It’s Quite A Thorny Problem


(By Kim Ryan) Sandspurs (Cenchrus spinifex), the scourge of the beach, is an annual plant that germinates from seed, grows, and produces prickly fruit (the burr). These devils are not only painful to an unsuspecting bare foot but they can wreak havoc on nesting shorebirds.

During public comment at the beginning of the MRTF meeting Wednesday, Bill Perry who’s been in business for 40 years providing beach vegetation clean up services, spoke about the problem at the Carlos Point bird nesting area. He described it as “quite extensive,” taking 75 tractor hours to clean up. Perry indicated it can cause mortality in the birds who become injured and then develop infections. In the past he’s seen “fledgling chicks so covered in sand spurs they couldn’t even move.”

Perry has discussed the issue with FWC (as they are the only ones allowed in the area) and with the nearby property owners who are not in favor of “blanket spraying of herbicide.” He reported there was promising talk of using backpack sprayers which were effective years ago saying you “need to pull it or spray it before it seeds in May or June.”

After listening to Perry, the committee began by discussing the pros and cons of FWC’s plan to manage the area presented by Rebecca Schneider (regional species conservation biologist) at the last meeting. MRTF was asked to review and provide feedback regarding the plan.

When the conversation turned to the use of herbicides, Fort Myers Beach Environmental Projects Manager Chadd Chustz said, “I’m disappointed herbicide is the solution,” referencing what FWC has suggested. He went on to say, “If I knew a beach was being blanketed with that I wouldn’t bring my kids there.” The committee clearly expressed their opposition to the use of glyphosate herbicide as well and recalled the attempt by town council to ban its use on the beach. That was over-ruled by the state.

The conversation eventually turned to other options, some of which were mentioned in the FWC report, to combat the sand spurs including using saltwater, acidic acid, mechanical removal, tilling, hand removal and torching. Committee member Jennifer Rusk also questioned the use of corn meal gluten as something to look into. According to corn gluten meal is a “natural pre-emergent herbicide that effectively controls sand spurs if you treat the area before the seeds germinate”.

The final decision was a motion by chair Steve Johnson to send a letter to Rebecca Schneider stating that the committee loves their plan but they object to the use of Roundup for vegetation management in the Carlos Beach temporary refuge and would prefer they pursue some other methods mentioned that are less detrimental to the wildlife and waterway. They also agreed to request the town council make a resolution to prevent the use of glyphosate for vegetation management in the town’s EC zone.