Assateague Island To Begin Aerial Spraying

ASSATEAGUE
– Portions of the Assateague Island National Seashore will see temporary
closures starting next week as federal officials begin an aggressive aerial
attack on hundreds of acres of invasive phragmites on the barrier island.

Assateague
Island National Seashore superintendent Scott J. Bentley announced this week an
aggressive plan of attack on the proliferation of noxious phragmites from one
end of the barrier island to the other. Phragmites are prolific, non-native and
highly invasive plants or weeds that take over salt marshes and other coastal
areas by stunting the growth of indigenous plant-life attempting to co-exist
with them.

Similar
to most weeds, phragmites re-generate rapidly and must be completely removed or
destroyed to prevent them from spreading further. Phragmites have dramatically
increased in abundance on Assateague Island in recent years, displacing native
plant communities and causing an adverse affect on habitats. It is widely
believed the noxious plant was introduced to the area from overseas in shipping
ballast material from the 18th and 19th centuries.

After
being introduced to a new area, phragmites begin the process of replacing
native plants with monocultures of themselves. Once established, they quickly
expand and can entirely overtake large areas. In recent years, hundreds of
acres of formerly native plant communities on the barrier island have been
invaded by dense phragmites stands.

Infested
areas such as Assateague frequently experience altered hydrology and no longer
serve as suitable habitats for many native fish and wildlife species. There is
also an aesthetic impact as healthy phragmites grow up to 12 feet tall and can
block scenic vistas and views. They can also increase an invaded area’s
potential for inland wildfires.

To
that end, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this
week announced an aggressive plan to destroy phragmites stands on the island
starting next Wednesday. Phragmites infestations will be sprayed with a
powerful herbicide appropriately called Habitat, which has been approved
especially for use in aquatic areas.

After
the aerial treatment with the herbicide, the affected areas are expected to
naturally convert back to native vegetation during the following growing
season. Coordinating the actual spray activities will require federal officials
to temporarily close certain portions of Assateague Island National Seashore
and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge beginning next week to ensure
public safety.

Disruptions
to daily use of the parks during the height of the summer season are expected
to be minimal, however, as treated areas can be safely entered after the
herbicide dries, which typically takes less than an hour. In the weeks
following the spraying, the treated areas will be clearly visible as the
vegetation slowly dies back and turns brown.

According
to Bentley, the aerial attack on the phragmites on Assateague beginning next
week will likely be the first of what could be many was control activities will
continue in subsequent years. However, the activities will pay dividends when
the phragmites are eradicated and the native plants and habitats are restored.

“As
a direct result of this important management program, hundreds of phragmites
invested acres will soon be restored back to native plant communities and once

again provide essential habitat for the island’s diverse wildlife,” he said.

Phragmites are no stranger to coastal areas of Worcester County and eradication efforts have been

made in the past. A few years back, a vast area of the noxious plants took over
a waterfront section of Ocean Pines and had to be physically removed to
accommodate the restoration of a salt marsh there. In that case, 20,000 cubic
yards of the plants were destroyed and had to be trucked through neighborhoods
in the community.

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