ANNAPOLIS – If you have driven over the Kent Narrows Bridge, you have probably seen phragmites.
Phragmites — pronounced FRAG-mighties — is a reed that grows primarily in wetlands. It can spread “literally like wildfire,” said Del. Michael Weir, D-Baltimore County, sponsor of a House bill to help private landowners control the plant.
Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, is sponsoring the same bill in the Senate. “Dorchester is a big county and a great percentage of the acreage is wetland or marshlands,” he said. “It’s a major concern that phragmites will take over.”
In a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee, Colburn called phragmites a noxious weed. “I find the phragmites totally useless,” he said.
And Weir, appearing last week before the House Environmental Matters Committee, observed, “For a state that … puts people in jail for filling in or excavating in wetlands it makes no sense to sit idly by and let Mother Nature destroy thousands of acres annually.”
Phragmites is not native to Maryland, but was introduced here to help fight erosion.
Josh Sandt, director of the Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division, said at the Senate hearing that the reed has a limited value. Phragmites stabilizes shorelines and filters sediments and pollutants, he said.
On the other hand, Sandt said, the reed can crowd out other species. “It is so thick and so dense that animals can’t go in between them,” he said in an interview after the hearing. “Anytime you have a monoculture [a single-species plant environment] you lose diversity.”
Under the identical bills in the House and Senate, the state would set up a program to pay 50 percent of landowners’ costs in controlling the reeds.
The DNR and Department of the Environment support the bills, but have proposed amendments, including:
-Additional and more flexible funding options. Currently, the money is to come out of Environment’s Nontidal Wetlands Compensation Fund. But the agencies have identified other potential sources, including the sale of Chesapeake Bay license plates.
-Allow the departments to substitute in-kind services — actual help with reed removal, for instance — in lieu of cash payments to landowners.
Phragmites are controlled through spraying, either from a helicopter or a truck, Sandt said.
According to a 1994 study, about 1,000 acres controlled by the DNR consist of phragmites. There are about 20,000 acres of phragmites on private land, Sandt said. “Realistically, when talking about controlling phragmites, we’re never going to get rid of all of them,” Sandt warned. “What we want is to get rid of the dense monocultures.” -30-