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Great Lakes Article:

New report says global warming will lead to more phragmites along our shoreline
By Jeff Kart,
Bay City Times (MI)
Posted November 27, 2007

If the previous warnings about global warming weren't bad enough, a new report says warmer temperatures will allow phragmites to thrive in the Great Lakes region.

The invasive, monster weed has already overtaken large swaths of Saginaw Bay and spread along other shorelines and farther inland, showing up in farm fields and ditches.

Charley Curtiss says the global warming predictions, from a National Wildlife Federation report to be released today, aren't surprising.

Curtiss, who lives on the bay in Bangor Township, just can't imagine how the towering reeds could get any worse.

''It's hard for me to believe they could become more aggressive,'' said Curtiss, 72, whose once-sandy beach has been overtaken by phragmites growing up to 12 feet tall.

The NWF report, a compilation of the latest global warming science, says that by 2050, spring and summer temperatures in the Great Lakes region may increase by up to 9 degrees and 7.2 degrees, respectively, and lake levels in lakes Michigan and Huron may drop by as much as 4.5 feet.

It also says phragmites spread more quickly when water levels drop and temperatures rise.

''Phragmites can be expected to thrive and expand throughout lower Great Lakes coastal wetlands,'' the report reads, referencing a study published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

Curtiss' back yard was designated as an environmental area by the state decades ago.

That area still exists, to the tree line, where the water of Saginaw Bay used to be, Curtiss said.

But that water line has retreated by about 250 feet, and a dense wall of phragmites has sprouted up in the exposed bottomlands.

''Every year, when the water goes out, the phragmites move out farther,'' Curtiss said.

Invasive phragmites, believed to be native to Europe, choke out native vegetation and wildlife habitat and block views of and access to the water.

Recent research by the University of Delaware found that the roots of phragmites secrete a toxic acid that allows them to kill neighboring plants, and spread.

Molly Flanagan, water program manager for the NWF in Ann Arbor, said her group compiled the report to draw attention to the need to protect Great Lakes water resources from large withdrawals.

Phragmites only make low water levels worse, by destroying wetland vegetation and diminishing the natural filtering capacity of wetlands, the report says.

''We know that hot, dry places in the U.S. are only going to get hotter and drier,'' Flanagan said.

The NWF is urging state legislators to adopt the Great Lakes Compact, which has already been approved by Minnesota and Illinois lawmakers, to provide a framework for protecting the lakes from large withdrawals by regions in need of water.

''Currently, the protections that we do have in place aren't strong enough,'' Flanagan said.

In Bangor Township, Curtiss said he used to have a permit to mow the phragmites to 18 inches. But he couldn't find equipment big enough to cut the thick stalks.

''From the waterline out, I can't get through my yard,'' Curtiss said. ''I have to use the neighbor's yard.''


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