Winning the War On Invasive Species

Wendy Buesseler stands on the ground that OPET has transformed.
SAM HOUGHTON/ENTERPRISE - Wendy Buesseler stands on the ground that OPET has transformed.

The pink petals of the marsh mallows are in bloom on Oyster Pond for the first time that Wendi B. Buesseler can remember. They are plants native to the wetland ecosystem and the sight of them brings hope for a project the Oyster Pond Environmental Trust (OPET) has had underway since 2006.

"The marsh mallow are thriving now and spreading," said Ms. Buesseler, executive director to the trust. "I'm excited to see what else will come up."

The trust, for the last seven years, has worked on a project to remove invasive species that have sprouted up around Oyster Pond, attempting to bring back the natural environment and preserve what was originally there, as well as opening vistas into the pond.

Marsh mallow, a sizable pink flower now budding on the shores of the pond, is one of these native species growing as the main enemy of the native plants, phragmites australis, has dwindled, thanks to the efforts of the trust.

Over the course of the project, 90 to 95 percent of the phragmites has been eliminated, the nonprofit organization estimates.

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Other plants growing in the absence of phragmites are pennywort, which Ms. Buesseler, a Falmouth resident from Lakeview Avenue, said has only been documented 20 times in Massachusetts; typha (commonly referred to as cattail); elderberry; bayberry; and other plants. Birds, mammals, fish and amphibians will also have a better habitat and more to eat with the sprouting of native species and the cut back of invasive plants, she said.

Along the section of bike path that runs from Surf Drive to Elm Road before the trust began the project was a wall of phragmites, which offered no sight of water to the wetland, said Ms. Buesseler. She said that the take over of the phragmites was a slow one, enough so that people did not notice the change.

The trust brought this to the attention of the town, and had received support from such groups as the Falmouth Bikeway Committee in their attempt to eradicate the phragmites.

Phragmite is a common reed that resembles cattails. Cattails are shorter and have a thick, about five inch, brown tip, while phragmites are much taller and are topped with a tassel. Its roots burrow 10 to 20 feet into the ground and there are no native controls to keep it at bay. Its native habitat is Europe and Asia, and here in Falmouth it invades surrounding wildlife with limited resistance.

"It is really nasty and completely takes over an area," said Ms. Buesseler. "You have to kill it down to the roots."

The process of removing the phragmites is an arduous one.

In 2006, the trust began its operation with what it calls the "cut and drip" method. Volunteers from OPET, along with AmeriCorps workers, cut back individual phragmites near the base, one reed at a time, and then licensed applicators dripped Rodeo into the stalk. Rodeo is a pesticide similar to Roundup, but with glyphosate as an ingredient which is not harmful to aquatic life, said Ms. Buesseler. The process took place in the late summer and early fall when the species would be sucking energy into its roots in anticipation of winter.

Over three years, the project cleared nearly 250 feet of the wetland's shoreline, but Ms. Buesseler said that the process was particularly time consuming and a new procedure was needed.

The trust developed a new plan in 2009, what Ms. Buesseler called a three-tier system. It received a grant for $6,650 from the Falmouth Community Preservation Committee that year and hired Polatin Ecological Services to assist in the process.

For reeds five feet from the water and in groups or clusters, a targeted spray of Rodeo was used. The process takes place in the morning when there is limited winds, to keep the spray solely on the invasive species. In the second tier, trust members hand swiped with herbicide the phragmites two feet from the water's edge and beyond. Phragmites on the water's edge as well as those among native vegetation would still have to be cut and hand dripped with the herbicide.

The process greatly increased efficiency and the results, said Ms. Buesseler, were apparent. "You couldn't see the pond at all before," she said.

The trust has also received help from the Woods Hole Foundation, the Salt Ponds Areas Bird Sanctuaries, and the Moors Association

Besides phragmites, the trust has also worked with Falmouth Wetlands Invasives Steering Committee to eradicate purple loosestrife, another invasive species.

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  • PMONTAGUE

    Good work. Thanks for looking after the pond.