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Enforcing the rules on the Ossipee Lake Natural Area

State protects rare plants in designated area

August 12, 2010
OSSIPEE — For decades, Ossipee Lake's white sandy beaches have been a place where people frolic in the sun. However, the same shoreline is also home to a number of rare plants and plant communities that the state is now actively protecting.

For the last two years, the state has implemented new rules to protect those plants on its property called the Ossipee Lake Natural Area (OLNA) located along the southeast corner of the lake. It occupies 400-acres east and west of Pine River. The OLNA is about 80 percent poor level fen/bog, which is rare. The shoreline has "four rare and imperiled natural communities" two of which are globally rare. Two species have already disappeared. Natural communities are defined as "recurring assemblages of plants and animals found in particular physical environments."

"We noticed the plants were disappearing and by law we're mandated to make sure they don't," said Don Kent of The Department of Resources and Economic Development.

The most rare natural feature at the OLNA is the Hudsonia Inland Strand plant community, which only exists on the upper shore of Ossipee Lake in berms of windblown sand. Plant species that make up this community include Harry Hudsonia, golden heather, and switch grass.

"If the community disappears you will never see this combination of plants again anywhere," said Kent.

The Harry Hudsonia, which somewhat resembles a mini pine forest, is considered to be rare in the state. It's extremely vulnerable to extinction from trampling.

The Grassleaf Golden Rod is a much more attractive species that calls the OLNA home. Unfortunately, it's also rare in the state. This plant has a long green stem with numerous leaves topped with a little yellow flower.

Different plant communities exist on different areas of the shore, which is cut into four strata: shallow water, lower shore, mid shore, and upper shore. The grassleaf goldenrod inhabits the lower shore with three other species in its community.

At first, the various stakeholders on the lake were at odds with each other over what to do about the plants. Many were used to unrestricted access to the beach. The state purchased the land in 1969 but hadn't done much to manage it until recently.

"People want to sit on the beach and play on the sand," said Dennis Gould of the Totem Pole Park Association. "It's a great place to socialize and you get to know boaters from all the different associations."

In fact, two sunbathers were lying on the beach with their dog when Gould led a tour of the area on Aug. 5. The sunbathers had their canoe hauled up on shore. Nearby, a family was landing their motorboat.

Gould credits Kent with getting all the different groups to sit down and come together to save the plants. Those interest groups include various lake associations, boaters, marina owners, and environmentalists.

But Kent said the solution was "fairly obvious" when all the groups came to the table. Now, many of the stakeholders have bought into the state's plan and are engaged in helping with the preservation effort.

That solution included fencing and limiting access to the most sensitive areas in the OLNA from April 1 to Nov. 30. Large white signs indicate where people can and can't go. But it also included creating a 1,000-foot designated public area where people can still come ashore. Dogs are welcome in the public area too, however they have to be on a leash. Canoes and kayaks may land on the public access area but motorboats have to anchor offshore, afloat. A list of all the rules can be found in a pamphlet from DRED. Most people have been happy to abide by the rules once informed of them, said Gould.

However, there have been some infractions this year. As of last week, the Marine Patrol and forest rangers have issued approximately 25 citations for trespassing. The amount of the fine is set by an Ossipee District Court Judge on a case-by-case basis. The maximum penalty is a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

Last year, the emphasis was on education and now it's on enforcement, said the men.

There are several reasons why the state preserves plants, said Kent. The first is the plants play a role in the lake's ecosystem. It's very difficult to predict what impact their disappearance would have on the rest of the lake, said Kent. Maintaining biodiversity is important because one never knows what plant may hold the key to solving man's ills such as cancer.

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