July 21, 2008

Vermont Targets Invasive Species

By Howard Weiss-Tisman, Brattleboro Reformer, Vt.

Jul. 21--BRATTLEBORO -- The state took its fight against invasive species in Vermont's waterways to the front line this weekend.

The Department of Environmental Conservation held a workshop Sunday to spread the word about the serious threat posed by non-native plants, fish and other organisms in Vermont's streams, rivers and lakes.

The environmental officials were also there to try to get concerned water lovers to commit to joining the Vermont Invasive Patrollers, a volunteer group that keeps a lookout for invasive species and reports them to the environmental conservation department when they are found.

"We have only two people who are working on aquatic invasive species," explained Leslie Matthews, an environmental scientist with DEC who led the workshop Sunday. "We can't be the eyes and ears for the whole state, and we depend on the public to help us."

Matthews showed up at the presentation with bottles of preserved invasive fish and trays of the most dangerous plants.

Vermont has seen a sharp rise in both the number of invasive species and the locations where they are found.

The appearance last year of didymo, or rock snot, which has killed thousands of fish in the Midwest, and the spread of zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil, has driven the state to start the citizen program.

Matthews said the department has been holding meetings all summer like the one held in Brattleboro Sunday.

Almost 40 people have signed on to the program so far, agreeing to monitor a waterway and conduct at least two surveys during the summer for the presence of invasive plants or animals.

Invasive species, once they are introduced, can quickly grow to high densities.

They can ruin boating, swimming and fishing areas and threaten native species that can't compete for resources.

Public education is one of the most important first lines of defense, Matthews said, and it is important for boaters and anglers to get into the habit of washing down their equipment to prevent the spread of the plants and organisms.

"I'm hopeful," Matthews said about the steep challenge of stopping the spread of the invasive species. "It's hard to know how much worse it would be if we did not make the effort. Even if we can just slow the pace, it is a good thing."

Laurie Callahan, of Brattleboro, has been leading a local effort to harvest Eurasian milfoil in the West River.

Callahan has been going out to the river since 2004 with divers and equipment to rip up the invasive weeds and try to prevent them from spreading.

"It's an ongoing effort to try to keep it from being established," said Callahan, who invited the state officials down for the weekend workshop. "We need to raise awareness about aquatic invasive species and do what we can to do early detection."

After about two hours of discussion, the group headed out to the Retreat Meadows to paddle about and look for invasive species.

Marcia Bourne, of Brattleboro, loves paddling in the Retreat Meadows and she came out to the meeting Sunday to get information to see if she could be one of the state's volunteer patrollers.

"The state doesn't really have the money to support the effort that is really needed and this is probably the best way to make a difference," said Bourne. "We can't expect them to do it for us. It's got to be a citizens' effort."


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