By Charmaine Daniels
The Maine Milfoil Consortium, which includes Saint Joseph's College, recently received $500,000 in federal funds to fight an invasive aquatic plant that has infested 26 Maine lakes, including one cove of Sebago Lake. The group, which came together two years ago to address variable-leaf milfoil's threat to Maine lakes, will use the money to control the plant in seven "test bed" lakes that pose high risk of spread to other waters.
Variable-leaf milfoil was introduced to the state by visiting boaters. The plant can destabilize the fundamental ecology of lakes vital to recreational boaters, homeowners, businesses and tourists. (The state's 6,000 lakes generate $3.5 billion in direct and indirect spending in Maine each year.) The Maine Milfoil Consortium wants to proactively contain the milfoil threat before it escalates to attack the thousands of other lakes in the state, as it has in neighboring New Hampshire and Vermont.
Divers are shown removing variable-leaf milfoil by hand and placing it in suction hoses attached to a boat. The stems can grow as thick as crayons, and the populations can get so dense that it is almost impossible to get through in a canoe. In optimal conditions, the plant can grow an inch a day. Photos courtesy of Lakes Environmental Association, Carol Doucette & Jacolyn Bailey.
The funds will support a public-private partnership among Saint Joseph's, Little Sebago Lake Association, Maine Congress of Lakes Associations, Lakes Environmental Association, and the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program. Elizabeth Schran of the institutional advancement office is the college's representative to the Milfoil Consortium.
The Consortium's mission is to focus on prevention, research, management, mitigation and eradication of milfoil through the application of "best practices."
Such practices may include suction harvesting, mats to suffocate its growth and hand harvesting, says Jacolyn Bailey, the project coordinator. "What is the best practice in one lake isn't necessarily the best practice in another lake. This grant will allow us to discover which approaches work in which aquatic conditions."
Bailey is a doctoral student working with Dr. Aram J.K. Calhoun at the University of Maine at Orono, one of a small group of scientists that is studying the invasive plant in Maine.
President Joe Lee met with Sen. Susan Collins and community members at Little Sebago Lake in the summer of 2008.
Five varieties of water milfoils are native to Maine and are part of the natural lake ecosystem, but non-native variable-leaf milfoil threatens the quality of Maine fresh waters. Dense growth of variable-leaf milfoil degrades the native habitat of fish and other wildlife, and may also provide breeding areas for mosquitoes. It disperses when plant fragments are moved around by people, animals and water currents.
A portion of the $500,000 appropriation through the Interior and Related Agencies bill passed by Congress will fund Bailey's position, as well as equipment for the college's environmental science labs, and a summer internship for a Saint Joseph's student. The largest part of the funds will be awarded competitively to lake associations in Maine that represent lakes infested with variable-leaf milfoil and have robust citizen action to mitigate the spread of milfoil. In addition, matching funds will be raised for public education campaigns, scientific study of milfoil, and the dissemination of "best practices" to all lake associations statewide.
Saint Joseph's will administer the federal grant and provide a home to the consortium, convene workshops, bring in speakers, and integrate field studies on milfoil into its science programs.
The proposal for these funds was presented to and supported by Gov. John Baldacci, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, and U.S. Representatives Michael Michaud and Chellie Pingree. Sen. Collins, who is the co-author of the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act and a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, took the lead and was instrumental in gaining support for the project.
"Maine's lakes and ponds are invaluable to our economy and environment," said Sen. Collins. "It is critical that we work to stop the spread of invasive species in Maine and throughout the nation. I am proud of the dedicated efforts of the Maine Milfoil Consortium ...and I am proud to have successfully secured this important federal funding," she added.
Environmental science major Chris Pinto '12 of Georgetown, Mass., gets ready to remove invasive milfoil on Thompson Lake as part of the college's involvement with the Maine Milfoil Consortium.
Summer interns Sonja Kakuca '11 and Chris Pinto '12 sample non-invasive plants and track insect populations in Thompson Lake as part of the Maine Milfoil Consortium research project on establishing best practices to combat invasive milfoil in Maine lakes.