Lake Erie CWMA


The Lake Erie Cooperative Weed Management Area (CWMA) was established in 2009 and has completed over 7,000 acres of invasive species treatment on the properties of nearly 200 program participants throughout Ottawa, Lucas, and Sandusky counties. This area contains vital habitat for migrating birds and sensitive vegetation.

In 2009, Winous Point Marsh Conservancy partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Private Lands Program to develop a non-native Phragmites australis control program for Western Lake Erie. A total of nine private landowners partnered to provide seed funding for grant applications that resulted in nearly $50,000 dollars in funding, including a $20,000 donation of herbicide from DOW AgriSciences.  The initial funding was used to hire a helicopter to aerially treat 550 acres of non-native Phragmites in the Sandusky Bay and Lake Erie marshes region. Funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was secured to provide follow-up treatment on these lands in 2010. Additionally, in 2010 the partnership expanded to include The Nature Conservancy and the CWMA applied for $500,000 in federal grant funding to expand and continue the management program.

Partnerships and Administration

Photo: Lake Erie CWMA

Photo: Lake Erie CWMA

The Lake Erie CWMA is administered by a steering committee consisting of representatives from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Winous Point Marsh Conservancy, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Ohio Division of Wildlife, and the Ottawa County Soil and Water Conservation District. The Steering Committee meets every few months to discuss program details such as progress of projects and future plans. The CWMA has one dedicated staff person who serves as the coordinator and is overseen by the Steering Committee.

As with any collaborative involving various agencies and organizations, logistics and internal policies can be challenging to navigate. The challenges most often manifest in the administration of employees and contracts. One agency, by necessity, is working to become incorporated and thus able to be the employer/administrator of the CWMA coordinator and assume the responsibility of payroll, purchasing/contracting, deliverables, etc.  However, with those differences also come with broader ranges and areas of expertise that serve to make the collaborative more robust and resilient to change.

Management Objectives

The Lake Erie CWMA seeks to manage non-native Phragmites to the benefit of the whole system within Lake Erie’s coastal wetlands. Restoring native vegetation restores the ecological community dependent upon it. The western Lake Erie basin (WLEB) coastal marshes have long been recognized for their significance in providing habitat for a wide variety of flora and fauna, and in particular for migratory birds.  As an example, the coastal wetlands and inland marshes of Ohio alone support an estimated 500,000 itinerant waterfowl during fall migration, and the WLEB is the premier stopover point in the Great Lakes for long-distance migratory shorebirds.  The western Lake Erie marshes have also been recognized as a globally significant ‘Important Bird Area’ by the National Audubon Society because of the diversity and abundance of wading birds, waterfowl, landbirds, and shorebirds it supports throughout the year.

Controlled Phragmites burn. Photo: Lake Erie CWMA

Controlled Phragmites burn. Photo: Lake Erie CWMA

Continued Phragmites management will also contribute to achieving protection of lands close to Lake Erie that have been identified by The Nature Conservancy, Audubon Ohio, and Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network as important stopover sites for shorebird migration.  This will also contribute to meeting acreage needed to accommodate migrating shorebird population objectives identified in the habitat conservation strategies of the Upper Mississippi River and Great Lakes Region Joint Venture,  and will further goals of the Ohio State Wildlife Action Plan for the Lake Erie Marsh Focus Area to restore 7,000 acres of non-forested wetland and species dependent upon these wetlands, including some species dependent upon forested wetlands.  Some species that could benefit from this restoration are American bittern, American black duck, mallard, blue-winged teal, hooded merganser, great egret, short-billed dowitcher, Wilson’s snipe, sora, Virginia and king rail, marsh wren, prothonotary warbler, Blanding’s turtle, and eastern fox snake.

By focusing on the whole system and restoration of native vegetation, management efforts can be related to a wide variety of ecosystem benefits including aesthetics, avian response, and biodiversity.

The challenge has been finding a way to collect sufficient data to make the case for these indicators and present the data in a way that is useful to other land managers. Without dedicated funding for research and analysis, data dissemination and presentation has been minimal, though results are promising.


Initially Phragmites was the priority target for two reasons; first because it generated the most interest from landowners due to its dense growth and obstructive nature, and second because most funding was focused on Phragmites management.  The program has slowly grown to include a wider variety of invasive plants as landowners have become more educated about other species, and as broader funding sources have become available and been secured.

Landowners and project sites are prioritized based on many factors including size, proximity to coast, costs share availability, number of parcels/stakeholders, and scale of infestation. These factors affect acceptance into the program and level of cost share available from the CWMA.  Examples of past projects range from work with Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, where the CWMA contracted out applicators for spraying to be done at the refuge, to private marshes such as Winous Point which have been in the CWMA spraying program since it’s foundation.

Policy and Regulations

The Lake Erie CWMA’s involvement with permitting, laws and ordinances is fairly limited.  In-house landowner agreements are created with participating properties that include liability agreements to protect both the CWMA and the landowner.  Liability when working on private property can be a serious issue and as a result the CWMA now utilizes contractors exclusively for all work.

In many cases contractors handle all permitting, but assistance for landowners is available.  Once the CWMA is contacted by a landowner interested in treatment, the first step is to do an on-site analysis. Once support criteria have been assessed for the property, a contract is sent to the landowner that includes the landowner agreements. The landowner agreement is as follows: I have voluntarily enrolled in this program/service offered through LECWMA.  I recognize that the program/service may involve the use of pesticides and other various management techniques that alter the landscape.  I hereby affirm that I am aware of such activities to be performed and consent to LECWMA and its subcontractor’s performing such activities.

Privately-owned duck hunting clubs were integral to the formation of the LECWMA and now represent half to three-quarters of program membership. Each of the 25 hunting clubs manages their own private landholdings 15 to 3,000 acres in size. The first year of helicopter Phragmites control was funded a combination of funding from The Marsh Conservancy and Fish and Wildlife Service matched with donations from large duck hunting clubs. In subsequent years, a number of partners joined the program including several small duck hunting clubs, county parks, state parks, local landowners, agricultural producers, and industrial properties. The Nature Conservancy and Division of Wildlife also partnered and assisted with funding.

Photo: Lake Erie CWMA

Photo: Lake Erie CWMA

For the first five years, herbicide projects were not prioritized and participants signed up on a first-come-first-served basis. In recent years the CWMA transitioned to a cost-sharing program to help landowners fund their projects and to give participants a vested interest in ensuring all permit and liability issues are covered properly. A standardized ranking matrix is now used to determine project priority. Properties are evaluated based on size and proximity to the coast line among other factors. The ranking determines the rate of cost-share that the applicant receives, from 25% to as low as 0%. In the case of a 0% cost share, participants still benefit from the program through coordination of helicopter spraying and other logistics.

The CWMA is at the tail end of a GLRI grant and is transitioning to a cost sharing model that reflects this reduction in funding, particularly for high-cost helicopter control work. Going forward, landowners will be required to put forward a greater share of control costs. The CWMA does have funding for a Technical Assistance Coordinator who will manage outreach, project applications, and other logistics. A new equipment-share program will further increase the capacity of landowners to undertake their own control work.

In terms of the governance structure of the program, the Technical Assistance Coordinate coordinates between contractors and landowners and reports back to project partners through a steering committee. The steering committee meets approximately quarterly with email discussion in between

Public information meetings with landowners are held each year in March and July.

Communication and Outreach

The CWMA education and outreach consists of an organizational website, pamphlets, presentations and papers at professional meetings and conferences, and in-house landowner workshops and meetings.  Most of these education and outreach efforts are intended to engage landowners who are new to the program and encourage participation from existing landowners for the upcoming season.

The CWMA is transitioning to a landowner-led program that provides tools, knowledge, training, and support to landowners to help them manage invasive species on their own.  A best management practices (BMP) manual is being developed along with several hands-on techniques workshops, and guides and workshops on invasive species identification and early detection/rapid response are planned. Each year the program adapts to include new information and feedback to serve an increase in returning customers and new customers who have been referred to the program.


In the past the Lake Erie CWMA has contracted external entities for prescribed fire, aerial spraying, mowing and smashing activities on agreement lands. Mowing, smashing, seeding and ground spraying activities were previously handled in-house by CWMA employees using tractors, backpack and ATV-mounted sprayers, and seed-spreaders. However, the CWMA is shifting toward an all-contract approach for management activities. Conducting the work in-house means assuming liability if things go wrong and since the CWMA is not a stand-alone entity, this puts the steering committee organizations and agencies at risk. By contracting the work out the contractor can be held responsible for ensuring the work is done according to both law and contract.

Aerial application of herbicide. Photo: Lake Erie CWMA

Aerial application of herbicide. Photo: Lake Erie CWMA

Treatment techniques have remained the same for the CWMA throughout the project period, but use is dependent on funding. Projects generally begin with herbicide application, whether it is a ground application from a marsh master, or aerial application by helicopter. If funding is available and the landowner requests it, further actions may be taken on a property such as controlled burns and smashing.  Anecdotal reports and monitoring data both show that prescribed fire is essential to site restoration following herbicide control. Standing and smashed Phragmites have been burned with similar successful results.  Mowing proved difficult to accomplish and was replaced with smashing (rolling).  Reseeding with native seed mixes did little to improve the existing native seed bank already present in treatment sites.

Rolling Phragmites after herbicide control. Photo: Lake Erie CWMA

Rolling Phragmites after herbicide control. Photo: Lake Erie CWMA

In 2015, there were roughly 1,200 acres of invasive species treated on properties including private hunt clubs, refuge and state lands, and park districts. Around 100 acres were treated by ground spraying and another 1,100 acres treated by aerial application.

Spraying is usually done in the later part of summer, late August-September, as the plants begin to take in nutrients before the upcoming fall/winter. Burning and smashing is usually done in the winter/spring months.The steering committee, through numerous meetings and discussions, has determined the species that pose the biggest threat to the northwestern Ohio region. Overall, the steering committee prioritizes species that can be effectively controlled by using the same management techniques being used to combat Phragmites. These species include purple loosestrife and flowering rush, both of which are abundant and detrimental to the same habitats where Phragmites is already being treated.


Annual monitoring is currently only completed on test plots. The test plots were originally selected because their diversity and location were representative of a majority of areas in Northwestern Ohio.  Monitoring began by comparing different treatment plots to one another to determine efficacy of treatment type (herbicide application; herbicide application and crushing; herbicide application and burning; and herbicide application and burning and seeding).

Plot monitoring in the Lake Erie CWMA

Vegetation data is collected in two 1 m2 quadrats per plot, and consists of visual estimation of percent cover prior to follow-up treatments. These follow-up treatments typically occur in September through November.   Percent cover of all species present and total species richness is recorded during each sample period.  The goal is to collect data during the same weeks each year, keeping in mind that sampling may be shifted slightly due to weather-related events or management schedules (e.g., hunting on premises). Treatment locales are mapped with GIS and stored in a spatial database and the treatment area is delineated on an aerial photograph with resolution (1 m2) sufficient to obtain an accuracy of ± 0.02 acre.  Monitoring data has shown that herbicide treatment alone, while effective, is not the best way to control Phragmites. Herbicide treatment followed by prescribed burning or crushing and burning have shown to be more effective long term than just spraying alone. Data is also collected in subsequent years, noting whether follow-up treatments were conducted.

Monitoring (demonstrating success and adaptive management) has been key to securing additional funding and continued program funding.  It is somewhat challenging having staff adequate to complete the monitoring each season (three weeks of fieldwork) and having a staff person or committee member able to analyze the data.

Monitoring data has been used to eliminate management techniques that have not proven to be successful (imazypyr herbicide, mowing and smashing, reseeding treatment sites).

Data and Information Integration

Under the various GLRI grants that have supported the Lake Erie CWMA to date, final reports have been compiled that include data analysis and recommendations from the analysis. The Nature Conservancy keeps records of these reports and the corresponding data analysis.

This information will also be shared with the Great Lakes Early Detection Network, a repository of public maps and locations of invasive species, with the intent of enhancing early detection rapid response efforts.  Standard operating procedures were developed for data collection and storage to keep it consistent and organized.