Phragmites in Wisconsin: Moving the Leading Edge

This is post #2 in a series of Phragmites in Wisconsin. Read the previous post, “Location, Location, Location,” to set the stage for this entry.

“We got a lot of work done last year on slowing the spread of non-native Phragmites,” said Jason Granberg, water resources management specialist for the Wisconsin DNR. “The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding helped us treat 513 Phragmites sites, spread over 18 counties, that totaled 41.48 acres of land. No small task.” Jason would know – as part of his responsibilities he is managing the treatment work that is being done under this GLRI grant awarded to the Wisconsin DNR.

Given Phragmites tendency to move along roadways, a lot of Phragmites monitoring can be done from the car. Credit: Jason Wilke.

Given Phragmites tendency to move along roadways, a lot of Phragmites monitoring can be done from the car. Credit: Jason Wilke.

A lot of effort led to treating these pioneer populations (isolated populations outside of an established range) of non-native Phragmites. Brock Woods, the wetland invasive species specialist for the DNR and the UW-Extension, identified the opportunity to push the Phragmites invasion front back based on years of monitoring its spread. “Phragmites populations first invaded the Lake Michigan coast, then ditches along major highways in the eastern part of Wisconsin,” Woods explained. “From there it has been moving west, mostly along east-west roads.  These new, small, isolated western populations represent the invasion front, and the period of time to eliminate these stands and keep this harmful invader out of most of the state is short.”

The DNR made a strong case for federal GLRI funding to be made available to control this invasive species within the Great Lakes basin, with strong preference for treating pioneer populations and small infestations threatening ecologically sensitive areas. The US Fish and Wildlife Service agreed and the DNR was awarded $220,000 for the project.

While Woods suspected there were relatively few non-native Phragmites stands across central and western Wisconsin, little was known about their specific locations. The first part of the project consisted of locating and mapping these stands. “This was a big task,” reflected Granberg. “But by tapping existing databases such as EDDMAPS and GLEDN and getting information from partners throughout the state with interest in the project, we were able to identify most pioneer populations.” After confirming the sites to be non-native Phragmites, other background work included ensuring that no threatened native species would be harmed while treating the invader, and getting landowner permissions.

Most treatment sites were in roadside ditches, and many were within the road rights-of-way, making them treatable with highway department permits. However, many stands also existed further onto private lands, necessitating landowner permission before treatments could begin. In some places the Phragmites had dispersed away from roads and into interior wetlands, in some cases entirely on private lands. The current status of Phragmites as a restricted species under NR-40 meant that the DNR could not require landowners to treat a population, but only encourage treatment. Granberg and Woods reached out to landowners to explain the project, and most were very interested in having the DNR try to control this invasive species on their land to both protect against reduced property values, as well as prevent spread to neighbors’ lands and the rest of the state.

Treatments began after selecting a qualified contractor from submitted bids. And as the contractor worked, Jason and Brock conferred with him regularly, they visited treated sites where problems occurred and received regular reports. Most planned sites were treated, but some had to be left for 2015 due to early frosts.

Small populations of Phragmites may not seem like much, but eliminating pioneer populations like this one are important for keeping Phragmites out of western Wisconsin. Credit: Jason Wilke.

Small populations of Phragmites may not seem like much, but eliminating pioneer populations like this one are important for keeping Phragmites out of western Wisconsin. Credit: Jason Wilke.

Granberg and Woods are both excited about continuing to fight non-native in 2015 and 2016. Remaining GLRI funding will allow follow-up treatments where necessary, as well as treating newly reported and high priority pioneer populations in both the Lake Michigan basin and (recently added) Lake Superior basin counties. Nonnative Phragmites becomes easier to identify in the winter and early spring, so they hope anyone with unmanaged stands of what they believe to be the invader will contact them with good plant and location information. And wherever non-native Phragmites is eliminated, opportunities for restoring native wetland plants and animals exist. “This can all lead to healthier and more functional ecosystems in Wisconsin,” Woods summarized, “It’s a worthy goal for all invasive species control.”

About timcampbell

AIS communications specialist for UW-Extension and WDNR.
This entry was posted in Grants, Invasive Species, Other. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Phragmites in Wisconsin: Moving the Leading Edge

  1. Dale Arenz says:

    We have a farm in the Town of East Troy Walworth County. Next to our marsh there
    is a large stand of phragmites. I believe they are native but how can one tell?

    • timcampbell says:

      Hi Dale. Thanks for the comment. This resource from the Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative should be helpful ( I would think that this time of year the leave sheaths (native shouldn’t have one while nonnative will) might be the most useful.

      If you still can’t tell, Audrey Greene is the lakes and AIS contact for Walworth County. You can contact her at and (262) 741-7902. would also be a good resource. The Southeast Wisconsin Invasive Species Consortium is very active in invasive species identification and control.

      Hope that helps!

  2. Dan Carter, SEWRPC says:

    Below is a link to an excellent guide. Definitive ID should be based on a few/several characters rather than ones, and one of those characters should be a more reliable one like sheaths adhering to lower portions of mature/dead culms (stems), ligule length, or glume length. I usually use the sheaths, but I also am more confident if the growth habit/stem density, and culm texture agree. Native and exotic clones can occur in the same place. My organization did not track the separate subspecies until last year, but the native one is clearly less common than the exotic one in SE Wisconsin, though there are a good number of native populations in N. Walworth and W. Waukesha County that I am aware.

  3. Brian Valleskey, ILMA says:

    As someone who works predominately south of WI I was wondering the extent of the collaborative effort in IL and perhaps east into NW Indiana. It has been tough watching areas restored to native landscapes only to watch managers battle with this specie indefinitely. Most people in this line of work see the perpetual issue but feel powerless to do anything about it outside of spending gobs of money treating it. Every year native stands of vegetation give way to a wave of invasive phragmites. I am surprised I don’t see it discussed more at seminars or conferences, but again I don’t attend them all. I feel a much more serious issue than most realize.

  4. Peter Heraty says:

    Have a population of Phragmites affecting my ponds in Mchenry County, Illinois. Can you recommend contractors with experience in treating this?

    • timcampbell says:

      Hi Peter. I’m not familiar with any contractors that could help you out in your area, but a good local organization to get in touch with that would likely be able to help you out is the Northeastern Illinois Invasive Plant Partnership. They are a cooperative weed management area that serves your area. They may be able to help themselves, or they can likely recommend a contractor that could help.

  5. Andy Vanderloop says:

    There is a huge amount I the Suamico area- North of Green Bay, I have been noticing them taking over large tracts of land…. Anything we can do? If I find the manpower- does the DNR assist in any way.

    • timcampbell says:

      Hi Andy. The DNR is actively working on controlling Phragmites in Wisconsin, although resources depend on where the population exists. Contact Jason Granberg ( for more in formation – he is the Phragmites control project manager for the DNR.

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