HARTLAND, Maine — Rather than wait for an infestation of milfoil or any other invasive water weed, members of the Great Moose Lake Association have decided to opt for an ounce of prevention, hoping to avoid a pound of cure.
Using membership dues and funds gathered by selling GMLA hats and sweatshirts, the group has hired a couple of experts who literally immersed themselves in their work Wednesday.
Slipping beneath the lake’s waves, underwater diver Jackey Bailey did a careful inch by inch survey of the weed population around the public boat launch. On the surface, Roberta Hill searched the shoreline using viewfinders that allowed her to see beneath the waterline. Both work for Lake and Watershed Resource Management Associates of Turner.
“This is a level one survey,” Hill explained, just before getting into her kayak. “Level one is the highest risk, simply because of the increased traffic here at the boat launch.” Before noon Wednesday, the launch was already filled with boat trailers from both in- and out-of-state boaters.
Across the country, milfoil and invasives have clogged and threatened many lakes.
“In Connecticut, almost every lake has been invaded already,” Hill said. “The threat here won’t go away as long as people move their boats from state to state. In Maine, we have 6,000 lakes and ponds in the public domain and we have 29 known infestations,” she said.
If milfoil and other invasives are caught early enough, lakes can be cleared, Hill said. Volunteers recently discovered a tiny fragment of milfoil in Salmon Lake in Belgrade, a fragment that was discovered because the volunteers had an inspection system in place.
“They had courtesy boat inspections and were set up for proper prevention and early detection,” Hill said. Because of the early detection, it is believed that the milfoil infestation has been cleared, Hill said, adding “The Great Moose Lake Association is also being proactive.”
Last year, a similar inspection revealed a clean lake, Hill said. On Wednesday, when about half of the inspection was completed — the pair were viewing 1,000 feet to the right and left of the launch — no invasive species had been found.
Gliding in her kayak, Hill said that although visibility was low in the lake, she could still see that other species — “good native plants” — such as slender niad, were thriving.
If an invasive weed had been found, Hill said it would have been sent out for DNA testing. “We can only be 100 percent sure of identification if the plant is flowering,” she explained.
If the DNA confirms milfoil, the state has a rapid response plan. There will be immediate surveys of the water, a Department of Environmental Protection dive team will be dispatched within seven days and the invasive will be removed. Weekly monitoring then continues until no more invasives are found.
B.J. Frosch, GMLA president, and Steve Seekins, vice president, watched the testing closely.
“Most of the families that live here have been here for generations,” Frosch said. “This isn’t a lake you just drive by and decide you want to visit.” It is tucked between four towns — Athens, Hartland, Harmony and St. Albans, with no main roads passing by. Frosch’s family has owned her lakeside property for 100 years. Seekins’ family bought their home in 1903.
Frosch said GMLA has 108 memberships and most members’ first priority is keeping Great Moose Lake healthy. “We have held workshops and trainings for volunteers to help identify invasive species,” Frosch said. “We learned how to check boats and educate the public.” These “weed watchers” volunteer at the boat launch and make frequent checks of the weeds in front of their camps and homes.
Training sessions have also been held with town officials from the other three towns that border the lake.
Seekins said that along with invasive weeds, the GMLA is concerned about the phosphorus levels in the lake, which are high.
“At our present phosphorus levels, in the summer, there is no oxygen below 20 feet. Fish cannot live below that level,” he said. With a phosphorus load of 15 to 17 parts per billion, most lakes will have an algae bloom.
“We’re in the neighborhood of 13 ppb,” Seekins said.
The GMLA monitors the pollution levels closely, he said, doing phosphorus readings twice a month. There is also an active erosion committee that has worked closely with town officials on three projects.
Hill and Bailey said the early protection that GMLA is sponsoring is vital to the lake’s future. “The health of the native aquatic plants is also vital,” Hill said. The native species stabilize the shoreline, provide a buffer between land and water, create a very important habitat and produce oxygen. “It is the base of the entire food web of the lake and act as placeholders to make it harder for invasive species to take root,” Hill said.
“That is why it is so important to find invasive species early and why it is so urgent that people come on board,” Hill added.