DNR crews work to save wetlands around Great Salt Lake from invasive weed

Posted at 8:29 PM, Aug 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-30 22:29:10-04

FARMINGTON, Utah - Utah’s Department of Natural Resources continues its fight to kill an invasive weed that is overwhelming the wetlands around the Great Salt Lake.

On Tuesday, crews were out poisoning the plants in the Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area in an effort to curb the growth of the phragmites, which officials say is destroying the ecosystem.

“They grow extremely fast; faster than all the native vegetation,” said Chad Cranney, DNR invasive weed project manager. “It's a big problem, yes it's taking out all the native plants; the wildlife can't get into it and use it.”

Birds are unable to nest in the noxious weeds because they grow tall and thick. They can reach up to 15 feet tall and 200 stems can occupy up to one square yard.

“You can almost watch it grow,” Cranney said. “We can leave on a Thursday or Friday and come back Monday and we will see it grow six inches.”

Cranney said the phragmites came over to North America from Europe and Asia decades ago, and at one time it was used as packing material.

“It most likely came over from shipping goods to the U.S. and started spreading around the east coast region,” he said.

The phragmites have grown so strong and thick that it's mutating the land and impacting millions of birds that use the wetlands.

“It's really called an ecosystem engineer. It grows so thick and tall that it traps sediment, so it increases the soil surface, which clogs off water ways changes the whole hydrology of the wetland and really messed it up.”

Cranney’s invasive weed attack project is both state and federally funded. He said it started in 2006 and lasts 15 years. So far, he has treated more than 32,000 acres but there are thousands more to go.

“It's also a safety hazard because people get lost in it. It is so thick and dense every year we have hunters who get lost in it,” he said.

The weed also affects drinking water.

“Wetlands provide flood protection, carbon sequestration, which is a big problem with global warming. They also filter out nutrients and contaminants in the water and that water can go down into the aquifer and that's what we drink,” he said.