Battle line drawn with Scarborough Marsh invader

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SCARBOROUGH — For most people driving along Route 1 through the Scarborough Marsh, the tall, fluffy grass that sways in the salty sea breeze is part of the beauty of the area, the serenity of living by the ocean, part of what it means to be from Maine.

But Phragmites australis is not from Maine. The tall, grassy reed is an invader from Europe that experts say is choking out fragile, native marsh grasses and damaging the local ecosystem.

Unlike many non-native species that seem to pop up out of nowhere, Phragmites australis is not new to the area.

“It’s been a serious concern for a while. One person told me he saw it as far back as the 1970s,” said Katie Fellows, a member of the Friends of Scarborough Marsh.

The Friends of Scarborough Marsh is working closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Gulf of Maine Program, the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, Ducks Unlimited and Maine Audubon to eliminate the grass from the marsh before it can do any more damage.

The project, which will take three years to complete, will include mowing the stalks and spraying the infested areas with a targeted herbicide. The organizations involved have put the project out to bid and expect the total cost to run between $80,000 and $90,000.

The contractors will have to return each summer for two more years to eradicate as many of the plants as possible.

The Friends of Scarborough Marsh and other local volunteers have spent years mapping Phragmites australis. The maps will be provided to the contractors to make the removal process more efficient.

“It’s a lot of walking and pulling it up by hand,” Fellows said.

Part of the challenge of removing the invasive grass is that the root structure is expansive.

“The roots are very deep, very tough. When you pull one up, you can see, seven to 10 feet away, the plants are still attached,” she said.

Fellows said Phragmites australis is a problem up and down the East Coast. She said there is some concern that the seeds are getting caught in the millions of cars that travel up and down the coast, spreading the plant to delicate marshlands where it is pushing out native species.

Fellows said the bid will be awarded at the end of July and she expects the removal work, which will be visible from the road, to begin in August.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

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Phramites australis, an invasive grass, has taken over parts of Scarborough Marsh. Governmental and non-governmental organizations have teamed up to eliminate the species before it damages the fragile ecosystem.

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