Milfoil Flares Up In Ossipee Lake, Divers Going Back In

Ossipee — August 1, 2005 — Officials have identified a resurgence of milfoil in Phillips Brook, about a month after divers stripped truckloads of the invasive weed by hand from Ossipee Lake. Divers say they always expect some grow-back of the spindly weed, known for clogging lakes and overwhelming aquatic habitats.

This year in the Phillips Brook inlet of the big lake, about 20 percent of the June harvest has reemerged, according to milfoil diver, Cliff Cabral. Cabral’s crew will drop back into the murky brook as soon as next week and clean out the new infestation.

“We’ve had some grow-back in there, probably about 20 percent,” Cabral told selectmen Monday, July 25. “We’ll get back in the brook and pull what’s grown back.”

“We expect to have some re-growth here. This a management program,” he said. “Even with the harsh chemicals, you’re still going to have re-growth.”

But of more concern to local environmentalists is the appearance of fragments of older, longer weeds washing up on shore at private beaches. Cabral and others date these particular pieces of the dreaded plant earlier than the crop divers took up in June, and local environmentalists don’t know where they came from.

“It’s kind of concerning,” said June D’Andrea, a lake resident who has been instrumental in ramping up milfoil prevention on the town’s largest water body. “I found a couple of pieces over on my beach this past week,” she said on Thursday. “Two different days and they were like four feet long.”

She said the rootless plants looked like they had been torn up by boat propellers, and probably didn’t come from shallow Phillips Brook and Leavitt Bay where divers worked in June. “They looked like boat chop,” she said.

Milfoil is particularly feared by environmentalists in that a single strand brought into a lake on a boat propeller can trigger a full-blown infestation. Selectmen have heard similar reports of broken leaves on other backyard beaches.

“He felt some of the milfoil pieces broke off and floated towards his house,” Selectman Harry Merrow said, relating the report of one beach owner after divers plucked up plants in June.

D’Andrea said divers couldn’t help but let a few plants slip from their nets on what she said was a day of terrible water clarity.

“The pollen was like two inches thick, you couldn’t see anything” she said. “I was out there in a kayak trying to get what I could.”

It was unavoidable, and the small pieces are not a major concern, she said. While a few may have gotten loose, she said, divers’ work this year is an improvement over last, when instead of a hand harvest, chemical shock treatments were used by the state, and failed miserably, according to selectmen and others.

“We picked up a few fragments when we harvested,” she said. “Last year we found lots.” But the older plants coming in from an unknown origin she finds “kind of alarming.”

“These plants are not from Phillips Brook,” she said. “These plants are larger, they’ve got this thick, thick stem.”

At the selectmen’s request, Cabral will monitor the lake site for further grow-back, and report back to selectmen later this year. “I’d like to know if it’s holding or of it’s coming back,” Merrow said.

Invasive species of non-native plants, like the spindly milfoil — which can take root from only a torn bit of leaf and bloom to clog a lake — have sent environmental officials scrambling to stop them, as infestations threaten to jump from lake to lake on boat propellers and water currents.

Cabral’s submersion in Phillips Brook in June splashed off a progressive state pilot study, pitting the effectiveness of human divers against herbicides, in the fight to halt the alien weed’s march across state waters.

New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services for the first time matched town funds, including $5,000 from Ossipee this year, to manually reap the weed and track its rate of re-growth. The state last year would pay only for chemicals that apparently left nests of rotting leaves but couldn’t kill the plants’ roots in Ossipee Lake, according to selectmen and area environmentalists.

Roots apparently survived and the infestation surged back with a vengeance, Merrow said. The weed impacts about 50 lakes in New Hampshire, officials say. The area around Ossipee Lake, with its heavy residential well use, is unsuitable for more powerful chemicals like those used to shock milfoil to death on Winnipesaukee, selectmen and environmentalists said.

D’Andrea urged locals sighting milfoil to call her directly at 539-1643.

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