Musing about Maine's Milfoil Summit
The annual Milfoil Summit is always engaging and sometimes entertaining, with a mix of speakers and an audience that is passionate about protecting our lakes from invasive plants.
Organized by the Lakes Environmental Association in Bridgton, this year’s summit included a very compelling video produced by LEA’s Roberta Scruggs about current plant removal efforts in Maine waters.You can see this video and get lots more information on this issue – and how you can help address the problem of invasive plants – at LEA’s website.
LEA’s President, Peter Lowell, provided an interesting overview of the history of these summits, which began 13 years ago. Maine’s vigorous effort to keep invasive plants out of our waters is impressive, fueled by a mandatory boat sticker and maintained by thousands of volunteers who staff boat launches and check watercraft for hijacking plants.
But Lowell didn’t sidestep the problem of insufficient funding for this effort, jumping into the deep water by contending, “I believe the sticker for passive watercraft is what we need.”
He was referring to a proposal to extend the requirement that milfoil stickers be purchased for motorized coats to all watercraft including canoes and kayaks. A similar proposal won little support when it was introduced a few years ago at the legislature, but Lowell said he thinks the political support is there now for this extension of the fee. For the record, and to prevent an avalanche of invasive angry notes in Lowell’s mail, I’ll let you know he’s wrong.
Lowell reported that he’d recently seen a boat launching program at Lake Tahoe which required a $75 inspection before launching and a mandatory wash. “This is the Cadillac of boat inspections,” he said. “It’s time to look at this and other options if invasives explode in Maine waters, so we’re ready if this is needed."
Patty Aho, Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, was the keynote speaker, and as is typical of Patty, gave an upbeat and informative report on her agency’s work on invasive plants. She singled out John McPhedran, the DEP’s lead on invasive plant issues, for praise – very deserved, in my opinion.
“We believe prevention is the priority,” said Aho, citing 76,000 inspections by courtesy boat inspectors in 2011, an increase of 3,000 over 2010. Those inspections resulted in 287 “saves” according to Aho, instances in which invasive plants were discovered before watercraft were launched.
Aho declared 2012 to be “the year of self-inspection,” the focus on a public campaign urging all watercraft owners to carefully inspect their boats both prior to launching and immediately following the craft’s removal from the water. Aho said less than 20 percent of Maine boaters do this now. “I’ve committed to inspecting my own canoe and paddles,” she announced, “and will keep doing it.”
I’ve been intimately involved in the creation of the DEP program, and the ongoing fight over funding. Currently 60 percent of the money from the “milfoil sticker” that must be purchased for every motorized boat goes to the DEP for its excellent program of education, prevention, and eradication. But 40 percent goes to the Maine Warden Service, for law enforcement.
I have maintained for years that law enforcement is not an effective means of stopping the spread or invasive plants – and that all the money should be going to the DEP. Many agree with me. We learned at the summit that game wardens issued 182 summonses to boats that didn’t have a milfoil sticker – but apparently no summonses were issued for illegal transportation of plants.
The total DEP invasive plant program budget for 2012 is $754,605. It was disappointing to learn that the program lost $35,000 last year when the legislature swept that account and used the dedicated money for other state expenditures.
Taking advantage of Aho’s willingness to accept questions after she finished speaking at the Milfoil Summit, I asked her if she would be willing to open a discussion with DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock and Governor Paul LePage about moving the Warden Service’s money to the DEP.
As expected, she dodged the question while saying, “Those conversations would be interesting!” That got a good laugh from all of us. Interesting indeed!
McPhedran distributed and presented an excellent new 2012 State of Maine Courtesy Boat Inspector Handbook, complete with color photos of the worst invasives, including mussels and fish as well as algae and plants.
Bobby VanRiper, a Regional Fisheries Biologist for Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, participated on a panel discussion at the Summit to talk about invasive fish. His presentation was good, but brief - sort of like the state's reaction to the epidemic of invasive fish spread throughout the state.