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Milfoil control requires coordinated effort

Officials from three towns, state, meet to discuss options

December 18, 2009
TAMWORTH — State and local officials from three towns met last week to discuss launching a coordinated effort to combat and control variable milfoil in the Ossipee Lake system, before the choking weed affects tourism and property values on a lake that borders three communities.

Representatives from the Ossipee Lake Alliance, Green Mountain Conservation Group, select board and conservation members from Ossipee, Freedom and Effingham and a state representative from Moultonborough gathered the morning of Dec. 8 at Samantha's Inn in Tamworth. The meeting was arranged by Ossipee Conservation Commission Chair Elizabeth Gillette after the commission and alliance members met with Ossipee selectmen and NH Department of Environmental Services Limnologist Amy Smagula to discuss milfoil treatment options for Pickerel Cove and other areas of infestation.

Ossipee Lake Alliance Board Member Bob Reynolds, who recently attended the N.H. Legislative Exotic Aquatic Weeds and Species Committee's Milfoil Summit meetings in Concord, kicked off the meeting with an update. He said a proposed bill would not generate expected revenues to fund milfoil control until 2011. He added that the fact the bill was proposed indicates that the state understands towns and property owners can't win the milfoil battle alone.

The DES spent nearly its entire $450,000 milfoil budget on prevention alone, he said, leaving just $60,000 for milfoil control to be distributed to dozens of communities already affected by the weed.

Responding to a query, Reynolds said the state is also looking at funding milfoil control by raising boat registration fees by $10 per registration. With 100,000 boats registered in the state that would raise $1 million. Reynolds advocated a coordinated effort between the state, towns and property and business owners. "This had got to be a three-pronged attack," he said.

Attendees talked about the various methods used to control milfoil, including draining lakes and pulling out the weeds, hand pulling by divers, and machine suction harvesting. Gillette said that the University of New Hampshire was researching nematodes that would eat milfoil. Reynolds added that DES is also funding research. "People are trying to find out how to fight this thing," he added.

Untreated, the variable milfoil can deflect tourism and reduce the lakefront property values and taxes that make up a large slice of each town's tax base.

The state recognizes that people will stop coming, or come less, if the waterways become clogged, Reynolds said.

"Milfoil is a very nasty plant. It survives. Right now we don't know how to completely kill it. After chemical treatment, which knocks it down, it comes back. So it requires a continuous, perhaps never-ending, battle," he added.

"What towns have done is form milfoil committees their role is to coordinate the war," said Reynolds.

Ossipee Lake Alliance Development Director Susan Marks discussed how an Ossipee Lake Milfoil Committee could be created and integrated with the three local conservation commissions, select boards, the alliance and other organizations. She said a committee could coordinate communication between the three towns and assist with the creation of milfoil management plans.

Some town officials who have been treating variable milfoil for years concurred that a combined attack using the herbicide 2,4-D and hand pulling or suctioning works best, and that hand pulling alone is not as effective.

"Freedom would have started using the herbicide last year; we couldn't get the (funding) soon enough. We tried hand pulling for seven years. It wasn't working. We had to try something new," said Freedom Selectman Neil Boyle of milfoil control methods in Danforth Pond.

Ossipee Selectman Morton Leavitt praised Smagula's informative presentation to the board earlier this month, and said that while he was at first reluctant to use chemical treatment, he now thinks it is safe if used in the right amounts.

"I am reluctant to use the chemical but have come to the conclusion we have to use it. The problem will grow greater if we don't use the chemical treatment," said Leavitt.

Ossipee Select Board Chair Kathleen Maloney asked about the danger to fish life since an increase in oxygen from decaying plant matter may affect fish habitat. She said that 2,4-D is on a list for the potential to contaminate drinking water; however, during the earlier meeting with Smagula, the scientist discussed numerous well water monitoring and other tests that detected no levels of 2,4-D where the chemical had been applied. Reynolds affirmed that finding. Blair Folts of the Green Mountain Conservation Group expressed concern about using chemicals to treat milfoil, a treatment that has been advocated by DES. She supported non-chemical methods such as hand-pulling and restricting boats in infested areas.

Reynolds assured that studies indicate the chemical doesn't bother fish or any other plant matter; it dissipates.

As the meeting wrapped up, attendees concurred with Gillette that conservation committees could form milfoil subcommittee whose members would then update the select boards. In a final comment, Freedom Select Board Chair Les Babb pointed out that Maine does not use chemical treatment on their lakes, which has affected tourist traffic on a lake he used to frequent.

"Last year we started going back to a lake in Limerick; the milfoil just grabs you. There is no boat traffic," said Babb.

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