April 1 2011 12:00 AM

Well, just the unwanted, non-native, invasive plants

Andy Balaskovitz/City Pulse

Thursday, March 31 — In efforts to restore native plant vegetation and the ecological health of local ponds, the Ingham County drain commissioner set a portion of Groesbeck Golf Course and nearby wetlands ablaze today.

A “controlled” or “prescribed” burn is meant to torch invasive, exotic plant species that crowd out native grasses, flowers and plants, like swamp milkweed, said Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann.

“A system like that, an ecosystem that makes up this storm water system, is based upon a balanced ecosystem with indigenous species, plants and diverse wildlife,” he said.

The alternative to a controlled burn is to do it the “traditional” way, Lindemann said — individuals weeding out the non-native plants with lawn mowers and weedwackers.

“This (burning) is the natural way,” he said.

While riding around Groesbeck in a golf cart with Deputy Drain Commissioner Paul Pratt, flames reached nearly 10 feet in some places while golfers scooted around the course. Today was the first day Groesbeck opened to the public.

Environmentally, the main consequence of the burn is the smoke in the air, Pratt said. On the other hand, you’re preventing exhaust emissions from mowers and weedwackers that could take through the summer to complete. Further, native plant species help filter and cleanse storm water runoff. And when the natives grow back, they tend to do so thicker and healthier, he said.

Economically, the burn makes sense too, Lindemann said. The five-hour burn cost about $5,000. “If we spent the season doing what we wanted to do with the burn, it would have cost about $25,000.”

The burn, controlled by drain commissioner’s staff and a crew from Ann Arbor-based PlantWise Restoration, started at 11:30 a.m. at the Tollgate Wetlands across the street from Groesbeck off Wood Street. At about 3 p.m., burn crews moved to the golf course to clear invasive plants like buckthorn and reed canary grass. The two areas contain ponds that collect storm water runoff.

Pratt said the burn is meant to be done annually and that Groesbeck is one of three locations in Ingham County where it’s done. The other two are in wetlands in Meridian Township, he said.

Pratt added that there’s a “fairly short window” for when these burns can occur.

“Two weeks later, there’s too much greenery and you run the risk of threatening frogs and turtles,” Pratt said. “We’re really glad to do it today.”