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Pondweed invasion chokes 70 acres of Big Pine

The Lord told Adam we'd struggle with weeds.

Curlyleaf pondweed, a lake-choking invasive species has set up residence in Big Pine Lake, andm it's increasing acreage.

The Pine Lakes Improvement District (LID) Board of Directors have met more than once recently to discuss the issue. The meetings were particularly urgent considering two factors:

1) An immediate plan is needed to put in place a treatment program for the growing (pay attention to that word) problem;

2) the $2000 budgeted treatment line item falls well short of the $20,000 bid made from a licensed treatment business.

For three years the Big Pine Lake Association and then the LID used PLM Lake & Land Management to chemically treat a four-acre area on Big Pine Lake near the Toad River, adjacent to Otter Tail Hwy. 8. The treatment on that location is apparently working quite well and has all but eliminated the pondweed, according to PLM Vice President Patrick Selter.

Nearly 70 acres identified as infested with pondweed

Now, Selter added, three areas totaling nearly 70 acres have been identified as well-established pondweed locations on Big Pine. They are: A 41-acre site at the eastern-most tip of Big Pine, just off the Otter Tail Hwy. 53 access; a 22.81-acre site on the western end of Big Pine near the Toad; and a 5.64-acre site near the Marin Bay Condos. This information was gathered by Pequot Lakes-based PLM in June during an 1,106-site test on Big Pine. That survey was a $7,000 joint expense between the BPLA and the LID.

LID members at the meeting recognized the improvement made by previous applications, want the continued control of the plant and are searcing for ways to reduce the cost. The group was joined at the meeting by Howard Fullhart, an invasive species specialist for the DNR.

The LID board, still planning to treat the weed problem to an affordable extent, has considered other bids and plans to continue working with PLM.

Improving 4,700 acre lake has been decades-long effort

Fullhart was brought up to speed on the efforts of the LID and the BPLA by Sylvia Soeth, who happens to be president of both organizations. The decades-long effort to morph Big Pine from near eutrophic to being a thriving 4700-acre lake is well-documented, including in its attributes such names as Carl Annalora and George Taylor, both of whom were reportedly alive when the Lord told Adam about the pending weed clash.

Fullhart appreciated the LID and the Big Pine Lake Association's effort to have in place a lake management plan; however, he pointed out that the problem is mathematically not significant enough to qualify for any state-funded support. For the record, he said, Big Pine's problem amounts to about 10 percent of its littoral shoreline acres. Needed, he said, is 25 percent. Littoral is described in this case as shoreline categorized with 15-feet of water depth or less.

Grants not available for curlyleaf

Currently there are no curlyleaf-specific grant programs available, Fullhart said. It's possible that there might be dollars available with the new state sales tax increase, an increase dedicating new money to the outdoors, he said. "I foresee that in the future, groups like the LID may benefit."

The LID is doing the right thing by having the lake surveyed, trying to contain the costs with maximum benefit and ultimately finding out how its members want to deal with the problem, he said.

As for those costs, Selter said, it's always money well spent.

"The first site we treated is pretty much gone," he said. "Now, we're at a stage on this body of water where we're seeing it pop up and if we don't start hitting those bigger areas we're going to see it further increase."

The bid, he said, includes a pretty good discount because it includes such a larger area he said, adding that it is truly pinpoint because the survey was done. The costs of any previous treatment comes in at almost $500 per acre. The current bid is roughly $290 per acre.

"I know it's not cheap, but the benefits certainly outweigh the results of doing nothing," Selter said. The time, equipment and chemical used, he added, takes money. PDM uses Aquathall K, sometimes called endothall, he said. This liquid, is dripped into the lake by a computerized drip controller on the back of a boat. After having done the survey, which includes computerized measurements of water depth, weed density and GPS location, the appropriate amount of chemical is administered, he said.

"We want a well-educated public when it comes to this," he added. "We know this chemical hurts and it has not hurt people, fish or the native plants."

Campaign against lake weed could be five year process

As for the process in these identified areas, Selter continued, "This would be a 3-5-year (process)." Continued assessments will guage the progress, he said. " A lot of lakes won't pay for the assessments and then their costs go up."

PLM has also recently performed such assessments on Big and Little Detroit lakes, Sally and Melissa.

Soeth, noting that the LID board meets again Wednesday, Feb. 25, is seeking alternative bids.

"I think everybody is in agreement that we need to treat it. I think the question is how much."

The problem is the funds, she said. The board members were pretty well in agreement that now is not the time for a tax increase, but want to do something.

The LID is able to spend up to $5,000 without approaching its members, she said. Another $5,000 is available from the Big Pine Lake Association, she added. Spending more than $5,000 in LID money would require a full LID membership meeting, which would be held in June.

Soeth said the LID and the BPLA will contribute this year as well, adding that letters asking Big Pine property owners and associate townships consider contributing more than just the customary annual dues to the cause. Those letters will likely be mailed in April, she said.