[Editor’s Note: In addition to the NH Union Leader, this guest editorial was also published by other state newspapers this week]
New Hampshire is a beautiful state. Our lakes, rivers, mountains, and beaches serve as wonderful reasons to live and visit the Granite State. We are home to 950 lakes and thousands of miles of rivers and streams – all which play a major role in producing hundreds of millions of dollars of tourism revenue. What would happen if some of our precious natural resources were compromised?
Over the past few years, a group of fellow concerned citizens and I realized we needed to be more proactive in our fight to keep our natural resources clean. We formed a group called Fair Funding for Invasives Control (FFIC). FFIC is dedicated to supporting efforts to protect New Hampshire’s water bodies from invasive species. We promote community awareness and are working to help create a stable source of funding to pay for invasives control through legislation such as House Bill 292. HB 292 increases the fee on boat registrations by $2 for the specific purpose of controlling invasive weeds.
What are invasive species and why are they harmful to our lakes and rivers? One of the most widespread aquatic invasive species is variable milfoil. Milfoil is a weed that is easily spread, grows quickly, and is difficult to kill. 70 of New Hampshire’s water bodies are infested with milfoil – from large lakes like Winnipesaukee to small water bodies such as Cobbetts Pond. Activities such as swimming, boating, and kayaking become impossible when a lake is overgrown with milfoil.
People enjoy our clean lakes, rivers, and ponds. A 2007 study by UNH and Antioch College estimated that $379 million dollars is generated annually in New Hampshire from swimming, fishing, and boating. The study determined that if the quality of our lakes and rivers deteriorated because of invasive species, New Hampshire would lose $51 million in tourism sales and $18 million in direct state revenue per year. That would be a big hit to the State.
To combat milfoil, efforts to prevent the weed from spreading are well-managed and coordinated throughout the state. However, once milfoil is found in a lake, we must act to control the weed before it effects water quality. Controlling milfoil is expensive. Through a combination of divers who hand-pull the weed, DASH boats that work to suction the plant with machinery, and environmentally-friendly treatments that control milfoil, we can protect our lakes. But these activities come at a cost.
It’s estimated that controlling milfoil may cost up to $1.3 million per year. Currently, the majority of this treatment is funded through local municipalities and private individuals and businesses. Towns like Moultonboro allocate $200,000 each year at their town meeting solely for the control of milfoil. This money is funded by taxpayers. Most of us strongly support the fact that a small portion of our taxes goes to combat milfoil and preserve our lakes for generations to come.
The State of NH owns the water bodies. However the share of funding for control activities that comes from the State is low – about 18 percent. The Department of Environmental Services is a key partner in control, but we need more state funding for this effort. FFIC believes HB 292 is a step in the right direction and many boaters and lake advocacy groups support it. In fact, over 88% of those who responded to a survey on controlling milfoil supported an increase in the boat registration fee if it were dedicated to invasive control.
HB 292 does just this. It increases the NH boat registration fee by $2 and allocates that money to the Department of Environmental Services for aquatic invasive species control. It has received strong support in the NH House and is now before the Senate.
Each year in New Hampshire, close to 100,000 boats are registered. Thus, the $2 fee increase would bring in approximately $200,000 more to the milfoil control fund. That’s $200,000 to avoid a potential loss of $18 million per year in tourism revenues for the state coffers. Property owners, boaters, and lake enthusiasts think it’s well worth it – we are now hoping the NH legislature makes it happen.
Bob Reynolds, President
Fair Funding for Invasives Control, Inc.
Executive Director, Ossipee Lake Alliance