Who’s in Charge when it comes to Aquatic Invasive Weeds

Curly-Leaf Pondweed photo courtesy Erik Hanson.

Aquatic Invasive Species Consultant Erik Hanson tosses a metal rake, attached to a rope into the harbor at Eagle Bend in Bigfork. Waiting a few seconds, he lets it sink to the bottom, before hoisting it back out, and pulling off the accumulated weeds, “Most of that’s native plants; Chara, and some buttercup.”

Hanson is looking for Curley Leaf Pondweed. He said its presence in the Harbor was confirmed last year, and on this day he’s conducting tests prior to herbicide treatment to eradicate the invasive aquatic weed.

“Basically it’s like any other weed in that it grows really thick, and so you end up with these huge, thick matts of it that don’t allow the fish to utilize and eat off of the native plants, and then you have the  interference with recreation because it gets harder to move your boats in and out,” Hanson said.

The Eagle Bend Yacht Harbor connects to the Flathead River upstream from where the river empties into Flathead Lake. A dam blocks the Harbor off from the River, and Hanson say the plan calls for treating the 14-acre area with herbicide Endothall in the next few days, before the dam comes down.

“What we’re seeing right now is that we’re in a very early stage of infestation. The harbor and channel here is heavily infested. There are isolated pockets of plants in the river channel, and upstream in Fennon Slough that look like they’re being transported from here or from other places, and they’re starting to spread. So, this is definitely a major source for infesting other areas,” Hanson said Eagle Bend has come up with funding to treat the Harbor. Eagle Bend owns the land under the water, therefore it’s their responsibility.

This issue of jurisdiction and responsibility is a stumbling block managers come up against when working on aquatic invasive weeds. Director of the Flathead County Weed Department Jed Fisher says knowing who will take the lead role in enforcement, education, and eradication will have to be determined on a case by case basis, but it comes down to landowner responsibility.

“It becomes their responsibility to either do the work themselves, to come get a sprayer, rent a sprayer, or hire someone to do the work for them. That’s exactly how we look at it in the water, just the same as on land,” Fisher said.

There are questions though; with Flathead River, who owns the land? The state owns the water, the area is in the county, and the land under the water may be private.

“If we know of a few isolated plants; we’ll send crews in to go pull them. We’ll get rid of those, we’ll rake them, get them pulled up, or put down a barrier- that’s what we see our role as, is that small-scale, if we have the staff available, get out there and try to handle those small isolated areas,” Fisher said anything larger than that and they need permits and authorization from places like the Department of Agriculture and Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

So, who tackles the pockets of Curley Leaf Pond Weed identified in the River? Right now, Executive Director of the Flathead Basin Commission Caryn Miske says the Flathead Aquatic Invasive Species Working group is coming up with a plan to get these spots taken care of this summer. The working group includes non-governmental conservation groups, as well as local and state government agencies.

State Weed Coordinator with the Department of Agriculture Dave Burch says the rules are still evolving.

“In the Weed Act, the County has a responsibility for all the land within the County, they also have responsibility for any County-owned property,” Burch said, “they’re an overseer, they’re an authority for to make sure that if people do have weeds on their property, that they’re containing them or controlling them properly.”

Both Burch and Fisher say the issue has to be tackled through cooperation across the different agencies and landowners.

“If we find something, the best thing we can do is all come together as a cooperative and try to get everybody that’s involved in it coming to the table, talking about the issues, and then trying to find the best solution for those issues,” Burch said.

Fisher said in the Flathead they’re putting together a cross-agency group to be able to look at each situation that comes up, and form a response.

The Eagle Bend project includes the marina and the channel where it connects to the Flathead River. The plan calls for an annual herbicide treatment over three years. Consultant Erik Hanson says the herbicide is specific to plants and is being applied at 1 part per million, Hanson says there are no concerns for human toxicity and it degrades in a matter of days. He says it turns toxic to fish at 300 parts-per-million.

Caryn Miske with the Flathead Basin Commission says the cost of treatment is about 10-thousand-dollars, and additional costs of the pre-and-post monitoring are coming from the Flathead Aquatic Invasive Species Working Group.

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