Phragmites has also spread across the region’s coastlands, clogging up waterways and drastically altering the landscape. Further complicating matters: Control of the marsh is split between the California Fish and Wildlife department and several hunting clubs. This creates a lack of cohesion in efforts to contain invasive species, which obviously stalls progress. Some local land owners have taken it upon themselves to remove the reeds, but their efforts—though well intended—are drops in the bucket.
The project is also searching for ways to streamline the fight against phragmites and, hopefully, come up with new containment solutions. With Purdue and Chapman universities working on the social side of the phragmites issue by interviewing stakeholders on what motivates or prevents them from taking action against the reeds. “We’re not just looking at the ecology of it, but we’re also looking at the social side of things,” Matzek says. “The reason this is really important with invasive species issues is that whether people participate or don’t participate in a program to control invaders matters a lot as to whether you can be effective with control.”
Postdoctoral fellow Adrienne Ernst at Utah State University says phragmites is really good at taking up nutrients, which can leave the marsh waters denatured for other plants. “There’s a lot of efforts to control phragmites, but there’s not a lot of efforts to restore habitat,” Ernst says. So even if the spread of invasive species is stymied, no other species are being introduced to the marsh. “Nature abhors a vacuum and it kind of perpetuates more invasive species coming in,” she says of what can happen if good plants aren’t brought back in the bad ones’ wake.