Maine DEP Commissioner Darryl Brown's Remarks at 2011 Milfoil Summit

April 15, 2011

CONTACT:
Samantha DePoy-Warren, Maine DEP Spokesperson samantha.depoy-warren@maine.gov/ 287-5842 (office) or 592-0427 (cell)

Maine Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Darryl Brown Remarks to Lakes Environmental Association 2011 Milfoil Summit

Delivered April 15, 2011 in Lewiston

"We are all united – no matter our political persuasion– on the importance of protecting and preserving the quality of Maine’s majestic lakes and our traditional uses of them.

The first order of business: a THANK YOU!!!

Thank you for…your commitment to and care in protecting Maine’s lakes.

Thank you for…working collaboratively with our department and your local lake associations, so that together we can do as much as humanly possible to protect Maine’s lakes that we all so love.

Thank you for…being a friendly face at boat launches around our state, regardless of the weather or the to-do list that awaits you at home or the blackflies or how nice or not nice people are when you introduce yourself and your cause.

Thank you for…doing all that you have done to ensure that today, we can proudly report that of Maine’s nearly 6,000 lakes, only 33 of them are currently known to be infested with invasive aquatic plants.

This is a huge success story, and one that I hope you all feel pride and ownership in. As you paddle your canoe or cast your line or simply sit by the clear water’s edge on a summer’s night and watch fish jump up and loons dive down, I know you understand how meaningful this milestone is, and I want you to know that those of us in Augusta are also aware and appreciative of this accomplishment. Again, we thank you and remind you that our Northeast neighbors, some of which have upwards of 600 infested waterbodies, look to our state as a leader in this fight.

One of the reasons this accomplishment is so worth celebrating is that invasives aquatic plants are not just an environmental issue:infestations hijack the habitat of native fisheries and wildlife by threatening their food sources, altering their covers, destroying nesting opportunity and degrading water quality; Maine’s lakes are a critical recreation resource and invasives threaten that by reducing the quality of our waterways and the ability to access and enjoy them from fishing to boating and many uses in between; values of lakefront property and local businesses can take a huge hit if a lake becomes infested.

As a result, Maine DEP is committed to working with not just you all here today, but collaborating with our fellow state agencies to protect Maine’s lakes from invasives aquatic plants and to protect our access.

Of Maine’s nearly 6,000 lakes, only 33 of them are infested (just a half a percent) and Maine DEP is committed to doing everything in our power to keep those numbers that low.

As you know, our department’s Invasive Aquatic Species Program began in 2001 and today includes three staff members: John McPhedran, Paul Gregory and Karen Hahnel. Though they are just three, they do the work of 33, and I’d like us to give them our applause as thanks.

John, Paul and Karen are the spark so to speak that has fired up so many of you to be here today and to do the effective work you do with your local lake groups throughout the year. They can’t be stationed at all times on all lakes, so they do whatever they can to support the groups who can.

They speak at your meetings, and in classrooms and conference rooms from Winthrop to Windham and just about every community that has a lake within its boundaries in between and beyond. They provide guidance to many of the groups you belong to as those lake associations and watershed groups developed and implement their own invasives programs. They design informational brochures, they manage our important contracts with the Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program and the Courtesy Boat Inspection Program, they award grants, research, educate, and they put on their scuba suits and work alongside many of you to remove plants from our lakes in the instances when our prevention efforts aren’t enough.

John, Paul and Karen share my belief and that of the entire Maine DEP that the best bang for our buck is prevention and we believe you and the local lakes groups you belong to are the most effective enactors of these proven prevention efforts. As a result, the department has and will continue to under my leadership put the majority of our funding into grants that go to associations like the ones many of you belong to that are actively working in their communities to prevent infestations.

Perhaps our state’s most effective prevention initiative is the Courtesy Boat Inspection Program. Our department continues to contract with the Lakes Environmental Association (LEA) based in Bridgton to train volunteers and organize the inspections. Meanwhile, the Maine Congress of Lake Associations trains volunteers in northern and eastern Maine. The purpose of these voluntary inspections as many of you know is to reduce the spread of invasive aquatic plants by boats, trailers, and associated equipment to Maine waters. Trained Courtesy Boat Inspectors describe to boaters the risk posed by IAP, show boaters how to inspect and remove vegetation from boating and fishing equipment, and answer questions regarding invasive aquatic plants.

A single boat inspector can avert tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in plant management with a careful inspection of a boat, trailer and related equipment. In 2010 alone, these trained inspectors conducted nearly 73,000 inspections at 154 launch sites on 119 waterbodies, an increase of more than 67,000 inspections from when this program was launched ten years ago and an impressive 15,000 inspections more than in 2009.

The 650 plus trained inspectors like you – many of whom are volunteers- logged more than 37,000 hours in 2010 – the equivalent of 18 full-time employees working 40 hours a week for the entire year. And these inspectors are doing far more than finding fragments. You are ambassadors of our state and its waterways, and you are educators who teach boaters from dozens of states about the value of protecting our lakes. The rippleffect created by these interactions is felt far beyond Maine, as many boaters go back to their home states and share the lessons learned here and hopefully tell all the folks back home how friendly Mainers are and how clean our lakes are.

But enough about goodwill- you inspectors are good. Last year, you intercepted more than 2,000 plants, 281 of which were invasive aquatic plants. Imagine the conversations and concerns we’d be having here today had they not been so successful and even one of these invasive plant fragments had gotten into our pristine waters.

At each boat ramp where inspectors are working, there is a success story. One such story is on Lake Arrowhead in the Limerick/Waterboro area which has an average depth of about 6 feet and has a Variable Milfoil infestation. The Lake Arrowhead Conservation Council worked to funnel boats coming in and out of the lake through a public ramp where they could ensure inspections were being carried out as often as possible and that milfoil fragments could be prevented from leaving the infested lake and carried to other water bodies which are not. Nearly 50 percent of boats that were inspected coming out of the lake had plants on them, which were luckily removed. 141 of them in 2010 were Variable leaf milfoil, and these saves on Lake Arrowhead reflect more than half of all saves of invasives in Maine last year.

In addition to the Courtesy Boat Inspection Program, Maine DEP relies on the effectiveness of the Invasive Plant Patrol Program, which is coordinated by the Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program through a contract with our department. With an existing cadre of nearly 2,500 volunteers trained at Invasive Plant Patrollers, these citizen scientists survey boat ramps, inlets, docks and swimming areas and other areas for potential plant invasion and ensuring early detection which in turn allows us to rapidly respond to new infestations. In 2010, hundreds more were trained, and 20 percent of them became certified, bringing the total of certified patrollers to over 400!

In September of 2009, newly trained Invasive Plant Patroller, Dick Butterfield, paddled his kayak into a small shallow lagoon near his home on Damariscotta Lake. The first thing Dick saw were these common native floating-leaved plants . . . fragrant water lily and watershield. Then--as he had been trained--he looked to see what was growing below. Dick’s heart sunk as he recognized the plant that was covering the bottom “like a carpet” as one of the eleven invasive aquatic plants on Maine’s target list. He sent a specimen to the Volunteer Lakes Monitoring Program. The next day Hydrilla, considered the “worst of the worst” invader, was confirmed in Damariscotta Lake.

The following day, Maine DEP staff were on the lake, assessing the infestation and planning an aggressive, multi-pronged rapid response. Soon thereafter DEP staff fenced off the infested area and organized a hydrilla pulling party. Plant surveys of the rest of the lake by the Damariscotta Lake Watershed Association found no additional hydrilla populations. The combination of volunteer, watershed group and state efforts has managed to contain the infestation on the 4,800 acre lake to less than 1/3 acre by 2010, averting ecological and economic disaster on one of Maine’s most loved lakes.

At the same time as our prevention and rapid response work, you and we continue to wage war on the 33 water bodies that are infested. In 2010, Maine DEP added Legion Pond and Great Meadow Stream to the list of infested waterbodies. But in September, we removed Pleasant Lake in Casco off the list of infested water bodies, thank to three variable milfoil-free years. This happened only because of dedicated local volunteers who worked year after year to protect these lakes, for themselves and everyone in the state. This is the second time Maine officials have declared a once-infested water body free of its plant invasion and the first time since Great East Lake came off the list in 2007, and it is a milestone everyone in this room should share the pride in celebrating.

Yes, DEP staff are directly controlling several infestations in the state. But the bulk of the plant removal efforts in the state are done by groups like Lake Arrowhead Conservation Council, West Pond Association, and Community Lakes Association in Bryant Pond and Woodstock…and many others. These groups have volunteers who have donated countless hours, members who have contributed significant sums of money, and relationships with local businesses who have supported the effort. These groups, these volunteers, and these residents – you – are making the difference in our lakes.

Behind every inspector or plant patroller is a municipality or lake association, working to recruit and train new inspectors on the lakes and launches, find the funding to support needed outreach and education and do whatever they can to prevent invasive infestations, respond to them rapidly and slow their spread if they happen. The Little Sebago Lake Association is a great example of an effective lake group building local capacity by engaging dollars and interest in the issue of invasives. They piloted a marking system for identifying infested areas that other lakes have since employed and after DEP brought in a demonstration of diver-assisted suction technology, they built two customized collection units of their own that have resulted in a significant reduction of variable milfoil.

Our department supports those entities like the Little Sebago Lake Association by providing a variety of different types of grants. Little Sebago has built tremendous capacity and for them our support is modest. But for fledgling groups a small grant may be what is needed to start an inspection program. These grants account for a large percentage of DEP’s Invasive Aquatic Species Program budget, which is proposed at around $720,000 for 2011, a figure consistent with last year. Only one-third of that funding goes to support the three staff positions here at the department.

Just to give you an overview of our proposed budget for 2011, a mere $30,000 comes from the federal government while $690,000 comes directly from monies raised from the Maine Lake and River Protection Sticker, of which we get 60 percent and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife gets 40 percent.

Here is a breakdown of our 2011 budget proposal for our invasives program:

-34 percent to support plant management and rapid response, including $70,000 in competitive grants to local plant removal programs (a figure that was increased three-fold in 2008 and which we have maintained since) and more than $50,000 for management of existing infestations including hydrilla on Pickerel Pond and Damariscotta Lake and Eurasian water milfoil on Salmon Lake and for rapid response to new ones.

-31 percent for inspection- The 2011 Courtesy Boat Inspection Program budget includes $95,000 for small grants to local boat inspection programs, $75,960 for inspections to prevent spread from infested lakes, $33,870 for volunteer training, grant administration and project work.

-17 percent for monitoring – including $32,650 for Invasive Plant Patrol Workshops and $47,750 for technical assistance and public outreach.

-16 percent for education and 2 percent for interstate efforts.

As you can see, so much of our money is in your hands. Our department’s Invasive Aquatic Species Program is an example of a state and public partnership at its best. We believe that local people will come up with appropriate local solutions to local problems and we see our staff as that facilitative resource. As Scott Williams from VLMP described it to me, “there is great synergy.”

One such partnership in this effort that was new in 2010 was with bass fisherman. Last year, all 63 bass clubs participating in bass tournaments were required to conduct inspections as a condition of their permit. As a result, bass tournament participants logged 6,327 inspections, utilized 129 inspectors and inspected their tournament boats at 36 rivers and lakes that don't have a Courtesy Boat Inspection Program. If should be said that even before this requirement was put into place, many bass clubs had proactively and voluntarily taken a lead to become trained inspectors.

As George Smith so importantly noted in his address to this very conference last year, “There are many threats to the quality of our water bodies, to the species that live there, and to the experience we enjoy there. We ought to work together to protect it all, every bit of it.” I agree and will do whatever we can possibly to ensure protection of our lakes, and access to them and I pledge that if we ever have to make a site specific decision to restrict access, it will be as temporary as possible for the health of that waterway. As part of our agency’s mission, the Department is “directed to protect and enhance the public's right to use and enjoy the State's natural resources” and I take that very seriously.

We look forward to continued collaboration like that in my administration both within state government and with nonprofit lakes and watershed groups in 2011 and the years ahead and we pledge to continue to be a resource as we all work together to get more lakes off the list and ensure no new ones are added.

Awareness about invasives is higher than ever, but nowhere near what we need it to be. According to DEP observations over the past two years, less than 20 percent of boaters inspect their boats and equipment before and after launching. A primary goal of our Courtesy Boat Inspection program is to affect boater behavior so that they automatically inspect their boats before entering and when leaving a boat ramp. DEP is currently trying to better understand why more boaters aren’t being proactive about voluntarily inspecting their boats and to that end, have passed out a survey earlier today to you to get your insight into this issue. Your responses will help us plan future outreach to increase boater inspection rates, so we appreciate your thoughtful participation.

Again, I want to thank you for your efforts. I hope to see you again here next year with reports of higher numbers of engaged volunteer inspectors and monitors and lower numbers of lakes on the infested list.

Thank you."

For more information about the Maine Department of Environmental Protection's efforts in the fight against invasive aquatic plants, visit http://www.maine.gov/dep/blwq/topic/invasives/index.htm or contact John McPhedran at (207)287-6110.