Bay's spartina warriors add potent herbicide to quiver of weapons

<I>MATT WINTERS photo</I><BR>Circular clumps of spartina colonize large areas of Willapa Bay in this aerial photograph taken several years ago near Long Island.

Congress comes through with more funding

WILLAPA BAY - Over the past 13 years, close to $10 million has been spent on the control of Spartina alterniflora around Willapa Bay. According to a local researcher at the WSU extension office, very little significant progress has been made.

A recently approved herbicide and a $1.4 million budget for 2005 might, however, prove to be a turning point for future eradication of the invasive plant.

On Wednesday, June 23, Kim Patten of the WSU Long Beach Extension Unit, gave an update on spartina control and the restoration of Willapa Bay. His remarks came in the second in a series of sessions presented by the Friends of Willapa Bay, and was attended by some two dozen people at the Cranberry Research Foundation north of Long Beach.

Patten said many thousands of acres of spartina were treated last year, yielding some control. But there were a large number of seeds produced last year, which caused Patten to admit the end result of the control effort was limited.

"This year seeds are everywhere," he said. "So any gain we made last year is more than lost by the number of seeds that are out there."

But the herbicide "Habitat" was approved in May for use on Willapa Bay, which Patten calls a step in the right direction for control. Under ideal conditions, it has shown to be 100 percent effective.

Another herbicide, known as glycosate or Rodeo, has shown little effect on the plant under imperfect circumstances.

"One of the problems with glycosate is when you get a short drying time (the time between the application and the first moisture, rain or tide)," Patten said. "Under good conditions, a 12-hour dry time, most of the time we get 50 percent control, which really isn't enough."

Another problem is spartina leaves often have a coating of mud that acts as a barrier and actually protects the plant form the herbicide. Patten said it has been difficult to get enough pressure on the plants to knock the mud off.

Habitat, on the other hand, is not affected by muddy leaves and has a relatively short dry time, four hours. It has also been proven to be safe to the environment and humans.

"Studies have shown that Habitat is only noxious to plants, not amphibians, not fish, not humans. It is very safe in that regards," said Patten. "After 30 years, it has not been shown to cause cancer."

The cost, however, is quite pricey. Habitat is $285 a gallon versus $85 a gallon for glycosate, but much less is needed. It takes close to two gallons to cover an acre of spartina with glycosate. To cover the same area with Habitat only requires six pints of chemical.

Other control methods such as crushing, tilling or rolling have shown to be somewhat effective, but Patten said it is hard to get any systematic control such methods.

Congress recently announced that $1.4 million will be reserved in the 2005 budget for control efforts on Willapa Bay. The money, included in the Fiscal Year 2005 Interior Appropriations Bill, will continue a six-year plan to rid the region of spartina. See related story link below.

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