2008-02-28 / Front Page

Mower Will Cut Invasive Water Weeds

Cedarville Bay
By Amy Polk

This summer, people can expect to see a machine similar to this aquatic plant harvester plying the waters of Cedarville Bay. The harvester will be used to remove plants from an area bordered by Waterlawn Cottages to the east, the Ralph Shoberg property to the west, between the Cedarville mainland and LaSalle Island. (Aquarius Systems photograph) This summer, people can expect to see a machine similar to this aquatic plant harvester plying the waters of Cedarville Bay. The harvester will be used to remove plants from an area bordered by Waterlawn Cottages to the east, the Ralph Shoberg property to the west, between the Cedarville mainland and LaSalle Island. (Aquarius Systems photograph) A mechanical harvester will be on its way to Cedarville Bay this spring to help control the rampant weed growth that has plagued boaters and threatened the bay. The bay is full of Eurasian watermilfoil, an invasive water plant that competes successfully for space on the bottom of the lake, crowding out native plants that animals like to eat, and growing almost to the surface. As the plants die and decay, they add more nutrients in the bay, encouraging even more invasive plant growth.

A project to cultivate a population of milfoil-eating weevils is underway, but the tiny bugs could use all the help they can get, said Robert Smith. So the Les Cheneaux Watershed Council, Les Cheneaux Community Foundation, and Cedarville businessman Dan Carmichael are teaming up to mechanically harvest some of the weeds from the bay.

A large swath of vegetation will be cut from navigational areas of the bay and the cuttings will be removed to an upland location and possibly used for compost. Organizers of the project are now raising money for a 2008 cutting and future maintenance cuttings.

A member of the Les Cheneaux Watershed Council, Mr. Smith has been involved in every current effort to restore the condition of the bay, including the weevil project. When the council selected the weevil, members knew it would take at least two years for the aquatic insects to become established enough to make a difference in the lush milfoil beds of Cedarville Bay. Milfoil weevils are grown in a laboratory and sold as a natural, noninvasive way to control Eurasian watermilfoil. In addition to the commercial weevils the Watershed Council has discovered a healthy population of native weevils in the bay. Weevils eat the inside of milfoil stalks, causing the plants to weaken, collapse, and die, and they have been used successfully to control large beds of Eurasian watermilfoil around the Great Lakes.

Weevils are one of three weed control solutions the Watershed Council researched as possibilities. The other two include chemical herbicide and mechanical removal. Chemical herbicide has limited success and received little public support. Mechanical harvest was considered too expensive at the time.

Mr. Carmichael learned of the council's efforts, however, and wanted to help even more. He owns Cedarville Marine and Flotation Docking Systems on Cedarville Bay and has also been fighting the effects of invasive weed growth. He has purchased a weed harvester and on-shore equipment for weed disposal, and will contract with the Watershed Council to cut and clear vegetation this summer. Mr. Carmichael is offering the service at a bargain rate of about $200 per acre, "well below commercial rates," Mr. Smith added. The Straits Area Sportsmen's Club, for comparison, estimated it would cost $600 per acre to cut weeds in Lake Millecoquins.

The Watershed Council has proposed cutting an area of about 70 acres between Waterlawn Cabins' shorefront to the east and Ralph Shoberg's property to the west. A minimum of $28,000 is needed for the first year of cutting, but fundraising will be ongoing to provide enough money for future cuttings.

The council proposes two cuttings this summer, one in July and one in August.

"So there should be clear sailing through there, free of big weed mats, before Fourth of July and the Les Cheneaux Boat Show," Mr. Smith said. "But we are looking at a long-term maintenance project that we hope will get easier and cheaper in the future. One of the things I learned along the way is that, through successive cuttings, the weeds become weaker and less aggressive."

The Les Cheneaux Community Foundation is helping the venture between the Watershed Council and Mr. Carmichael by soliciting and collecting donations. The foundation already has a handful of major donors who have pledged to the project.

"These donors have been essential to the project and have provided incredible assistance," Foundation Chair Rick Shapero said.

Grants for this project will be awarded from the foundation's Economic Development Fund, which was started four years ago to provide grants to projects that will help the local economy. The foundation sees this as an economic improvement initiative, hoped to improve boating conditions in Cedarville and, eventually, other parts of the island chain, Mr. Shapero said.

Cedarville Bay weeds get caught up in boat propellers, causing motor seizure and occasional damage. The condition of the bay has prompted complaints from recreational boaters, anglers, and business owners, among other community groups. Some simply avoid the bay and the many businesses that fringe the bay.

Mr. Smith said invasive Eurasian watermilfoil has spread to other bays, and the weed harvester may be used to control its proliferation in those places, as well.

"This is an impressive coalition, and I'm really proud the Community Foundation is involved in this. It's been a very good process, and we really like the cooperation between the three groups from the private and nonprofit sectors," Mr. Shapero said. "When you get like-minded people with a common purpose together to attack a problem, the solutions come quickly."

Besides the immediate effect of mechanical harvest, planners believe the harvest will make the weevil project more effective by removing some of the large mats the insects are targeting. Harvester operators will avoid the places where the insects have been established and where growing populations are identified. Weevils plantings were placed in the bay in summer 2007, and another batch will be planted early this summer. Plantings are marked by buoys and will be near the Cedarville mainland shore.

Weed harvesting will be in about four to six feet of water, closer to LaSalle Island. Mechanical harvesters are used in water bodies around the world to successfully control aquatic vegetation, Mr. Smith said.

Private donations are being used to fund both the weevil and harvesting projects.

Donations to the project can be made to the Les Cheneaux Community Foundation, P.O. Box 249, Cedarville, Michigan 49719; or to the Les Cheneaux Watershed Council at P.O. Box 578 in Cedarville. Checks should be earmarked for the weed harvesting program.

Mr. Smith can provide additional information about the project, and can be contacted at 484-4081.

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