ELLSWORTH — That water-loving plants are capable of traveling over land is well documented. Wrapped around a propeller blade, stuck on a keel or just dangling from the bowsprit, aquatic plants can lake hop across counties and even states. This is not a problem for the plants that should be there, otherwise known as native plants. It is the non-native, invasive aquatic species that can disrupt the delicate balance of an ecosystem causing effects that ripple through lakes like, well, ripples in a lake.
To help with the effort to keep local lakes free of invasive aquatic species, Hancock County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is using a $6,000 grant from the Onion Foundation, a Maine nonprofit focused on the environment and the arts, to pay for courtesy boat inspections — and hoping boaters will do it themselves if an “inspector” is not on duty.
“We needed to start small, so we invented a roving courtesy boat inspector that would go between the lakes,” said Mark Whiting, chairman of the SWCD.
The grant will cover a floating inspector on weekends with a goal of intercepting invasive species before they hit the water. Whiting said the program is meant to work hand-in-hand with patrols for invasive plants already established in lakes.
“The two are meant to be done together,” he said. “These are programs that have been mainly developed with the lake associations in mind. It takes an organization with some capacity to pull these off.”
While the Hancock County SWCD mainly depends on volunteers, the courtesy boat inspector will be paid because it is difficult to find enough volunteers, Whiting noted. “It’s kind of boring. You’re out there all day on the weekend instead of having fun or vacationing.”
Lake associations for Hancock County lakes are relatively few, creating “a problem that needs a solution,” he said, and not all lakes have public landings.
While Green Lake and Branch Lake both have strong lake associations, many lakes — especially in Washington County — are mostly surrounded by public land with a sprinkling of rustic camps. Such lakes may not have a group specifically dedicated to protecting the lake and property owners’ interests.
Some invasive plant varieties can be difficult to tease out from their native counterparts. For example, milfoil weed has a native variety and an invasive one, Whiting said, and invasive milfoil has infested Big Lake in Washington County.
While training in identifying invasive plant species is available through the Lake Stewards of Maine and The Department of Environmental Protection, the new courtesy boat inspector does not have to be a botanist. Whiting said, “We can train people to identify potential problems, take samples and pass it on to an experienced inspector.”