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Health, Science & Environment

From the Bayou to the Great Salt Lake, the "Marsh Master" Helps Conservationists Fight Phragmites

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Whittney
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The Marsh Master mows through 8-foot wide strips of invasive Phragmites.

The Nature Conservancy has a new tool to combat invasive plants on marshes along the Great Salt Lake.

Ten-foot-tall plants called Phragmites are crowding out the Lake’s wetlands, causing problems for birds and ducks that need a place to live. Chris Brown, the Conservancy’s stewardship director says staff here at the Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve have battled the plants since they arrived here after the 1983 floods.

“I been spraying Phrag since 1996, and sometimes I honestly feel like I’m going in a circle, but we’ve got to try, so.”

In the past, staff dropped pesticides from the sky and burned the plants. But burning is no longer a viable option because it exacerbates air pollution in the valley. Luckily, Brown says a private donor provided nearly $160,000 to buy the 6,000-pound Marsh Master. It’s like a giant lawnmower that can also float and spray herbicide. They’re typically used in the Louisiana Bayou’s.

Brown and his colleagues drive the machine into the marshes and spray swaths of Phrag.

“And then with the mower, since we can’t burn, we can come back in the fall and mow the phrag and kind of do the job that fire used to do for us,” Brown says.

The ground up Phrag breaks down over the winter.  Brown says he doesn’t think the plant can be eradicated, but the Marsh Master will hopefully stop it from expanding. 

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