Divers and snorkelers comb the bottom of Cushman Pond in Lovell last summer to verify that milfoil was gone. Removal of the invasive weed is a painstaking process and it is rare that milfoil is completely eradicated from a body of water once introduced, a state biologist said. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file

Maine’s lake advocates say it’s time to ramp up the fight against invasive species that threaten the integrity of the many ponds that dot the lush landscape of the Pine Tree State.

“Maine will not be Vacationland if we lose our inland lakes and waters to this threat,” Robert Allen of Orland said. He warned that falling short in the fight “would cause huge economic as well as environmental and quality of life problems for our state.”

Roberta Hill, an aquatic ecologist with the Lake Stewards of Maine, recently told legislators the existing effort “to prevent the spread of aquatic invaders in Maine, as well strategized and heroic as it has been, will likely not be adequate to stem the tide of what is coming our way in the years to come.”

“If we are to succeed in protecting our native ecosystems from this onslaught,” Hill said, “even more will need to be done — and on a broader scale, especially in the realm of prevention and early detection.”

Hoping to kickstart that initiative, Rep. Tavis Hasenfus, a Readfield Democrat, has a bill that would create a new committee within the state bureaucracy to suggest ways to ramp up “the treatment and protection of lakes infested with invasive aquatic plants or those at risk of infestation.”

Hasenfus said policymakers need to start setting policy.


The Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, whose members expressed a desire to have a greater oversight role on the issue, is weighing his idea. Its next work session on the measure is slated for Monday.

“We feel it’s important to do something,” said Sen. Stacy Brenner, the Scarborough Democrat who co-chairs the panel.


Susan Gallo, executive director of Maine Lakes, said invasive aquatic plants “change habitats and outcompete threaten native plants and animals. “

“Dense mat of invasive plants shade and choke out other species, and lower fish habitat quality and sport fish opportunities,” she said. They also impact property values, Gallo said.

Sal Girifalco, president of the Lakes Association of Norway, said his group is “very familiar with the ever-present threat” of invasive plants getting into the four lakes it keeps an eye on.


He said volunteer inspectors have “made multiple saves” after finding invasive species “on boats about to launch at our biggest lake.”

The existing system across Maine relies heavily on local volunteers willing to devote time to inspecting boats before they’re launched into favored ponds.

Ken Haake, who is involved with the Acton Shapleigh Youth Conservation Corps in York County, told lawmakers a success story from the effort.

One Sunday last June, Haake said, one of the courtesy boat inspectors trying to protect Mousam Lake and several nearby ponds looked at a boat that had previously been on the water 20 miles away at Lake Arrowhead.

The inspector found “a large piece of variable milfoil,” confirmed by a DNA test, Haake said, just the sort of debris that could accidentally contaminate a new body of water.

An infestation of Eurasian watermilfoil at Cobbossee Lake was treated last summer. Alex Dyer/Friends of the Cobbossee Watershed

While the existing program to encourage boaters to be careful and promote inspections is helpful, Girifalco said, it is “a detection, not a prevention, program.”


When boats arrive at a launch with invasive species aboard, prevention has already failed, he said.

“A stronger multilayered approach is needed to reduce the chances of the problem appearing at Maine’s boat launches where it might, or might not, be found by an inspection, Girifalco said.

He expressed hope that a new panel “could sharpen the focus and align the goals of various stakeholders and agencies already tasked with addressing the issue” and, with luck, “make a big difference in protecting our waterways” by offering recommendations to legislators for steps they could take to reduce the risk of the “further spread of invasive species to one of our most precious resources.”

Richard Bray, a longtime volunteer monitor with the Bear Pond Improvement Association in Oxford County, said Maine’s lakes are a crucial resource for water, wildlife “and the recreational and sporting opportunities they provide.”

But they’re in danger, he said.

“Sadly, the invasive plant can of worms is now open, and they have found their way into multiple Maine lakes,” Bray said. “Without proactive approaches, invasive aquatic plants will snowball into an increasingly serious problem that severely impacts water quality and reduces the suitability of lakes for recreation and tourism.”



Francis Brautigan, fisheries director at the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, and John McPhedran, a biologist at the state Department of Environmental Protection, told legislators that an existing task force has helped focus attention on the problem for the past two decades.

“These issues are complicated,” Brautigan said, adding that there is a need for more coordination and networking.

“Our big focus really needs to be on prevention,” he said.

Legislators are weighing the creation of a subcommittee to the existing task force that would be required to produce a report on the issue with recommendations for legislative action.

Rep. Vicki Doudera Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Gallo said the move might prove beneficial.


“Despite overwhelming grassroots support over the last two legislative sessions for additional measures to reduce the risk of invasive species introduction and spread, legislation has stalled and died,” she said, “due to questions around agency support, whether there should instead be other nonlegislative solutions, and what unintended enforcement consequences might be.”

Rep. Vicki Doudera, a Camden Democrat, said as it is, “I don’t feel like we are involved in the process” in the Legislature.

Given how devastating invasive species can be, she said, “we need to be included” in the debate about what to do.

A report from a new panel, Gallo said, “would help anticipate answers to questions that legislative committee members might have and assure them that the best legislative solutions are moving ahead.”

Ken Mendelson of Oxford, an officer with the Thompson Lake Environmental Association, said the proposed panel “will help protect those lake values by bringing together diverse stakeholders and agency staff who are already working hard to move invasive species risk-reduction programs forward.”

He said its recommendations would help garner support for needed measures in the future and bring agencies, organizations and businesses together to take steps “that will ultimately protect important lake values by reducing future invasive species spread.”



Sharon Mann, invasives aquatics program manager for the 7 Lakes Alliance in Belgrade Lakes, told lawmakers that her organization has already spent more than $1.4 million managing the variable leaf watermilfoil discovered in Great Pond in 2010.

And that’s not even the worst possibility.

Variable leaf milfoil growing in 2019 in North Bay of Great Pond in Belgrade. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file photo

Mann said other invasive aquatic plants, including Eurasian watermilfoil and hydrilla, “are considerably more aggressive competitors than variable leaf watermilfoil and have already infested several water bodies in Maine.”

“Once an invasive aquatic plant has become established in a nonnative area, it is almost impossible to eradicate,” Mann said.

She said the cost of coping with invasive plants “falls heavily on local nonprofit associations” that have watched “a disconnect among state agencies which prevents meaningful actions from going forward” to help.


Edith Cornwall of Oakland, president of the East Pond Association, told lawmakers that curly-leaf pondweed, an aggressive and noxious invader, was found in their pond last summer. A company was hired to pull the plants, she said, but more were discovered in the fall.

Some already started to grow back again, she said, and the plant also drops a resistant plant bud that can lie dormant up to five years and start growing under the ice. Moreover, fragments of the plants flowed down Old Mill Stream and got into North Pond as well.

The noxious weed has also turned up in Kittery and Parsonsfield and in the Kennebec River, Cornwall said.

“Eradicating this plant will take years and be very costly,” he said.


Andrew Zuorski of Mount Vernon, who has coordinated volunteer efforts for the past two decades to keep invasive species out of Torsey Lake in Readfield, told lawmakers he’s seen firsthand the risks involved.


“I understand the threat is real,” he said. “I’ve witnessed and been dismayed by infestations occurring in Messalonskee Lake, Great Pond, Salmon Lake, Pleasant Pond, Cobbossee, Annabessacook and Androscoggin Lake — all within close proximity to Torsey.”

Zuorski said many lake association and volunteers have struggled to deal with the issue and he’s worried that if more bodies of water become infested, those fighting back “will be overwhelmed and we will start to lose the battle.”

“There must be a better way,” he said in supporting Hasenfus’ bill. “A united front against these invaders is needed to win.”

John and Mary Beth Stanek of West Gardiner, who own property on Lake Cobbosseecontee, said the lake already has three known invasive species in it.

The water body is bordered by Litchfield, Manchester, Monmouth, West Gardiner and Winthrop

“Our lake association cannot deal with them alone,” they said. “We will require support from our state government.”


“As the battle on Cobbossee goes against invasives, so will the battle go on all Maine lakes. We need all the help we can get,” the Staneks said in joint testimony in favor of the bill.

Carol Branning of Winthrop, president of the Annabessacook Lake Improvement Association, said her group has “invested our time, money, and effort in the fight against invasives.”

“Despite all of it, the threat from invasives persists,” she said. “The threat is environmental and economic and growing.”

Branning said the state needs “to move forward with solutions from multiple approaches — education, mitigation, prevention and enforcement of regulations. Now is the time for action.”

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