Three Bills Would Help Fight Milfoil Infestation

Concord — March 1, 2006 — The House will vote Mar. 7 on three bills to control milfoil and other invasive lake weeds in a war the tourist industry hopes to win. Sixty-seven lakes already cede control of large sectors to milfoil, and the menace appears as far north as the Connecticut lakes, although it is still rare north of Lake Ossipee.

HB 1407, co-sponsored by Rep. David Russell (R-Gilmanton Iron Works), makes permanent the exotic weeds prevention program and the temporary $3 hike in boat registration fees to pay for it. HB 1317, co-sponsored by Russell, Rep. Mike Whalley (R-Alton) and Rep. Janet Allen (R-Center Barnstead), authorizes Environmental Services to use herbicides to kill off unwelcome growth in ponds and lakes. HB 1701 increases the boat registration fee from $5 to $9 for the same environmental campaign. The bills left committee with endorsements of 15-1, 17-0 and 13-1 respectively, reflecting the importance of saving the state’s pristine fresh water while there is time.

Jody Connor, chief biologist for Environmental Services, is responsible for protecting 950 lakes and ponds. He said several hundred volunteers watched lakes last year and intercepted 20 boats with milfoil on their hulls, trailers or props. All the donated labor would have cost the state millions if it had paid those people.

“We used to think once the plants were in there, they were always in there,” Connor told the governor and executive councilors last week.

Councilor Ray Wieczorek (R-Manchester) expressed the conventional wisdom. The plant keeps growing and growing like bamboo. But Connor pointed to a breakthrough on Lake Suncook in Barnstead. It was 40 percent choked with milfoil in the fall of 2003. Previous herbicide treatments had killed the leaves, but the roots and stalks survived.

In 2004 a team of UNH researchers and volunteers used a mix of herbicides, including the chemical 2,4-D, which penetrates the whole plant and kills it to the roots. Environmentalists cleared the dead milfoil from dozens of acres, pulling it out by hand and with underwater suction dredges. The whole pilot project cost $150,000.

Rep. Alida Millham (R-Gilford) said the lakes and waters of the state are the lifeline of the tourist economy.

“We can’t ignore the threat,” she said. “I’m on the board of the New Hampshire Lakes Association, and they administer the grants to recruit volunteers to monitor boat launches. They educate people hauling boats in and out. It’s working.”

Senator Carl Johnson (R-Meredith) chairs the Environmental and Wildlife Committee and said new approaches to milfoil show the invasion could be reversible. He’s pleased with evidence milfoil has been eradicated on Suncook Lake in Barnstead after a multi-year effort.

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