AUBURN – Earlier this summer, Tayelor Gosselin examined a boat as it was hauled out of Lake Auburn.

A summer intern boat inspector, she asked the first-time boat owner if she could inspect their craft.

“They’re free to say no,” she said. “I haven’t had anyone do that.”

Gosselin said she was looking for plants, especially the invasive milfoil, which chokes the good native plants that clean the water.

As she bent down looking under the boat, she found a piece of a plant.

“I picked it up and said, ‘Like this,’” Gosselin said.

The sample was sent to the lab. If it was milfoil, Gosselin made a save, preventing the plant from going into another water body or another part of Lake Auburn the next time the boat is launched.

Thanks to more boat inspections, there’s good news for Maine lakes. No new Maine water bodies were found to be infested in 2013 and during the early half of 2014.

“That’s good. We’re encouraged,” said John McPhedran of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Still, 24 lakes, mostly in southern and western Maine, have invasive plant infestations, including Lake Auburn’s basin area.

Salmon Lake in the Belgrade area was removed from Maine’s list of plant-infested water bodies. After a management program, no milfoil was found in the lake between 2010-2013.

Efforts from many groups, including volunteers and boat owners who inspect watercraft before they enter the water and when they come out, appear to be helping stem the problem.

But McPhedran isn’t ready to celebrate, saying the invasive variable leaf milfoil is far from licked. He worries about undiscovered infestations.

“We know the plants are out there.,” he said. “People move around from different lakes and enjoy what we have.” When it gets into a lake it can be removed, “but true eradication of the plant is very difficult.”

The plants are like nasty garden weeds, but much harder to pull out or smother in lakes. They also spread easily.

“You wouldn’t want to swim in it,” said Mary Jane Dillingham, water quality manager for the Auburn Water District.

All it takes to take root in a new spot is a piece of a plant dropped into the water. Milfoil breaks easily.

“Even small pieces of the plant are able to root someplace else,” Dillingham said. When it takes root in shallow water, milfoil chokes native plants that clean the water.

The milfoil in the Lake Auburn’s basin has neither worsened nor dramatically improved in the last five years, Dillingham said. “We’re giving it a good fight” by hand-pulling milfoil or smothering it with mats in shallow water.

Last year, more than 80,000 boat inspections were done and a number of saves made by finding and removing plants as boats entered or exited the water.

The inspections are part of the state’s Maine Courtesy Boat Inspection program, funded from watercraft registrations.

Inspectors check the motor, propellers, sharp edges on the boat trailer — anything that goes into the water.

While boat owners appreciate the inspections, water quality experts are encouraging more boat owners to do their own inspections before and after every launch.

The Auburn Water District provides inspections on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, but doesn’t have the budget to provide more than that, Dillingham said.

“Prevention is the best thing for the buck,” McPhedran said. “We need boaters to step up and get in the habit of checking their boats. It takes two to three minutes.”


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