Workshop: More comprehensive milfoil education needed

Identifying milfoil not always an easy task

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer
NAPLES — Identifying invasive milfoil is not an easy task.
Without the flower or the berry to distinguish it from other aquatic plants, it can be impossible to identify a plant without sending a DNA sample to a lab, according to Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) biologist John McPhedran, who is assigned to the state’s Invasive Aquatic Species Program.
The state put out a booklet called “Maine Field Guide to Invasive Aquatic Plants and their common native look-alikes.” The very title points to the fact that a person without a degree in botany might confuse native species with the invasive ones.
So, it is no surprise that when one marina owner apologized for the milfoil outbreak at his business’ dock, he explained that he thought the plants were noninvasive ones that had been identified as such by experts two years ago.
During a public meeting in Naples, Vander Zee said he would get a milfoil inspection certification for next summer; and this summer, he had already moved the boat-washing station so debris could not wash back into the lake.
It was the discovery of invasive milfoil at the Four Seasons Family Camping Area’s marina that prompted elected officials in Naples to host a tri-town workshop on milfoil. Also, at the table were several staff members from Lakes Environmental Agency (LEA), along with biologist for the Invasive Aquatic Species Program, John McPhendran.
The milfoil workshop, which was held on Monday prior to the Naples Board of Selectmen meeting, excluded comment from the public.
After the workshop is when Vander Zee spoke. He was apologetic and soft-spoken. He kept his comments brief.
Again and again, Lakes Environmental Agency (LEA) staff said the Vander Zee had been cooperative with LEA’s efforts to eradicate the plants using mats on the lake bottom.
Earlier in the day during a phone interview, Vander Zee explained what had happened prior to and in the weeks after this invasive milfoil outbreak was discovered.
“The milfoil in the harbor appeared to me and the people who had docks as the same milfoil that appeared to be there two years ago. I was told it was a native variety, not the invasive,” he said.
“When they identified this, it was sometime in July, near the end of July. It was a very busy time of year. Every week 35 families are going in and out; about five boats are coming off the ramp each week.
I never got down there. I figured I wouldn’t know what I was doing, which plants to harvest.”
He said LEA contacted him on the Wednesday before Labor Day weekend to see if all the boats could be removed “from the infected area.” That was accomplished immediately after Labor Day, which allowed LEA crews to get into the area on Tuesday, Sept. 5.
“We contacted all the people and offered to buy out their remainder of the season. We shut down the boat ramp for the remainder of the season,” he said.
Additionally, Four Seasons provided an alternative place for boats to be moored.
There are other places for people to get the boats out the remainder of the year.
“People who rent dock spaces in the affected area, we offered to give them a refund or find an alternate space for their boats,” he said.
One rumor that had been going around town was brought up at Monday’s workshop.
Some area residents thought the state had closed down the boat ramp. However, Vander Zee had voluntarily done that at the request of LEA.
The campground owner said he was dismayed and hurt by what has been said and written about his role in the milfoil growing at the dock on his property.
“For people to think that we don’t care about the lake — it is unbelievable,” he said.
“What we chose not to deal with we thought was just a native variety of milfoil — that was what we were told,” he said, searching for an explanation as to how the invasive plants got there and started growing alongside the native ones.
“This is our home. We have our lives invested in this property. To think that we were having a problem and were choosing not to deal with it — it is frustrating,” he said. “We have had a lot of things going on this summer. When LEA comes to us with a recommendation, we try to comply.”
“We have a boat-washing station. Next, year we will be watching every boat going in and out of the property,” he said.
Four Seasons has approximately 600 to 800 feet of direct frontage on Long Lake. The Vander Zee’s family has owned it for 37 years. It was purchased as a family business in 1981. Currently, Vander Zee and his sister operate it. As children, the siblings stayed at the very same campground with their family.
Christian Oren, with LEA, said it could take years for the milfoil found at Four Seasons’ docks to be completely eradicated. For now, the majority of it is under mats — which will insure that those plants will be dead by next spring, Oren said.
There is still some milfoil in the area closest to shore. Only time and weather patterns will reveal whether those invasives will die off during the drawdown of water levels or will be alive next spring.

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — Following a milfoil workshop at the Naples Town Hall, what participants walked away with is: A need for more comprehensive education.

Everyone agreed that education about invasive aquatic plants would need to happen in all of the towns and involve the owners of all of the marinas and waterfront businesses as well as private landowners.

“With education, we could have spotted it [an invasive milfoil outbreak] sooner,” according to Christian Oren with Lakes Environmental Agency (LEA).

Oren was referring to milfoil growth discovered at three sites on Long Lake: Salmon Point Beach, the dock at the Four Seasons Family Campground and Colonial Mast Campground’s waterfront area. Colonial Mast had the least amount of milfoil. With the cooperation of business owners, LEA has been working to eradicate the milfoil outbreaks.

Per discussion, other factors that can help keep milfoil to a minimum are certifying more milfoil inspectors and funding those inspection sites.

The Town of Naples hosted a milfoil workshop on Monday night. Harrison and Bridgton selectmen joined Naples elected officials at the table. Four employees at LEA were on hand to answer questions. Another expert on milfoil is John McPhedran, a biologist and overseer of the Invasive Aquatic Species Program with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

McPhedran shared some ideas about ways to promote knowledge about invasive aquatic plants and protect water quality in lakeside towns.

“One town had a lake week in August. It was a time to look for plants, to bring plants into the office for identification” and to bring in more volunteers for the local lake inspection program.

The selectmen and LEA had talked about public workshops held in the late winter or spring to prepare everyone for summer on the lake and to stem the spread of invasive milfoil.

“It is a big undertaking but not out of the question. For the people who are receptive to the information that is great — learning about the plants is great,” McPhedran said.

In order to help keep the lakes milfoil-free, people do not need to learn how to identify every aquatic plant. People need to know what might be milfoil and where to bring it.

“The real thing is to get people to inspect their boats, their fishing lines, the gear, and to remove whatever they see,” he said.

“We know no matter how much you train inspectors. Sometimes, they sit and don’t do a good inspection,” he said, citing a firsthand experience at one inspection site.

“The success of the program is that everyone inspect their boat before and after they launch,” he said. “How do we get there — I don’t know?”

There was a question about available funding to assist with all the elements involved in protecting the area’s bodies of water from milfoil.

“When I hear inspections, I think boats. For inspecting boats, we have grant money — typically $2000 per ramp,” McPhedran said. “We wouldn’t have grant money, but we can train volunteers.”

He did not know of funding for other aspect like doing lake surveys and training volunteers.

LEA Executive Director Peter Lowell also shared ideas for ramping up the milfoil inspections on the lake.

“I like the idea of meeting in the spring. We have the Maine Milfoil Summit. It gets people fired up and help to layout a road map for year ahead,” he said.

It would be even better “if the private boat launches send someone to the meeting and get someone certified to do inspections,” Lowell said. “That way you have someone who is accountatable.”

He included road associations and lake associations on privately-owned property along with businesses on the lake as likely candidates to get a representative certified as a boat inspector.

“Unless you have someone at that site that is accountable, you will have a problem,” he said.

“You could charge a fee [at the boat launch] to keep them certified,” Lowell said.

This concept was repeated after the workshop by people in the audience that favored a small increase in boat ramp fees that would go right back into protecting the water quality.

Naples Selectman Bob Caron II discussed an ordinance to get people in line versus relying on volunteerism to keep milfoil out of the lakes.

“Say the towns decide to do an ordinance down the road. What we could do is set a meeting date and, depending on turnout,” determine whether or not an ordinance is needed, he said.

“Obviously, none of the towns want to create more patrolling issues. These lakes are important to all of our communities. Tourists spend a lot of money in town because of these lakes,” Caron said.

Lowell and Caron talked about whether this should be done informally at first, or if it would be necessary to make mandates regarding boat inspections at every entry point to the lake.

Ron Terciak is the captain of the Songo River Queen II, which gives him firsthand experience to the public’s lack of knowledge about invasive aquatic plants.

“We need to educate. So many people from other towns that I speak with have no idea what milfoil is,” Terciak said.

He suggested putting up signs with photos showing what milfoil is. Those signs could be placed all around town: at public docks, the restaurants, the grocery stores, libraries, museums.

“Everywhere people go, we have to educate them. People have no idea what milfoil is and the damage it does. We do,” he said.

Please follow and like us: