AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has a message for boaters this summer: If you love your lake, check your boat.
To bolster its ongoing efforts to proactively protect Maine’s lakes from infestations of the invasive aquatic plants like milfoil and hydrilla that are now present in 23 of the state’s lake systems, DEP has proclaimed 2012 “The Year of the Boater Self-Inspection” and is urging the owners of both motorized and people-powered boats to inspect their vessels and related equipment both before and after they float, according to a DEP press release.
DEP estimates that less than 20 percent of boaters take the three minutes needed to conduct a self-inspection, which should include reviewing and removing any plants from the anchor, lines, live well, bilge, motor prop, all fishing gear and the trailer and its parts where plants could be caught including the hitch, trailer axle and license plate.
This quick but crucial check can save countless hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars in plant management alone and has a huge payoff in the preservation of Maine’s waters and the native species, recreational opportunities, property values, businesses and communities that rely on their health.
According to the Maine Congress of Lake Associations the state’s lakes are a $3.5 billion dollar economic engine annually that sustain 52,000 jobs, generate substantial tax revenues for towns from shoreland properties and provide drinking water for half of all Mainers.
Maine has been a national leader in the protection of the state’s waterways from invasive aquatic plants thanks to its prevention practices, which are the priority in DEP’s three-pronged protection approach that also includes early detection and plant control. The majority of the funding to support this work comes from the sales of the Lakes and River Protection Sticker, which has been a mandatory purchase as part of Maine’s inland motorized boat registration for both residents and non-residents since 2002.
The most effective prevention effort continues to be the Courtesy Boat Inspection Program, through which DEP contracts with the Lakes Environmental Association and Maine COLA to train volunteers and organize a statewide inspection program.
In 2011, these trained inspectors conducted a record-high 76,105 inspections for a combined 40,000 hours of service, making 287 saves that stopped the spread mostly of variable leaf milfoil plant fragments with catches on boats entering or leaving lakes and ponds like Thompson, Messalonskee and Sebago Lakes.
But these invaluable inspectors are on the shores of just a fraction of Maine’s 6,000 lakes and ponds and can’t carry all the water in the fight against invasive aquatic plants.
“All of us greatly value our lakes, and as a result, all of us must be engaged in these proven prevention efforts,” said Maine DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho. “Boater self-inspection is the single most effective and cost-efficient approach and it is also the most sustainable because it puts the responsibility in the hands of the many and not just the few. I urge all boaters to commit to inspecting their boat as part of their launching and loading routines. If you love your lake, check your boat.”
Two surface use restrictions in place this summer temporarily banning boats on Great Meadow Stream and a portion of Great Pond in the Belgrade Lakes Region to enable effective control efforts of a variable leaf milfoil infestation on the popular waterway and on Davis Stream in Jefferson to stop the spread of hydrilla into Damariscotta Lake are a reminder of the importance of prevention.