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Media inquiries: Please contact Julie Buchanan,, 804-786-2292.

Date: July 18, 2011
Contact: Julie Buchanan, Public Relations Specialist, (804) 786-2292,

Phragmites-mapping project begins today on York, Pamunkey and Mattaponi rivers

RICHMOND — The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation will begin mapping phragmites today along the York River and its two major tributaries, the Pamunkey and Mattaponi rivers. The project incorporates a small helicopter, trained observers and a geographic positioning system device to map areas as small as one-eighth of an acre. Mapping will begin in the West Point area and focus on the tidal sections of the Pamunkey and Mattaponi rivers, then continue toward the Chesapeake Bay along the York.

“We’re hoping to complete the project this year,” said DCR Stewardship Biologist Kevin Heffernan. “Once we have all the stands mapped, we can develop a more strategic approach to control this problem plant.”

Phragmites is a tall, perennial grass that, in its non-native form, dominates other plants and forms a monoculture, reducing plant diversity and altering wildlife habitat. Herbicides used for control must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for use in wetlands. With the participation and cooperation of multiple public and private landowners, thousands of acres of phragmites have been mapped and treated within Virginia’s coastal zone over the last 15 years. Still, this fast-spreading plant is expanding its footprint on tidal wetlands and shorelines as too few landowners are treating it on their lands.

To map phragmites, the helicopter must fly low to the ground and circle a patch to obtain accurate location and size data. Caution is taken not to disturb vegetation or wildlife any more than is necessary to complete the project. The project will continue through the end of July and into August — the period when phragmites can be easily spotted from the air.

DCR will share this information with all interested parties in order to develop an effective outreach strategy to make landowners more aware of the problem.

“We plan to make York River phragmites location data available to the general public,” said DCR Project Manager Rick Myers. “DCR is developing an improved web-based phragmites mapping application that will allow landowners to assess phragmites invasions on their own land in order to make plans for its control.” The application will be available on DCR’s invasive species page. Phragmites data collected this summer should be online by winter of 2011-12.

For more information about phragmites on the York River, contact Kevin Heffernan at 804-786-9112 or


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