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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on place-based stewardship education. Since 2001, a partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department (KNRD) has supported this newsletter and allowed us to expand class offerings through EPA funding. Further staff support comes through Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA). Many thanks to our partners and to you, our readers, for your continued enthusiasm for "digging" into the natural history and culture of this part of the world.

Casting a Shadow on Reed Canarygrass


by Sandie Durand, Cascara Consulting

Sitting cross-legged beside the Pend Oreille River, I watch a dragonfly deftly snag insects on low-level sorties across the water's surface. This hard-working dragonfly repeatedly returns to its hunting perch a few feet away on a lone, native small-flowered bulrush (Scirpus microcarpus); small-flowered bulrush provide food and cover for wildlife, along with soil stabilization through rhizome root system. The lone bulrush, dragonfly and I are overshadowed by an extensive monoculture stand of robust, introduced reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea) encroaching along the shoreline behind us. This moisture and sun-loving interloper does not know it yet, but the landowners and I are quietly plotting to turn the tables by inter-planting closely spaced, fast growing native willow within its current stronghold for the specific purpose of shading it out. Over time, the tenacious non-native stand will be reduced and a native plant community will begin to reestablish along this stretch of river.

Most folks believe this familiar reed canarygrass is native, but botanists have been documenting it as an introduced species for over 100 years. According to the University of Washington's Burke Herbarium database, botanist Frank O. Kreager documented introduced reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea) at Big Meadows, 8 miles west of Ione, on August 6, 1902. Botanist Wilhelm N. Suksdorf also recorded it as an introduced species at Spangle in Spokane County on June 29, 1889. As settlers began clearing land for agricultural purposes and timber harvest, introduced reed canarygrass was one of the species utilized for rapid cover and livestock forage. Like so many other introduced species, aggressive reed canarygrass adapted readily to its new homeland and spread beyond the original planting sites. Reed canarygrass invasion of diverse native plant communities has continued at a steady pace, reducing those sites to single species monocultures. Loss of native plant diversity has the domino effect of also reducing diversity of native fauna, which rely on these native plant associations for food, cover, and reproductive habitat. Another impact within this negative domino effect is the reduction of complex root and mixed-canopy structure provided by native plant communities, which provide soil stability along riparian corridors.

For decades upon decades, the battle against introduced reed canarygrass around the state has included herbicide use, burning, digging, shading-out and combinations of all of the above. Indigenous Peoples also harvested reed canarygrass for use in food-drying mats, weaving hats, binding fish weirs and basket design imbrications. (Nancy J. Turner, Plant Technology of First Peoples in British Columbia, UBC Press)

Shading out the invader by planting closely spaced, fast growing native willow and other appropriate "friends" such as black cottonwood, along with hand-cutting the reed canarygrass twice during the first two seasons, is a somewhat passive approach. However, this upcoming demonstration site, along with two others, will provide an opportunity to monitor this simple and inexpensive method over the next several years. If successful, it will offer a viable reed canarygrass management option for the Pend Oreille. Keep your eye on the river for future results. For more information on demonstration sites and/or reed canarygrass, please contact WSU/Pend Oreille County Extension, Pend Oreille County Community Development or Cascara Consulting.

As I prepare to leave the shoreline, the dragonfly tips its head to look at me from atop the bulrush perch. I nod, smile and we silently agree on the covert plan to reclaim the neighborhood ... naturally, of course.

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