Ossipee — September 9, 2004 — When June D’Andrea goes down to the dock at her home on Ossipee Lake’s Leavitt Bay, she pauses before she gets into her boat to scoop up handfuls of milfoil that dot the shore, hoping to snag a few of the weeds before they can take root. She does this almost casually, and notes that pieces of the plant wash up on her shore all the time.
Variable milfoil is an exotic plant that has been invading bodies of water in New England (as well as elsewhere in the country). It likes shallow, sunlit places, and can grow up to 24 feet long.
“They look like green feather boas under the water,” said D’Andrea, who coordinates the Weed Watchers program on Ossipee Lake.
The state Department of Environmental Services has developed the Weed Watchers program to help people look for variable milfoil and other exotic plant species on New Hampshire’s bodies of water. Variable milfoil is the only exotic plant that has been found on Ossipee Lake.
With no natural enemies in this region, once the plant takes root in a body of water it can take over, pushing out native plants and animals, and making swimming and boating nearly impossible.
That is what is happening on Phillips Brook, near where D’Andrea lives. There, the living feather boas seem to have covered entire sections of the river. People with homes along the channel cannot easily move their motorboats in and out from their own docks without chopping up bits of the plant with their propellers.
On a visit around the neighborhood last week, D’Andrea chatted with residents about what can be done to remove the weed, and she picked up news of a sighting in another part of the lake, one where so far none has been found.
Over the past few months D’Andrea has become an expert on variable milfoil. She can distinguish it from the milfoil and bladderwort species that are native to the area. She knows where milfoil has been found on Ossipee Lake, and she can tell her neighbors how they can help stop its spread.
Ossipee Lake Alliance brought the Weed Watchers program to the lake at the beginning of the summer, with an informational meeting to tell people about the problem and look for volunteers to help find the milfoil.
“That was our first indication there was a broader awareness,” said David Smith, of Ossipee Lake Alliance.
Smith said D’Andrea, has been instrumental in getting the Weed Watcher’s program running. “She’s so energized and motivated,” he said. “I really think she represents the best in the concept of volunteerism.”
About a half dozen dedicated volunteers who check sections of the lake for milfoil came out of that program. But D’Andrea said more are needed to cover the whole lake. Volunteers should be able to check a specific section of the lake once a month and call in their findings to D’Andrea. With enough volunteers checking the area, the work would not take too much of any one person’s time.
Another thing D’Andrea said needs to be done is to make sure the many private associations, campgrounds, summer camps, marinas and the more than 25 boat ramps on the lake are involved in the program. “Unless we reach those, we’re never going to get our arms around true prevention,” D’Andrea said.
She talks to associations on the lake and answers calls from people who think they’ve found it. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes not.
People have called from Cassie Cove, she said, and she has gone to check out the plant there. “It’s native. It’s fine,” she said.
The plant was first noticed in the Broad Bay region of the lake about 10 years ago. It has also been found on Upper and Lower Danforth Ponds and in the river between Danforth and Broad Bay, and is spreading north up a brook toward Huckins Pond, as well as being found on Phillips Brook. From the brook, it is making its way into Leavitt Bay.
But D’Andrea said it is impossible to know for certain where the infestation started, and the important thing at this point is for people who live on the lake to work together to bring it under control.
One of the most surprising locations where the plant has been found is Ossipee River, just downstream from the dam. That area is small enough that it may be possible to cover the plant with Benthic mats and smother it.
As yet, the plant has not been found on the big lake, or in The Channel between Leavitt and Broad Bays.
“We’ve looked pretty carefully on the big lake and on Pine River. There are a lot of weeds up there, but not variable milfoil,” Smith said.
One problem with milfoil is that it has proven nearly impossible to eradicate. So, once it is established, efforts focus on controlling its spread and trying to minimize its presence. Various methods of control have been tried over the years, including chemical treatments, pulling the weed by hand, covering it with mats, and drawing down the lake.
In Phillips Brook, a chemical application was tried last year. It was hoped the treatment would keep the plant out of that section of the lake for one to three years.
D’Andrea said, “Four weeks later it was back in full bloom.” In Danforth, which was treated two years ago, residents have also seen the plant return. “People who live there look at it regularly. They were quite surprised when this year it suddenly expanded,” she said.
“It was just amazing to me it had gotten so out of hand before people knew what it is,” she said.
D’Andrea believes pulling up the plant by hand is the most effective method. But to do that properly requires training. The best way to hand pull is by diving with scuba gear. That gives the diver time on the bottom to carefully loosen the soil around the roots and completely pull them out. “It’s a delicate process,” she said, but a critical one.
When professional divers come in to work on a section of lake, they bring nets as well to prevent pieces of the plant from floating away. Weed Watchers and Ossipee Lake Alliance are looking at having professional divers come and work on the lake.
Meanwhile, D’Andrea and other volunteers are doing what they can to identify new locations and remove the plant safely. She is also happy to talk to people who want to try to clear out patches of the plant in front of their homes. Again the important thing is to pull up all of the roots and to make sure to collect all the pieces.
Like the legendary hydra, chopping off the head of this plant only makes things worse. Two tendrils will sprout from a section that had only one. And even the tiniest bits that don’t get pulled out of the water can float away and take root again and grow, starting a patch in a new location. Spreading seems to be what the plant does best.
Anyone interested in volunteering or learning more about milfoil or the Weed Watchers program can contact June D’Andrea at 539-1643.
Unfriendly Feather Boas
Carroll County Independent Editorial
It is amazing to see a section of lake where variable milfoil has taken over. The long green frilly exotic plant can seem beautiful in small clumps swaying under the surface of a pond, lake or stream. June D’Andrea’s description of them as green feather boas (see story page 1) is an apt one, and makes it easy to picture them. But there is something of an implication of softness that belies the real effect these plants have on natural ecosystems and human recreation on our states lakes.
Take over is just what milfoil does, and just what you can see when you look in an area like Phillips Brook, Danforth Ponds and Back Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee. It leaves little room for native plants, and chokes off oxygen for fish. Swimmers can get tangled in the lines of the plant that can grow up to 24 feet in length, and boat propellers can get caught by the thick masses.
Most people on Ossipee Lake have responded positively to increased efforts at education and at spotting the plant to stop it before it takes hold in new locations. But the Weed Watchers program still needs help. If you are interested in learning to spot for milfoil on a small section of the lake, contact June D’Andrea at 539-1643.
Ossipee Lake’s milfoil problems also put efforts to protect Silver Lake in Madison, where no milfoil has yet been found, into perspective. The best possible answer to this problem is prevention. Money that would to support more inspection and boater education on the lake would be money well spent.