the same standards as an employee, whether it’s MIOSHA standards or training documentation,” Hill said.

Grigg told the committee about his experience treating phragmites in Alpena Township with Huron Pines. Gingrich said the DNR has its own protocols to follow, and a contractor had treated some phragmites at Thompson’s Harbor in 2013, using maps it made in 2012. The plan is to check back this year and reassess the situation.

While Michigan has a native species of phragmites, there’s an invasive strand of the wetland grass that can crowd out native plants and animals, block shoreline views, degrade wetlands and even create fire hazards, according to the Department of Environmental Quality. It can spread fast, and Grigg told the committee he wanted to tackle the issue before the stands in both parks spread any further.

Grigg expressed his frustration that Gingrich had no firm answer on the training, but Hill said with all the calls and emails to Stewardship from himself, Gingrich and Ostrander, they’re likely to get a response soon.

“The logical next step is to set up a training with the Stewardship folks, which they do, and we can probably start that conversation,” he said. “We can set up training for the NRTH groups to frame in the boundaries of what you can help with. If you don’t agree with that framework of what you’re empowered to do, we can address that as well.”

If herbicides were applied over standing water or below the normal high-water mark on state bottomlands, an aquatic nuisance control permit from the DEQ would be needed, Gingrich said. He could help obtain this. Any mixing of chemicals would require an applicator’s permit, which can be obtained online on the state’s website. Getting the permit could be a starting point for volunteers who want to help.

Rockport could be a good centralized location for the training, Gingrich said, especially since the phragmites there haven’t been treated yet.

The committee unanimously voted to send a letter to stewardship employees to support allowing properly trained volunteers to treat phragmites according to DNR protocols.

In other business:

* Chairman Patrick Pokorski said the committee’s charter and bylaws need to be updated to reflect its new goals. Now that master plans for the three parks are complete, the committee will focus on helping friends groups and the DNR complete projects that follow these master plans. Committee members will give input on the new charter by June.

* Hill told the committee about Recreation Passport participation rates in Northeast Michigan. Presque Isle County had the highest percentage, at 46.1 percent. It’s 38.8 percent in Montmorency County, 38.1 percent in Cheboygan County, 33.5 percent in Alcona County and 27.6 percent in Alpena County.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.