We call plants or animals "invasive" if they are not natives of our lakes. But there is more to it than that. These foreigners are often pretty cavalier in consuming our resources and "in your face" one might say. So far, plants cause the most concern in the Belgrade watershed, although there is controversy about some of the fish, like pike, that were unknown to the old-timers. These invaders have quite literally gobbled up lake resources.
But the plants have center stage at the moment because a black sheep of the milfoil family had made its home in Belgrade Stream, Messalonskee and now Great Meadow Stream and Great Pond. Just a bit of this plant, about an inch, will take root. Little by little, actually not so little, the shallows and coves of the lake are succumbing to the variable leaf milfoil as it seeks out new spots to settle and thrive. It's pretty upsetting.
What can we do to meet the invasive plant challenge? Above all, we must PREVENT these plants from getting in. If they slip past us, we must prevent them from moving on to any other waters.
Variable leaf milfoil gets attention in the Belgrades because it has arrived. But it is only one of eleven threatening plants. Three more of these, hydrilla, Eurasian milfoil, and curly leafed pond weed, have gained a foothold in other parts of Maine. The rest are creating trouble in other states, states from which Maine receives visitors.
Vigilance is the key to prevention. As the logo above shows, we must learn to recognize our enemies, then inspect the places most likely to harbor them in order to find them early. Only then can we respond to the threat by removing them in transit or just after implantation. The latter is much more difficult than stopping their arrival.
Should we harbor one of these invaders, however, we inherit the responsibility of inspecting carriers that might take them off to someone else. Inspection works for both arrivals and departures. That's what the furor at the access ramp on Route 27 is all about. Extending many yards out toward deeper waters, is a luxurious blanket of milfoil. This thriving blanket of plants is a perfect demonstration of what happens when a hardy plant with no adequate competitor gets a foothold.
One might say, "Well, that means we don't have to inspect the folks coming in." Not true. If the ramp is open, other invasives could be brought in. Boats leaving must be especially suspect. And the boats that come and go chop milfoil into pieces that easily move elsewhere in Messalonskee.
Mainers avidly support access to their lovely lakes, as they should. But should they support access to ominous fields of milfoil? Maybe a ramp elsewhere would be safer and cheaper in the long run.
The problem is not simple. Prevention is the first and best answer to protecting our lakes from invasion. Messalonskee has gone too far for removal of the plant to be practical. They have moved to a strategy for control: they use methods aimed at stabilizing or diminishing their scourge. Hopefully, new ways to combat invasives will be discovered. Until then let's all work together to keep the bad guys out.