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Fight or Flight, or Both?

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

When Phragmites, an invasive wetland grass, threatens the natural flow of the Platte River, the Platte Valley Weed Management Area (PVWMA) brings in a helicopter to fight against it.

The Phragmites weed is often times seen on the banks of natural water sources. This weed stands anywhere from 8 to 15 ft tall. This very tall wetland grass is easy to spot from the road and covers quite a bit of land starting all the way from East to West in Nebraska, along the banks of the Platte River. The seed head looks like the ones shown in the photographs above and below. The non-native Phragmites species is a state noxious weed and is referred to as a highly invasive weed. The native variety of Phragmites looks similar, but does not spread.

What makes Phragmites highly invasive? Phragmites grows in large groups and can possibly choke out other vegetation as well as invade areas where water should be able to flow freely.

The root systems of phragmites are intricate, large, and spread very quickly; so quickly, that if not caught in time, the weed could potentially choke out portions of the Platte River.

In areas where this weed has grown over large portions of the river, Phragmites almost pushes water outside of its banks and disrupts the natural flow of the Platte River. Unfortunately, the latter happened several years ago and as a result the PVWMA has stepped up to prevent this weed from choking out the river again.

Approximately 5 million dollars has been spent in the past 13 years, spraying the banks of the Platte River to control Phragmites.

The process of spraying the Phragmites along the river banks depends on several factors from year to year. Depending on the wind and if there has been a frost, the PVWMA brings in a skilled helicopter pilot to spray along the banks of the river. In doing so, the helicopter dodges trees, power lines and must refill the spray every 5 minutes by flying from the banks of the river to the refill truck. The Helicopter lands on top of the truck, two people help refill the spray, then it continues on back to the river until it must refill again.

The Helicopter flies low above the phragmites and uses GPS to track where it has hit previously as it dips and dives, spraying to temporarily rid of the weed. The PVWMA depends on the support of landowners, grant agencies, federal and state partners to help continue this project as this species of the invasive phragmites will come back year after year.

Photography by Sydney Norris, Media and Communications Coordinator for TPNRD

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