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March 3, 2016

The Michigan departments of Natural Resources, Environmental Quality and Agriculture and Rural Development have awarded the Oakland County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (OC CISMA) $243,775 to assist with preventing and controlling invasive species. The funds were made available through the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program (MISGP).

OC CISMA will use MISGP funds to devise a strategic plan for integrated detection, prevention and control of invasive plants throughout Oakland County, including phragmites, swallow-wort, knotweed and flowering rush. An expansion of current control efforts for these species will also include response plans for potential detections of flowering rush, European frogbit and Chinese yam.

In addition, state funding will cover a part-time coordinator position for OC CISMA for the term of the grant and fund contracted chemical control of phragmites, knotweed, flowering rush and swallow-wort over 1,110 acres and 48 miles of road right-of-way in Oakland County. Local grant match will largely be in the areas of invasive treatment and public education and outreach in participating communities.

At Oakland County Parks, a portion of the funds will be used to help treat swallow-wort at the 302-acre Highland Oaks County Park, where Natural Resources Planner Brittany Bird said the vining plant continues to spread along equestrian trails and other natural spaces.

"Invasive species like swallow-wort pose significant risk to natural resources," Bird said. "They are harmful to the eco-system because they destroy wildlife habitats, change soil composition, decrease nutrient quality and limit diversity of native plants." These factors contribute to a domino effect that impacts the eco-system as a whole, she added. According to the Nature Conservancy, invasive species have contributed directly to the decline of 42 percent of the threatened and endangered species across the United States. The annual cost to the country's economy is estimated at $120 billion a year with more than 100 million acres - approximately the size of California - suffering from invasive plant infestations.

With a significant concentration of farmers and equestrians in Oakland County's northwest sector, swallow-wort is particularly dangerous because it is toxic to horses and cattle. A member of the milkweed family, it also confuses Monarch butterflies that rely on milkweed as a source of food and for a place to lay their eggs. Swallow-wort is toxic to caterpillars, further diminishing the Monarch butterfly population, which is already suffering due to other environmental factors impacting their habitat.

If left unchecked, swallow-wort spreads quickly through open fields and can easily overtake equestrian trails, walking paths and other recreational areas on public and private lands.

Phragmites is another common invasive plant. It thrives in ditches, highway medians and along shorelines. It not only wreaks havoc on the environment, but can also become a fire hazard along roadways and present a safety hazard to drivers when they grow to an unreasonable height. In addition, since phragmites also impedes access to recreational water access, it can negatively impact property values.

Since invasive species often thrive along linear areas like roadways and railroad tracks, they easily move throughout one community to another. OC CISMA, a consortium of Oakland County governmental units and non-profit agencies, was organized in 2014 to coordinate efforts that address invasive species issues. Its partners include: Addison Township, Bloomfield Township, Brandon Township, Clarkston, Clinton River Watershed Council, Highland Land Conservancy, Highland Township, Independence Township, Keego Harbor, Michigan Nature Association, North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservancy, Novi, Oakland County Conservation District, Oakland County Facilities Operations and Maintenance, Oakland County Intermediate School District, Oakland County Parks, Oakland Township Parks and Recreation, Orion Township, Road Commission for Oakland County, Rochester Hills, Rose Township, Royal Oak Nature Society, Springfield Township, Waterford Township, West Bloomfield Parks and Recreation and the Stewardship Network.

The Stewardship Network, a non-profit organization that empowers, connects and mobilizes people and organizations to care for land and water in their communities, acts as a third party fiduciary for OC CISMA.

Participation in OC CISMA allows participating communities to take a multi-pronged approach to fighting invasive species. Last year a collaborative effort treated 22.5 miles of county road right-of-way for phragmites, knotweed and swallow-wort. Using $75,000 from the Road Commission of Oakland County, participating municipalities, non-profits and county departments inventoried rights of way in their jurisdictions, hired contractors and completed requisite permitting which allowed for greater efficiencies and cost savings.

Since invasive species know no boundaries and are found on both public and private lands, several OC CISMA communities have also created treatment cost-share programs that provide outreach programs for residents seeking assistance with invasive species management on private property.