Thursday, April 17, 2014

 Milfoil Wars

Courage and Commitment in the Milfoil Wars

Local Heroes in the Fight to Control Invasives

By Maggie Shannon

Several Maine lake associations are facing the challenge of controlling milfoil infestations. Their stories are inspiring; this article explores three of them.

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Blanketing the Bottom of Lily Brook

Lily Brook is a short stream connecting Pleasant Lake and Parker Pond in Otisfield and Casco. When variable leaf milfoil was found there in 2000, the infestation covered about one half acre, occupying 90% of Lily Brook’s 1000 foot length. Neither lake had the plants.

Under the tenacious command of President Joel “Bulldog” Bloom, the Parker Pond/Pleasant Lake Association (PL/PPA) addressed the problem. As a first step, Bloom designed and the association built and installed wire mesh screens, creating a slalom-like course to trap floating fragments. Volunteers in canoes and kayaks have cleaned these ¼ inch stainless steel screens 2 times a week each summer since they were installed in 2002.

PL/PPA knew both lakes would become infested unless they acted to remove the threat, and decided to try benthic barriers. They turned to Jim Chandler of Bethel to direct the project with aid from association spearheaded by Lew Wetzel. The association made eighty 10 by 12 foot barriers using plasticized burlap , 10 foot sections of rebar, and electrical ties. The barriers go down as soon as the water warms enough for wet-suited volunteers to enter the brook, usually around May 1. They stay in place for 10 weeks and are then repositioned for a like period before being removed in the fall. According to Lew, “If the barriers go down before June 1, you have it licked.”

PL/PPA has been at it for two summers, and it appears they may achieve their goal.

Interestingly, native plants have regrown in treatment areas, but the variable leaf milfoil has not returned. (see photo) Rapid native regrowth like this occurs in areas where seed banks in the sediments are rich enough to foster a return. Natives vary in reproduction techniques and seed bearing capacity; potamogetons generally have what it takes to come back quickly.

Design, construction, placement and maintenance of screens and barriers have cost PL/PPA $18,000 per year since 2001. The Town of Casco and DEP’s Cost Share program funded by the Lake and River Protection Sticker have contributed money. Joel would be happy to answer questions about PL/PPA’s work; you may call him at 207-627-4707.

“All Out War” on Little Sebago

The Little Sebago Lake Association (LSLA), under the direction of President Scott Lowell, is battling an aggressive hybrid variable leaf milfoil on 90 of Little Sebago’s 1,800 acres. Their story has lessons for us all.

Little Sebago Lake Association's Suction Dredge at work.Members of LSLA attended one of the commercial suction dredge trials the Maine DEP arranged in 2004. LSLA’s volunteer engineers set about redesigning what they’d seen to lessen turbidity and plant fragmentation.

The result has 4 times more filtering capacity to better capture plants and fragments delivered to the barge through the suction hose. Experiments with nozzle shape led to an upturned design which draws the plants in with less sediment disturbance than conventional nozzles. A second barge is being built this winter.

Members of the Little Sebago Lake Association's Milfoil Militia monitor the filtering process aboard the suction dredge.Photo: Members of the Little Sebago Lake Association's Milfoil Militia monitor the filtering process aboard the suction dredge.

LSLA started with an action plan, achieved tax-exempt status; held numerous public meetings; waged an extensive education and volunteer recruitment campaign (they have a Milfoil Militia, complete with Commanders and Captains); initiated fundraising and gathered over $170,000 in donations as well as 2 pontoon boats; installed 40 benthic barriers in ’04 and 100 in ’05; improved the design of commercially available suction dredges; built themselves one; and are still tinkering. Scott’s final word? “Now that we have the money, we can put a real action plan in place.”

Little Sebago Lake Association volunteers.LSLA’s story shows that courage and commitment create capacity. Their vigorous activity resulted in expanded membership, influence, energy and finances. The same results are available for groups which address prevention with Courtesy Boat Inspections.  

Search and Destroy on Cushman Pond

No story about milfoil in Maine would be complete without the tale of Cushman Pond. A small, motor-free, and relatively remote pond nestled in the western mountains, Cushman has one carry-in boat access site. It isn’t the place you’d expect to fall prey to variable leaf milfoil, but it did. Fortunately for it, the 7 downstream lakes and the rest of us, Meg and Gerry Nelson spotted unfamiliar plants not long after they’d become established and sought immediate identification. Since then, the pair has waged an all-out campaign to save the shallow pond.

At first the plants seemed to be confined near the boat access area, so spot treatment with chemicals was tried. When the milfoil was found to be widely distributed, the Cushman Homeowners Association and the Kezar Lake Watershed Association asked for help from the Town of Lovell and were appropriated $50,000. Lovell’s support has continued over the past 7 years.

The Cushman approach employs GPS plant mapping and hand removal by scuba divers on 4 Search and Destroy Missions each summer. Gerry reports that plants continue to appear, but are now greatly reduced -- only 5 gallons of weeds were collected in 2005. Dan Buckley, PhD Professor of Biology at the University of Maine, Farmington (and COLA’s President), believes Cushman Pond could be one place where total eradication is possible.

Strong volunteer participation across the Kezar Lake watershed has resulted from Meg and Gerry’s initiative. In 1998, the 8 lakes had no formal mechanism for information exchange, so the Nelsons asked if a Steward would step forward to represent each waterbody. Stewards were to have no responsibilities beyond being informed and available, but their involvement led them to more and more enthusiastic participation. The resulting network has been surprising in its reach and vigor. Now volunteers are coming forward to ask how they, too, can help, and each lake in the watershed has a water quality monitor for the first time.



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