Wisconsin Communities Are Cooperating to Battle Milfoil

Published February 1, 2007

Several towns in northern Wisconsin are uniting to battle invasive milfoil weeds infesting at least 176 acres of the Eagle River Chain of lakes.

Realizing a coordinated battle is necessary to prevail against the tenacious, noxious weed, the towns of Cloverland, Eagle River, Lincoln, and Washington are finalizing a three- to five-year joint management plan for the river chain.

Nine Lakes Infected

Nine interconnected lakes form the Eagle River Chain. A newly released survey shows all nine harbor milfoil.

Milfoil is a fast-spreading weed that takes root on lake bottoms at depths of up to 20 feet, sending long, entangling tendrils to the surface. Unchecked, the weed completely takes over the infested area and squeezes out virtually all other aquatic life.

In addition to being unsightly, pungent, and deadly to aquatic life, milfoil has also proven deadly to human swimmers who have unwittingly become entangled in it.

Aquatic Herbicides Successful

A unified lakes committee is considering management programs including hand-pulling of weeds, mechanical harvesting, and the application of aquatic herbicides.

Aquatic herbicides have been successful in battling milfoil in other locations. They have been proven to eradicate the invasive weed almost completely, with no negative effects on fish and wildlife.

Cooperation Is Key

A significant hurdle facing the Eagle River Chain communities and many others that have sought to battle milfoil is the formulation of an eradication plan agreeable to all communities. Determining the funding responsibilities of each town is a potential deal-breaker.

“I think we can do it,” Jim Spring, chairman of the town of Washington and the unified lakes community, told the Eagle River News-Review. “We have to sit down together and work to get this done without letting our egos get in the way.”

Spring said it was vital to treat all infected areas at the same time, because a piecemeal approach would allow the weeds to return quickly to treated areas. Accordingly, it is vital for the towns to pool their financial resources and make a unified application for state funding.

“If we work together, we can save some money because we’ll be applying for grant funds for a larger area,” Spring added.

Model Program in Idaho

A model for the Wisconsin communities is a statewide program begun in 2006 in Idaho. State Rep. Eric Anderson (R-Priest Lake) sponsored legislation allocating $4 million in state funds for local communities to eradicate milfoil outbreaks that were ruining many of the state’s pristine lakes and waterways.

In September 2006, Anderson was awarded the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s Director’s Cup Award for his efforts. (See “Idaho Rep. Anderson Is Honored for His Environmental Stewardship,” Environment & Climate News, December 2006.)

Through the statewide program, local communities in Idaho were relieved of the burden of sometimes-contentious negotiations over finances and procedural technicalities of proposed joint milfoil plans.

Independent Investigation

The Idaho Department of Agriculture, with a full year of experience to draw on, is now conducting a comprehensive review of the milfoil program to determine ways to make it more effective in upcoming years.

A panel of environmental scientists has been given free rein to investigate and make recommendations regarding the program.

“We have six panelists with cumulatively over 100 years experience in aquatic plant management reviewing the program,” said Amy Farrader, invasive species program manager with the Idaho Department of Agriculture. “They have toured Idaho lakes, met with local residents, and viewed before-and-after photos of affected lakes.

“The purpose of the review is to find out what has been working best and where to focus our continuing efforts,” Farrader noted.

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

For more information …

Additional articles addressing the use of aquatic herbicides for milfoil infestation are available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to http://www.policybot.org and search for keyword milfoil.