Vermont Community Pushes State to Allow Aquatic Herbicides

Published October 1, 2006

Invasive Eurasian milfoil, a noxious weed that can choke out virtually all other life in infested lakes and ponds, is taking over Vermont’s Lake Morey, residents told state and local representatives at an August 2 town meeting.

“Folks, we’re losing the battle,” summarized Fairlee, Vermont Selectboard Chair Jay Barrett, according to an August 9 article in the Bradford Journal Opinion.

The meeting was attended by state Sens. George Coppenrath (R-Caledonia) and Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), Karen Horn of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, and Peter Gregory of the Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission.

Eurasian milfoil is not just Fairlee’s problem, Lake Fairlee Commission member Don Weaver said at the meeting. “Not only Lake Morey but also the State of Vermont can no longer tolerate this,” he said.

Other Approaches Failed

Forbidden by the state from using effective aquatic herbicides, the Lake Fairlee Commission has overseen the spending of more than $1 million on alternative methods to fight milfoil. Those other methods, such as hand-pulling the weeds, mechanical suction harvesting, and placing mats on the bottom of the lake, have failed, according to Weaver.

Weaver is urging the state to allow chemical treatment, which has proven highly effective in other states. Responding to environmental activists’ assertions that chemicals would harm native pond weeds in addition to the targeted milfoil, Weaver said, “native pond weed won’t be around much more–it’s being killed off by the milfoil.”

Historic Lake Affected

In an interview for this article, Coppenrath, who is a member of the Lake Harvey Association, said he is very worried about milfoil migrating into Lake Harvey from Lake Morey, which is 20 miles to the south, or other area lakes.

“Invasive milfoil is a growing problem in Vermont,” said Coppenrath. “There are about 60 infested lakes in Vermont, including Lake Champlain–our largest and most famous lake. Lake Morey has tried every conceivable approach with the lone exception of chemical applications. Yet it has come back worse than ever.”

Legislation Introduced

Coppenrath introduced legislation in the Vermont Senate earlier this year that would have required the state to take a more proactive approach to battling milfoil. The bill did not pass, but Coppenrath is not giving up.

“Chemical applications were proposed about a decade ago, but we did not know enough then about whether chemical treatments were safe,” Coppenrath said. “Now that we can understand the safety issues better, I would support a controlled, experimental chemical application on Lake Morey if the residents of Fairlee support it.”

Newspaper Highlights Issue

There is a growing record of safe and effective chemical treatment of waters outside the state. An article in the August 12 Spokane, Washington Spokesman Review noted, “at the lower concentrations used for treating Eurasian milfoil, [the chemical] is not considered harmful to humans or animals. At low doses, the herbicide seems to pass through mammals fairly quickly. Fish show no sign of the herbicide within three to seven days after a spray, according to the National Library of Medicine.”

Without chemical treatment, the Spokesman Review observed, “Thick mats of milfoil give fish little living room in areas as shallow as 20 feet or less. Its appetite for oxygen can leave little for fish to breathe.

“Milfoil can grow so thick it leaves no channels for fish to swim through,” the Spokesman Review article added.

Idaho Counties Agree

According to the August 9 Bonner County Daily Bee, Idaho state and county officials who have worked with aquatic herbicides agree chemical treatment is safe and effective. “County commissioners and the county’s top noxious weed officials contend the spraying is safe and effective,” the Daily Bee reported.

Aquatic herbicides used to battle milfoil are “mostly target-specific for aquatic plants and [have] no off-target impacts on fish or wildlife when used according to the label,” observes the Bonner County Web site.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

For more information …

“Fairlee seeks help in milfoil battle,” Bradford Journal Opinion, August 9,

“Growing problem,” Spokane Spokesman Review, August 12,

“Denton herbicide spraying resuming,” Bonner County Daily Bee, August 9,