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Spraying Phragmites
with Kurt Ehrhart

Recording this segment, showing the unique "MashMaster" swimming rivers and crawling across the grassy marshes without leaving a trace, was as much fun to video as it has been to watch. But not to be upstaged by his own amphibious tractor, Kurt's explanation of the process of spraying leaves few questions about the safety of this well tested remediation strategy.


Session Date Rough Edit Transcript Tight Edit Youtube Posting
9/26/13 9/28/13 10/2/13 10/10/13 10/18/13

Kurt Ehrhart's Marshmaster spraying Phragmites stands
Crew driving the MarshMaster through a Phragmites stand while sparying.
Transcript

Kurt Ehrhart, Innovative Mosquito Managment, Inc.
Recorded September 26, 2013

Italic type indicates portions of original discussion edited for purpose of shortening the online video.

01:00:08:25 Hi, I’m Kurt Ehrhart. I’m with Innovative Mosquito Management, the company hired to remove Phragmites here in the Great Marsh in Newburyport, which we’ll be using a very low-ground pressure machine, known as a ‘marsh master’, that exudes one pound per square inch over the marsh – much lighter than any human foot can put down. We’ll be using a combination of herbicides to control the Phragmites. The herbicides we use, salt of imazapyr, is essentially a salt acid that’s introduced to the plant, and this introduction blocks an enzyme specific to the plant, and plants only, that is used to make an amino acid that the plant needs to make food. Once this is put on the plant, the plant starts to use its store of energy and literally starves itself to death. Being very target specific, it’s being applied directly to the plant. Phragmites is a fairly tenacious plant, as most people might know, but they don’t know that not only does it compete for space above the ground, the root systems of Phragmites which can go anywhere from five to six feet in depth also leave an acid that kills local plants around the Phragmites.

MarshMaster marching across the Great Marsh on its way to the next stand of Phragmites

01:01:24:27 The time of this application is critical, it has to be late season, because the plants, like all plants and animals, spend their time trying to reproduce. Phragmites spends the entire summer season growing to make enough energy for the seed heads which form, and once all those seed heads are formed, the plant spends all of its time and energy moving starches and sugars back to the root system so it can over winter. It’s at this point that we like to introduce the herbicide because the translocation, or the movement of the material from the top of the plants to the roots, is most advantageous.

01:02:05:00 This is quite effective and you’ll see yellowing of plants within five to six weeks of our application. It’s a very safe product; it doesn’t actually harm anything that doesn’t have the specific enzyme that’s found in plants. Things like mollusks, bird populations, human populations, anything within the salt marsh that’s an invertebrate is not affected by this product. It’s at a very low dose; it’s something at 1.5% finished mix, which is highly effective to control Phragmites. After the plants are sprayed, through the winter months, the plants are mowed and mulched to the size of pencils and left behind to biodegrade in the marshes. This encourages local native fauna, adjacent to the areas we treat, to take over and repopulate there with native plants that should be on salt marshes.

Spraying Phragmites

01:02:59:05 Some control methods, such as just mowing, allow for the plants to actually respond very robustly and they enjoy being cut. It has nothing to do with the control of the plant.

01:03:11:17 This is our fifth season returning to the Great Marsh, here in Newburyport. And, when we first started this program there were literally hundreds acres of Phragmites in a monoculture that surrounded the perimeter of this property and there were many new stands that were starting to pick up in the center of the marshes. Since we’ve been here we seen over a 95% reduction in Phragmites, allowing all the native plants to take over areas where these plants have been sprayed and mowed, allowing for the native plants to take over. It’s recovering quite remarkably.

MarshMaster swimming across a river

01:03:49:03 The Marsh Master is a diesel powered machine. Its fully amphibious; it has blue water capability meaning it can go into an ocean situation if necessary. We use it to navigate the large channels and tidal channels within the marsh at particular high tides where we can move quite easily in and around the water system and transition fairly easy from land to water. The machine also carries a hundred gallon spray tank mix that’s powered by a pump system and a hand-spray unit to be able to target directly to the plants. We must also take great care in avoiding drift while we’re doing this. In wind constrictions of 10mph or more, we must wait for the winds to die down before we apply.

01:04:33:28 There are specific licenses you have to maintain and do for aquatic herbicide applications. These are maintained yearly – we actually have to obtain credits for the licenses every year and maintain a credit base and be retrained. There probably aren’t more than a dozen within the New England region, of companies that would do this type of work. Within that dozen group, there’s only a very small few with this particular type of equipment. Highly specialized amphibious equipment is key to preserving the core structure of the marshes. This machine just doesn’t impact it; it leaves no trail behind – no ruts and it doesn’t disturb soil, that’s highly unique to a wetland area and allowing for the least impact of any machine in the industry today.

01:05:30:19 Well, we use the machine and we actually have an onboard GPS system with maps loaded of the areas we go to. We simply run transects through these areas and report way-points for areas of application for documenting where the material goes within the marshes. When we fill the machine, and every filling we document through what’s called a kestrel, or a wind meter, specific physical characteristics of temperature, humidity, wet-bulb, dew point, wind speed, wind direction – all gets logged with each fill. We simply review the areas we’ve been to quite briefly and then head back into the marsh. The machine will move across the marsh at about 10mph on land and about 2mph in the water. The onboard system allows us to keep track of where we go so we don’t repeat or twice-over any area with material. And, it’s also used in our record keeping for reporting at year end for how much material was used and where it was use. These keep us on track and keep us essentially legitimate on where the areas are treated and what areas are left behind.

01:06:47:14 For permitting issues that are recent, specifically when talking about the state of Massachusetts, permits are obtained directly through the EPA, and as an additional step, they’ve added many more steps to the permitting process, making it somewhat difficult for these types of projects to go forward and paperwork and post- and pre-information that’s required.

01:07:10:10 What I end up seeing after a job like this is done is the marshes are able to return more to what their natural state habitats are. Wetlands and estuaries are essentially one of the largest resources we have for the marine life. Marine life is dependent on the exchange of nutrients that are what happen in estuaries.

01:07:33:19 With the advent of one single monoculture plant like Phragmites, it reduces the ability of a marsh to produce, breakdown the nutrients essential to the food chain of our oceans. It’s very important to me; it’s something I’ve been involved with for now 32 years and take great pride in watching areas that were once simply just one type of plant have the unique biodiversity that we see here on the Great Marsh.

01:09:24:10 I’m Kurt Ehrhart. Thanks for watching.

The MarshMaster on its way to spray more Phragmites after refilling its tank


Danger in the Reeds is being produced by Staddles Productions
with the help of Dr Gregg Moore, Peter Phippen and Geoff Walker.

We would all like to express our graditude to our many Kickstarter supporters
without whom this project would not be possible.


Rick Hydren  ~ Office: 978-948-3346, Cell: 508-954-1298
PO Box 715, Rowley MA 01969

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