August 31, 2016

David Collins – Chair, City of St. Thomas Phragmites Control Committee

Before and after fire chief

A Phragmites site identified as a hazard by the Fire Chief, during and after herbicide treatment


The City of St. Thomas’ plan to be “Phrag Free by 2020” sure didn’t start out that way and definitely not with that objective.

It all began with a group of neighbors living around Lake Margaret, a slowly dying privately owned lake.  Phragmites had taken over the shoreline behind approximately fifty houses adjacent to the lake.  A petition was circulated calling on the City of St. Thomas to take some action including the formation of a Phragmites Control Committee and development of an eradication plan.  In January 2014 the city created a committee which was composed of six residents, a Counselor, a representative of the local conservation authority and the Director of Parks and Recreation.  The best and most surprising aspect was that Council provided a budget of $13,000 annually until 2020.

Very early in year one (2014), a management plan was created by Dr. Janice Gilbert. The Lake Margaret Watershed was chosen as ground zero and Dover Agri-Serve was hired as a herbicide application contractor with a plan to begin control work in September. The committee also mapped the location of Phragmites cells within the city, and during this mapping process partnerships formed between Fire, Police, Parks and Recreation, Roads and Drainage departments. These departments quickly realized that Phragmites can and does have an impact on their jurisdiction and the infrastructure they oversee. For example, the Fire Chief deemed a large swath of Phragmites in a power transmission corridor to be a fire hazard due to its proximity to multiple homes.

Year two (2015) was remarkable.  Well over 90% of the Phragmites around the lake was dead and did not return.  This also occurred with the Phragmites growing in the water as the herbicide traveled through the rhizomes and stolons from the controlled plants on shore to the plants growing in the water.  A large portion of the east side of the city road corridors were controlled in the fall with almost total eradication. Once again, all Phragmites cells were mapped to monitor regrowth.

before and after shoreline

The lake shoreline before and after Phragmites control

Year three (2016) will see a continuation of herbicide application along road corridors as well as parkland. There is not much use in eliminating on public lands and leaving it on private lands, so the city will be funding control work on private property as well. The cost of control is really very small and the goodwill of these landowners is huge. After the control work is completed this year the city will once again be mapped to find what we hope will be the last few cells that we have missed.

Year four (2017) herbicide application will include a touch-up of all previously controlled locations to guarantee that no stray Phragmites remains.  We will also tackle the remaining private property issues including railway corridors. There is also a plan also to use a certified city employee to spot treat reported locations starting in 2016 and continuing on an annual basis.

Key points:

– It cannot be stressed enough that working hand in hand with city officials is the only way to go. We have found that a partnership with multiple city departments aids dramatically in the success of becoming PhragFree.

– City officials should acknowledge that a Phragmites control situation exists and should take the initiative to create the committee, advertise for volunteers, establish the parameters and roles and put the committee to work.

To learn more, contact