Thursday, August 7 – Aerial Assault Planned For Assateague

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.

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.

For all the week’s news, see The Dispatch tomorrow morning.