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Fish and Game clarifies position on Moultonboro milfoil

July 21, 2010
MOULTONBORO — The executive director of New Hampshire Fish and Game said concern for the ecosystem was behind a request to not use chemical treatment in certain areas, not a sentiment that variable milfoil is beneficial.

During the July 1 Selectmen's meeting, Milfoil Committee Chair Peter Jensen reported that scheduled herbicide treatment in areas of Greens Basin and Lees Pond were stopped after Fish and Game ordered the treatment companies to avoid those areas. Jensen said the companies were advised by Fish and Game that bridle shiners, an endangered species of fish, were located in the area and destroying the milfoil would take away a protective area for them.

In a series of emails provided to "The Meredith News," Joy Trahan-Liptak of Lycott Environmental notified Fish and Game on June 11 of a scheduled application. Wildlife biologist Kim Tuttle of Fish and Game replied in an email dated June 14 advising the company to stay 300 feet away from loon nests or suspected loon nests and bridle shiner spawning grounds in Greens Basin to avoid "take" of these species under RSA 212-A.

Another email was sent to Lycott addressed from Matt Carpenter, the Anandromous Fish Restoration Coordinator for Fish and Game, describing the spawning of bridle shiners in thick vegetation including native milfoil (myriophyllum) and did advise that destroying the milfoil in that area would destroy the habitat where bridle shiners spawn. According to the email, Carpenter said the milfoil in that area does not appear to harm plants or wildlife and is distributed among native plants.

"It would be more cost effective in the long run to accept milfoil as a component of the ecosystem and to take a more conservative approach toward milfoil management that focuses on reducing conflicts with boating and swimming while taking into account the needs of fish and wildlife," the email read.

Selectman Betsey Patten also said at the July 1 meeting she had heard some sentiment from Fish and Game that milfoil is beneficial.

Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau said this is not true. Normandeau said the treatment providers were asked to avoid certain areas for concern about the proximity to wildlife, though there was no threat of legal action if the treatment continued.

Fish and Game has an advisory role in the permitting process for chemical milfoil treatment, as it is one of the state agencies contacted after applications filed with the Department of Agriculture's Division of Pesticides.

Normandeau said until around 2005 it was Fish and Game's policy not to support any use of herbicides for milfoil. This changed around 2005 as part of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Environmental Services. Under this plan, chemical application was allowed as part of an overall management plan to control milfoil in conjunction with chemical-free methods such as hand-pulling and suction harvesting.

Normandeau said Fish and Game will look for a management plan when deciding whether or not to recommend chemical treatment. If the application is for an area that has historically seen applications of herbicide year after year with no success and no utilization of a management plan, Fish and Game will recommend against the use of herbicide for an application.

"We have a statutory obligation to protect listed threatened and endangered species,' Normandeau said. "We would have needed to let people know about that."

Chemical treatment was not recommended for different areas of Moultonboro, according to an inter-office memo between Fish and Game and the Department of Agriculture provided to "The Meredith News." Lees Pond and Greens Cove/Hemlock Basin were two of the four areas that were not recommended. The report for Lees Pond cited concern that chemical treatment had been done repeatedly with few results as well as concern for loons and bridle shiners. At Greens Basin, the report said only chemical treatment had been done in the past despite a previous plan describing other management methods in addition to a concern for loons and bridle shiners.

Jensen said each individual association has put together a milfoil management plan for their respective areas.

"My understanding is the Department of Agriculture won't approve a permit unless it has a DES-approved five-year plan," Jensen said.

Normandeau said Fish and Game does support the eradication of exotic, invasive milfoil, though through a management plan involving methods not limited to herbicide application.

"Not time and time again of repeated chemical application," Normandeau said. "We feel like we're kind of getting beat up on when we recommend not to approve something when we don't follow that regime."

Normandeau emphasized, however, Fish and Game's role in the permitting process is strictly advisory.

"(Fish and Game has) no statutory authority until and unless there's actually somebody killing something," Normandeau said. "At that point the law mandates that we do something."

Normandeau said Fish and Game did recommend chemical treatment in several areas this year, including a nearly 80-acre section of Lake Opechee in Laconia. Permits were issued for several areas in Moultonboro and several have been treated or are awaiting treatment.

Normandeau said abutters and Fish and Game are required to be notified when the treatment is about to occur. Abutters have to be contacted at least 14 days before the application, though Normandeau said there is no timeline for contacting Fish and Game. Normandeau said the companies applying the herbicide notified Fish and Game by fax on a Friday that herbicide treatment would be done in those areas on the following Tuesday.

Normandeau said Fish and Game recommended that they avoid specific areas of Green's Basin totaling about an acre due to the presence of loons and bridle shiners around the areas. They also advised against treating an area of Lee's Pond as well. Normandeau said this is the time of year where bridle shiners spawn and their eggs will become embedded in thick vegetation, and this will happen to variable milfoil if it is in the area. To kill the milfoil in those areas at that time would have detrimental effects upon the bridle shiner population.

"They didn't have to comply with that," Normandeau said, referring to the companies contracted by Moultonboro.

Jensen, however, said it was the understanding of the companies that there would be legal consequences if they treated in those areas under RSA 212-A.

"We know that both Lycott and Aquatic Control Technology had signed contracts to treat Green's Basin and Lee's Pond respectively. We know that both are for-profit companies," Jensen said. "We know they both suffered a revenue stream interruption when scheduled work was unable to be performed without a perceived threat to their business, neither would have, on their own, decided to reduce the workload and resultant revenue for work that had already been officially permitted to occur by the authoritative agency in the state responsible for such decisions. We know that with very little time between the Fish and Game contacts and scheduled treatments, Fish and Game contacted both vendors and that as a result of the Fish and Game contact, both vendors scaled back the work they had planned and received permits for."

Normandeau said the providers ultimately decided to follow Fish and Game's recommendation for those areas.

Following the meeting in Moultonboro, however, he said he received numerous angry phone calls by people saying Fish and Game stopped the treatment.

"So now it seems there's a perception we stepped in there somehow and stopped them from treating this area," Normandeau said.

Normandeau said Fish and Game does not support the proliferation of milfoil.

"Clearly we're spending a lot of time and money in this state getting rid of invasive (species) of all kinds," he said. "Certain individual organisms that seem to like the thick cover it provides. That doesn't translate over to an entire ecosystem that milfoil is good. It's certainly not on our list of critter habitats."

Normandeau said Fish and Game is protective of native water plants as they provide a habitat that certain ecosystems depend on. With managed eradication of variable milfoil, native plant species can grow in those areas.

"The goal in the long run is to revert things to a more native state, which is ultimately where we want to be," Normandeau said.

Normandeau said he would be pleased to speak to any lake association and organization in the state to discuss issues. Jensen said he would be glad to have such a meeting.

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Varney Smith
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