Leafy invaders are a real threat

Much of Maine’s summer economy is based on the respite and enjoyment offered by the lakes, ponds and streams away from our rocky coastline. These water bodies face a mounting threat.

Milfoil, submerged aquatic plants found in freshwater bodies, is natural to much of Maine. Yet two invasive subspecies — variable leaf and Eurasian watermilfoil — are attacking fresh water lakes and ponds all over New England. Vermont has numerous lakes choked by these aquatic plants. These quick spreading foreigners eliminate other plant species, kill off established fish breeds and lower lakefront property values as swimming, boating and fishing access is curtailed. New Hampshire has more than 70 infected lakes.

By comparison, Maine has “only” 27 bodies of water affected by invasive watermilfoils. Two of the largest invasive incidences are Annabessacook and Messalonskee lakes, both in central Maine. Local watershed associations, plus a revitalized Maine Department of Environmental Protection, have worked to largely remove Eurasian milfoil from Messalonskee, helped by a pesticide application in 2010. Yet vigilance is necessary to prevent and curtail the proliferation of this lake-altering plant.

Key to the success of stopping milfoil expansion is education for boaters, which is promoted by the volunteers, lake stewards and activists working with Maine’s Invasive Species Program. These dedicated, unsung heroes are a major factor in why only 27 water bodies have been negatively impacted in Maine. Indeed, Invasive Plant Patrol volunteers have helped Hancock County lakes and ponds remain clear of this scourge.

With our summer season in full swing, we see more and more visitors bringing kayaks and boats into our pristine waters. It is key that all visitors thoroughly inspect and remove plant growth from their boats, trailers, propellers and other gear so that our lakes remain the clear bodies of water that we enjoy year-round. With evidence that invasive watermilfoils are carried to our waters from contaminated bodies of water in other states, visitors and residents should each do their part to spare us from an infestation that could permanently alter our scenic waters.

To help, to thank a volunteer, or to learn more, contact the local lakes steward program by calling 783-7733 or emailing them at, www.lakestewardsofmaine.org.

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