Reseeding Great Salt Lake’s wetlands after Phragmites

Reseeding Great Salt Lake’s wetlands: A dense stand of Phragmites australis in the Great Salt Lake wetlands Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
A dense stand of Phragmites australis
in the Great Salt Lake wetlands
Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
 
 
Birds take flight in the Great Salt Lake wetlands Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring Birds take flight
in the Great Salt Lake wetlands
Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
 
 
Wetland manager & former student in the Kettenring Lab, Chad Cranney in a stand of Phragmites australis Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring Wetland manager & former student
in the Kettenring Lab, Chad Cranney
in a stand of Phragmites australis
Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
 
 
Rae Robinson stands in the wetlands at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area, Courtesy & © Rae Robinson Rae Robinson stands in the wetlands
at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area,
Courtesy & © Rae Robinson
 
 
Seeds of several native wetland plant species Courtesy & © Rae Robinson Seeds of several native wetland plant species
Courtesy & © Rae Robinson
 
 
Experimental hydroseeding at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring 8. Seeds of several native wetland plant Experimental hydroseeding
at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area
Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
8. Seeds of several native wetland plant
 
 
Native wetland plant species grow in the USU greenhouse in February 2020 Courtesy & © Rae Robinson Native wetland plant species
grow in the USU greenhouse
in February 2020
Courtesy & © Rae Robinson
 
 
Revegetation field plots at Howard Slough Waterfowl Management Area in June 2019, Courtesy & © Rae Robinson Revegetation field plots
at Howard Slough Waterfowl Management Area
in June 2019,
Courtesy & © Rae Robinson
The Great Salt Lake provides approximately 75% of Utah’s wetlands, and is a resting area along the Pacific- Americas flyway. Migratory birds rely on the lake as a stopping spot for rest and nutrition which they obtain from the variety of native plant communities. These communities are at constant risk from the invasive reed Phragmites australis which is taking over native wetland plant communities.

This invasive species, also known as common reed, is particularly harmful because it forms monocultures that outcompete native plant communities, diminishing quality of habitat for animal species, leaving nothing but dense tall reeds which grow 5-15 feet high.

Phragmites has spread throughout the wetlands of the Great Salt Lake, Utah and North America.

For the past decade, Karin Kettenring, professor of wetland ecology in the Department of Watershed Sciences at USU and her research team have been searching for the best methods for removing Phragmites such as grazing, mowing, or using herbicides on the invasive reed. Now they are expanding their research to find ways to restore the native wetland plant communities once Phragmites is removed.

Rae Robinson, a second-year master’s student, joined Kettenring’s research team to study native plant revegetation in Great Salt Lake wetlands.

Robinson explains, “The unfortunate part of this is native plant communities often do not return [after Phragmites has been removed] so we need to reintroduce these plants. This is where my Master’s research picks up. We are investigating: what native species to include in these revegetation seed mixes, in what proportions, and in what sowing density.”

In the summer of 2019, Robinson teamed up with the Utah Division of Forestry, Fires & State Lands and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to begin a large-scale revegetation project in an effort to find the best methods for reseeding native plant species in Great Salt Lake wetlands.

Hydroseed was applied — a mixture of water, seed, and tackifier. The tackifier is a botanical glue used to help the seeds stay in place, it stabilizes the soil so the seeds have a much better chance of sprouting and growing.

During July and August, Robinson returned to the sites to assess the success of the seeding.

Robinson explains, “It is reasonable to think that seeding density would automatically mean a high chance of seeds taking root, but this is not always the case. At one location, a high seeding density leads to greater establishment of native species, but at another spot it does not. We are finding in seed-based restoration there is a lot of plant mortality, or loss. We are asking: Why is that? What causes this failure in restoration? And what are the best ways to establish diverse native plant communities?”

During the winter months Robinson evaluated some new species in the USU greenhouse – these are potential candidates for restoration that might perform better than the species tested in 2019. Results of this preliminary greenhouse trial suggest that nodding (Bag-er-tick) beggartick, golden dock, and fringed willowherb may grow more readily than the previous species evaluated. These three species will be included in experimental revegetation mixes this summer.

The end goal of Robinson’s research is to determine best practices for seed-based revegetation in wetlands and provide better information for wetland managers faced with the challenge of restoring native plant communities.
The restoration of native plant communities in Great Salt Lake wetlands will improve the quality of habitat for birds and enhance the many ecosystem services these wetlands provide.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © Rae Robinson, Courtesy & © Karin Kettenring
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Leavitt, Shauna, Our Invasive Phragmites, Wild About Utah, March 11, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/our-invasive-phragmites/

Leavitt, Shauna, The Invasive Phragmites, Wild About Utah, April 16, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/invasive-phragmites/

Rupp, Larry, et al, Phragmites Control at the Urban/Rural Interface, Utah State University Extension, September, 2014, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1688&context=extension_curall

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Phragmites-Utah’s Grassy Invader, Wild About Utah, August 23, 2012, https://wildaboututah.org/phragmites-utahs-grassy-invader/

Muffoletto, Mary-Ann, Mighty Phragmites: USU Researcher Studies Wetlands Invader, Utah State University Extension, June 18, 2009, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1688&context=extension_curall

Common Reed, Phragmites australis, Utah State University Extension, https://extension.usu.edu/rangeplants/grasses-and-grasslikes/common-reed

Duncan, Brittany L., et al., Cattle grazing for invasive Phragmites australis(common reed) management in Northern Utah wetlands, Utah State University Extension, https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3038&context=extension_curall

Nature Sings to Assuage Our COVID Fears

American Robin Turdus migratorius Courtesy US FWS Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, Photographer
American Robin
Turdus migratorius
Courtesy US FWS
Dr. Thomas G. Barnes, Photographer

Robins, house finch, and lesser goldfinch singing with gusto! Dippers on the stream blasting their melodious notes from watery perches on Summit Creek. An eastern blue jay bops out to wish me good morning in a nearby Park, its rarity always a treat, instantly teleporting me back to earlier days in Michigan. Meadowlarks reveal their hearts in song in fields below as I work my way up a canyon ridge. A fox sparrow with ear shattering song competes for “America’s Got Talent”.

On another outing, three individuals walking ahead of me pause to locate loud hammering high in a dead cottonwood. A flicker woodpecker- our largest and loveliest of the woodpecker family, beats his head against the tree hoping to attract a lady!

Totally unaware of COVID-19, which has inverted our human worlds, the bird world is right on schedule with their spring business of propagating more bird song.

Male House Finch Courtesy US FWS Gary Kramer, Photographer
Male House Finch
Courtesy US FWS
Gary Kramer, Photographer

Thank goodness, my usual escape into local Canyons has not been disrupted. Early spring plants are there to greet me- glacier lily, spring beauty, violet. Many more will emerge in coming weeks. Over 30 species will be blooming from now to early June accompanied by as many species of birds and butterflies.

We take a Sunday drive through our valley wetlands where abundant waterfowl rest and feed- pintails, mallards, gadwells, Northern shovelers, American widgeon, cinnamon teal, and the ever-present and magnificent Canada geese. A pair of Sandhill Cranes emerges which will be populating our valley by the hundreds as spring progresses. Many will remain to nest and raise their colts. 

Yes, these are tumultuous times- socially, economically, fear for our health. My usual spring activities have all but disappeared – travel, students, and direct contact with family members.

Lesser Goldfinch Courtesy US FWS Robert F Burton, Photographer
Lesser Goldfinch
Courtesy US FWS
Robert F Burton, Photographer

Spring is a transformation from winter’s death grip back to renewed life. This year I sense another transformation that gives me hope. Throngs of neighbors and others have invaded our canyons with kids, dogs, bikes, boards, horses, with joy in their hearts as they break free from COVOD’s bondage. Keeping the appropriate social distancing, their warm smiles and desire to chat reflect nature’s magic. Strangers become instantaneous friends. It’s reminiscent of my time in Europe where these outdoor activities are far more common. I sense a cultural shift.

Spring is here- my favorite season has returned filled with song, passion, Easter, and a rebirth of optimism- strong tonic for these difficult days. Our Earth Mother is being honored well before Earth Day!

Jack Greene for Brigerland Audubon and thank goodness for Utah Wilds!

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy US FWS, Dr Thomas G Barnes, Gary Kramer, Robert F. Burton, photographers
Contains Sound: Courtesy Kevin Colver
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society | Utah State University Sustainability

Additional Reading:

American Robin, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Robin/id

House Finch, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/House_Finch/id

Lesser Goldfinch, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Lesser_Goldfinch/id

Lawn Reduction

Lawn Reduction: Riding Lawnmower Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Riding Lawnmower
Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Traditional American landscaping focuses on maintaining a manicured green lawn. However, the National Wildlife Federation has some better environmental choices for people and wildlife by including native trees, shrubs, ground cover, prairie or meadow patches, flower beds and attractively mulched areas.
Did you know

  • Approximately 20 million U.S. acres are now planted as residential lawn.
  • 30-60% of urban freshwater is used for watering lawns.
  • 67 million pounds of synthetic pesticides are used on U.S. lawns annually.
  • Areas of lawn that include only one type of plant, such as grass, offer very little habitat value for wildlife.
  • Yard waste, mostly grass clippings, makes up 20% of municipal solid waste collected, and most of it ends up in landfills.
  • Reasons to reduce your lawn
  • Save time and money that you would normally spend on mowing and fertilizing grass.
  • Provide habitat and food for wildlife.
  • Conserve water.
  • Reduce lawn mower pollution and decrease run-off from fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Here are some ways to reduce your lawn and help wildlife
  • Use native plant species as ground cover instead of grass.
  • Install native trees and shrubs
  • Create a rock garden
  • Use mulched pathways
  • Provide meadow or prairie patches
  • Install a hedgerow
  • Plant an organic vegetable garden
  • Create a butterfly or hummingbird garden
  • Taking Action
    Make a plan of how you want your yard to look. Check with your local municipality, neighborhood, or homeowners’ association for regulations. Once you have decided on an area of your yard to convert, follow these simple suggestions:
  • Cover your turf grass with 6-10 layers of black & white newspaper or brown cardboard. There is no need to remove the grass first.
  • Make sure the sections overlap one another so that grass and weeds will not come up between the cracks.
  • Wet down the newspaper or cardboard.
  • Cover the newspaper or cardboard with a 4”- 6” layer of mulch or soil.
  • Allow turf grass and weeds to die back for 4-6 weeks.
  • Plant directly through the mulch and newspaper/cardboard. If you know you’re going to be planting trees or shrubs, dig the holes before putting down layers of paper.
  • Some other things to consider
  • Determine what native plants are already thriving in your site. Encourage the native plants already present and replace exotic invasive species with native ones. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has lists of recommended native plants by region and state at www.wildflower.org/collections. There are 158 listed for Utah.
  • Organic mulch can reduce weeds, prevent erosion, improve soil nutrients and increase water holding capacity.
  • Borders of rock or weed can bring a sense of order to a “wild garden” in an urban or suburban neighborhood. This may make your natural landscape more acceptable to neighbors.
  • And don’t forget to make a place for people as well. A bench or path will accommodate this nicely and add to your enjoyment.
  • This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.
     
    Credits:

    Images: Courtesy & Copyright
    Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
    Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

    Additional Reading

    Lawn Reduction, The National Wildlife Federation, https://www.nwf.org/-/media/PDFs/Garden-for-Wildlife/Gardening-Tips/Lawn-Reduction_web.ashx?la=en&hash=FAC102D0BDBBC0CCD97ECE01BB9A8E2F91E7C150

    Hadden, Evelyn J, Less Lawn, more life, LessLawn.com, http://www.lesslawn.com/

    Plant Lists & Collections, Recommended Species by State, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, www.wildflower.org/collections

    Our Invasive Phragmites

    Our Invasive Phragmites: Great Salt Lake Phragmites Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
    Great Salt Lake Phragmites
    Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
    Those unfamiliar with the history of the Utah’s wetlands may see Phragmites and say, “What a beautiful, elegant plant! It looks so graceful blowing along the shore.”

    However, the plant’s attractiveness and ability to absorb pollutants may not compensate for its negative impacts.

    Phragmites is an invasive perennial grass that now thrives in much of the wetlands around the Great Salt Lake and other marshes in northern Utah. It grows in dense clusters and normally reaches 5 to 10 feet in height. If the conditions are right it can reach 15 feet.

    The patches of grass are so dense that wetland managers are called out each year to rescue duck hunters – who are lost in the Phragmites.

    Karin Kettenring, associate professor of wetland ecology in the Department of Watershed Sciences at USU and her research team have been studying Utah Phragmites for the past decade.

    Kettenring explains why Phragmites is a concern, “We fear it is fundamentally changing the habitat of Great Salt Lake wetlands which are renowned for being a home for migratory birds including waterfowl and shore birds.”

    The exotic grass most likely started in the Great Salt Lake wetlands after the flooding of 1983. The flood washed out the marshes. When the water levels receded, the salty water had destroyed all the native vegetation in the wetlands. Phragmites then moved in. By 2011, the exotic grass had spread over 24,000 acres.

    Mowing Phragmites Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
    Mowing Phragmites
    Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
    Scientists believe humans inadvertently brought Phragmites to Utah, since birds don’t migrate East and West, and the birds usually don’t eat the seeds. Someone’s boat may have transported the seeds into Utah. They sat dormant in the soil until the conditions were perfect, then the spread of Phragmites began.

    Today an average small patch of Phragmites, about 20 feet square, can spread a couple yards a year just from the stems it sends out above and below the ground. However, research has shown it’s not the stems that cause the most reproduction – but the seeds.

    Karin_Kettenring-in-the-Great-Salt-Lake-Wetlands Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
    Karin_Kettenring-in-the-Great-Salt-Lake-Wetlands
    Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
    Karen Mock, associate professor in the Department of Wildland Resources and a long-term collaborator on this project helped Kettenring with the genetic work.

    They tested the genetics of a lot of Phragmites pulled from the same patches and found many different genotypes – proving the plants came from different seeds, not the stems of neighboring plants.

    With these results, Kettenring’s lab discovered the best way to control the invasive grass is to first control the seed production by mowing the grass mid-summer to keep it from spreading. Then in the fall spraying the area with herbicide three years in a row. An herbicide approved for use in wetlands can be used – such as Rodeo.

    If the Phragmites has been there only a few years then the seeds of the native vegetation will still be in the soil, and they’ll come back on their own.

    However, if the Phragmites has been there for a long time then re-seeding of native plants will be necessary.

    To determine the best way to re-seed wetlands, Kettenring partnered with Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands and David England – one of Kettenring’s past graduate students. England has spent extensive time in the lab determining how to help seeds germinate.

    Emily Martin, Kettenring’s current graduate student will also help with the UDWR reseeding as she searches for techniques to make seeding more effective.

    Ultimately their goal is to restore native plant communities to keep Phragmites from coming back and restore habitat for important migratory birds.

    This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

    Credits:
    Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Karin Kettenring
    Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
    Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

    Sources & Additional Reading

    How to control Phragmites
    Kettenring, Karin, Rupp, Larry, Whitesides, Ralph, Hazelton, Eric, Phragmites Control at the Urban/Rural Interface, 2014, https://works.bepress.com/karin_kettenring/92/

    Extensive readings about Phragmites:
    https://works.bepress.com/karin_kettenring/

    Video: USU researchers mowing Phragmites in the Great Salt Lake wetlands. The passenger is Chad Cranney a past graduate student of Karin Kettenring’s:
    https://bft.usu.edu/rqcq9

    *****

    Larese-Casanova, Mark, Phragmites-Utah’s Grassy Invader, Wild About Utah, August 23, 2012, https://wildaboututah.org/phragmites-utahs-grassy-invader/

    Common Reed, Phragmites australis. National Invasive Species Information Center, USDA National Agricultural Library, https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/aquatics/commonreed.shtml

    Phragmites Factsheet, US Fish & Wildlife Service, https://www.fws.gov/GOMCP/pdfs/phragmitesQA_factsheet.pdf

    Phragmites Phragmites australis, Aquatic Invasive Species, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Sept 17, 2013, https://wildlife.utah.gov/habitat/ans/phragmites.php

    Phragmites Phragmites australis, Plants Database, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service(NRCS), https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=phau7