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Wisconsin Point Committee OKs bird habitat restoration

The project would use glyphosate, an herbicide, to address invasive species in Allouez Bay, which made it a difficult decision for most members of the panel.

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A pair of common goldeneyes leave a splash trail as they run across the water of Allouez Bay to take flight off of Wisconsin Point Sunday, March 29, 2020.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — The Wisconsin Point Committee, a body of the Superior City Council, was the first public entity to approve the Marsh Bird Habitat Restoration Project despite plans to use the herbicide glyphosate to control cattails in Allouez Bay.

However, after the 4-1 vote was taken Tuesday, May 10, one committee member who struggled to vote in the affirmative began exploring options to review that decision.

Councilor Jenny Van Sickle is seeking advice to gather additional information, including a formal request for an herbicide exemption and possible reconsideration of Tuesday night’s vote.

Superior and Douglas County both have ordinances on the books that prohibit the use of herbicides and pesticides on public lands, making it necessary to garner waivers before an herbicide could be used for the project.

“The committee heard significant support from stakeholders about the project, but they did not fill out the city … exemption application, which would address alternative methods, contractors and proposed products. Doing that would help us better understand specific logistics rather than a general explanation of increased biodiversity and what they describe as low risk.”

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Douglas County’s Land and Development Committee received a waiver application in early March but has made no decision on the application.

The habitat restoration plan would restore the some of the natural dynamics of bay by removing invasive species of narrow leaf cattail, phragmites and reed canary grass.

In addition to improving habitat for marsh bird that have been declining in population, the project would also benefit fish, invertebrates and other species, and preserve high-quality habitat that exists in Allouez Bay, said David Grandmaison with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

He said it’s part of a vision to restore habitat throughout the St. Louis River estuary that is being developed.

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“These invasive hybrid cattail—we’ve seen partners like (Lake Superior Research Institute) document that they’re marching into higher quality habitats—so preemptive action before the whole bay is choked out by hybrid cattail is what we’re trying to do here,” said Tom Prestby, conservation manager with Audubon Great Lakes.

He said targeted use of herbicides is spelled out in several plans to address invasive species, and glyphoshate is less likely to impact native species because it doesn’t stay in the environment as long.

Glyphosate is a widely used herbicide that provides control of broadleaf weeds and grasses first registered in 1974, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. During a review of thousands of studies of glyphosate in 2020, the agency found the herbicide doesn’t pose a risk to human health and isn’t carcinogenic. In addition, glyphosate has low residual soil toxicity, the agency stated on its website.

“These are well-researched methodologies,” Prestby said. “We take this really serious, too. We want to make sure that it’s a recommended methodology both effectively and how it impacts species.”

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He said herbicides are a common method that have been used in high quality areas like the Horicon Marsh and in the Green Bay area with good results.

“We’ve seen excellent responses for shorebirds, marsh birds and water fowl,” Prestby said. “It’s really revived compared to what state it’s been in for the last couple of decades.”

Monitoring will take place during the implementation phase, Grandmaison said. He said it will allow them to see how well the treatments are working and if additional action is needed.

Prestby doesn’t anticipate that cattails will be eliminated entirely, but he said the treatment would reduce the density.

Committee members struggled with the decision.

“A request that I would make is that there is some effort put in to inform the neighborhoods about it, including the herbicide component of it,” said committee member Deanna Erickson, who voted in favor of the project.

Douglas County Board Supervisor Keith Allen was the only member of the committee to vote against the proposal.

“I understand the project, but I just don’t agree with the use of herbicides in the water,” Allen said.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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