Feathery invasive losing battle at South Surrey’s Serpentine Fen

Eradication efforts leading to ‘dramatic’ reduction in South American intruder

Four years after it launched, an effort to eradicate an invasive aquarium plant from South Surrey’s Serpentine Fen “seems to be working,” according to the area’s caretakers.

“We’ve seen a decline in the total area” affected by parrot’s feather, Ducks Unlimited Canada conservation programs specialist Matt Christensen said this week.

Parrot’s feather (myriophyllum aquaticum) is a dense plant with feather-like foliage. Native to South America, it was found in the Serpentine Wildlife Management Area – located between Highway 99, King George Boulevard and the Serpentine River – in 2014. It’s believed it was introduced into the fen through someone dumping the contents of an aquarium.

By the time it was discovered, it had already invaded to the point that “a big dense green mat” covered the fen’s east marsh, Christensen told Peace Arch News. And without sunlight getting through, the wetland was basically suffocating, threatening the habitat and rich foraging grounds that millions of waterfowl depend on to refuel during migration.

Given it spreads “easier than blackberry,” simply pulling the plants out was not an option.

So that first summer, DUC – which is responsible for managing the South Surrey WMA – initiated a plan to reclaim the marsh by taking advantage of drought conditions to conduct a “drawdown” of the wetland. The hope was that the draining would render the marsh unfriendly to the aggressive intruder.

READ MORE: Feather’s touch at Serpentine lamented

In the years since, a pump that had been used to help maintain the water levels has simply not been turned on, Christensen said, creating the same “drawdown” effect.

Christensen acknowledged the results, to anyone not in the loop, may leave the impression that the fen has “silted up,” as one PAN reader noted earlier this month, in an email expressing concern the WMA is “returning to a field.”

“It might not look as healthy because it’s not as wet,” Christensen said.

However, the “drawdowns” have actually benefited native plants such as smartweed (Polygonum punctatum), a peppery edible which Christensen described as “a waterfowl super-food.”

It “has started to regenerate…due to the change in conditions,” he said.

PAN first reported on the presence of parrot’s feather at the Serpentine Fen three years ago, when Ducks Unlimited Canada officials shared details of its impact during a public event to unveil signage for the Wildlife Management Area’s 30th anniversary.

At that time, officials predicted a need for “something more dramatic” than draining the wetland. However, patience with the process appears to have paid off.

Wednesday, DUC conservation specialist Megan Winand told PAN she has noticed a dramatic reduction in the presence of the invasive in the past year. A survey in 2017 showed it was an extensive problem across the east marsh, but this year, “we had a hard time to find it,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean they can let their guards down, she said.

“Even if you think you’ve eradicated (it), you still need to be out there looking for it,” Winand said, noting ongoing monitoring will continue.

“You’re never really done with invasives.”

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Conservation specialists Matt Christensen and Megan Winand talk about efforts to eradicate parrot’s feather from the Serpentine Fen, during a visit to the South Surrey site Nov. 28. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Parrot’s feather.

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