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Proposed anti-plant legislation
Since I have been authorized to post it only in its entirety, here it is in
Dear Mr. Gomberg:
Thank you again for your request to post information we sent you
concerning Senator Fargo's Non-Native Exotic Aquatic Weed Legislation.
I would like to ask that you respect my earlier request not to post the
contents of our previous correspondence as it is not a complete view of
this issue. Because of the wide scope of this legislation, there are
many aspects which must be understood in order to properly evaluate it.
I have included the contents of our information packet which was
distributed to interested parties during the time of this legislation's
debate. You have the Senator's permission to post any of the following
information included in the packet which I have included below as long
as it is posted in its entirety. I hope this information is helpful.
Thanks again for your consideration.
Michael E. McAllister
The Negative Impacts of Exotic Aquatic Plants
Exotic aquatic plants have far-reaching detrimental economic and
environmental impacts. These two sectors are mutually interdependent.
The quality of our lives and the health of our citizens rely on healthy
ecosystems. The best way to preserve a healthy ecosystem is through
informed decisions and wise, efficient uses. By controlling the spread
of invasive exotic aquatic plants, we are protecting lives, reviving our
ecosystems, and saving our economy millions of dollars.
Exotic aquatic plants threaten our lakes, ponds, and rivers by
displacing native plants, and by accelerating the filling of water
areas, a process known as eutrophication. Once exotic species invade an
established ecosystem, they compete with native species for food and
space. They have no natural predators, which would have adapted and
kept their growth in balance. As a result, exotic species have invaded
and taken over entire areas. Observations of water areas throughout the
Commonwealth confirm how aggressively the invading plants attack.
These exotic plants threaten to eliminate our waterfowl, fish, insects,
reptiles, and amphibians. Fish and birds become entangled and strangled
to death in the roots. All forms of aquatic life are struggling to find
precious food sources, now choked out by these weeds.
According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, exotic aquatic
plants have been a major factor in the listing of one-quarter of all
threatened and endangered species in the United States. We are losing
the natural heritage of plants and animals that sustain our natural
world and enrich our lives.
When exotic plants reproduce with native species, they
spawn hybrid plants. Hybrids, in turn, reduce an area's biodiversity,
or amount of varied genetic material. Without healthy and adaptable
organisms, ecosystems are more vulnerable to pests and diseases.
Exotic plants are scientifically proven to cause wildlife population
declines and species' extinction. Unfortunately, a fundamental cause of
the explosive aquatic weed growth in recent years is the excessive
nutrient loading from faulty sewer lines, septic systems, and storm
drains. That is to say we are all contributing to increased amounts of
phosphorous in our lakes, ponds, and rivers.
As the weeds die, they fall to the bottom and decompose. Fish consume
fatal doses of phosphorous concentrated in the sediments. The crowding
vegetation and phosphorous deplete oxygen levels in the water. Fish are
choking to death. Increased sedimentation speeds
up the process, known as eutrophication, in which lakes and ponds fill
and 'turn over' into wetlands, bogs, and marshes. For example, Hardy
Pond in Waltham was nearly 40 feet deep a few decades ago, but is now
only 4 feet deep. Filled lakes and ponds remove one of the key links in
the water cycle, the recycling of precipitation and the replenishment of
drinking and recreational water supplies.
Exotic aquatic plant species cause widespread destruction of ecosystems
by completely taking over an area and eliminating any economically
profitable native species. Numerous other economic sectors are affected
by clogged, impassable waterways, including fisheries, water-dependent
industries and utilities, scenic tourism, parks and recreation. As
exotic aquatic plants take over whole areas, steady water flows and
currents are lessened and restricted. Anglers, boaters, swimmers, and
water-skiers cannot access stretches of our rivers, as well as whole
lakes and ponds. Offensive odors due to plant decomposition and
unsightly views of weed-clogged waterbodies are lowering shorefront
property values. Tourists and other visitors arrive to our historic and
once-scenic waterbodies, only to find tangled masses of weeds.
State and local governments spend enormous amounts of money to eradicate
aggressive plants and restore natural habitats. A study published by
the US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Harmful Non-Indigenous
Species in the United States found that the nation spends billions of
dollars trying to repair the damages caused by exotic species. Fifteen
exotic plants analyzed in the study had an estimated cumulative loss to
the United States economy of approximately $603 million. The estimates
omitted many harmful species for which data were unavailable or
incomplete. The study also projected potential economic losses from
three exotic plant species of approximately $4.5 billion, over a
fifty-year range. The figures represent only a part of the total and
documented costs-that is, they do not include a large number of species
for which little or no economic data were currently available.
Exotic Aquatic Legislation Questions & Answers
Why do we need this legislation?
These plants spread aggressively in a body of water, making swimming,
boating, and fishing difficult. They disrupt natural ecosystems by
displacing native plants and rapidly altering fish and wildlife habitat
and filling the body of water with sediment. These exotic aquatic
species have no known natural enemies. These plants are growing and
expanding in our waterways at an alarming rate. They cover the water,
preventing recreation, tangling boats and fowl, keeping fish and aquatic
wildlife from food sources in these areas, and depleting oxygen from the
water. As the increasing plant matter decomposes, the process of
sedimentation accelerates, leading to impaired water quality and
offensive odors. The cost of removing these weeds grows with time.
The longer we wait to remove them, the larger the area they encompass.
The greater the area, the greater the cost will be to the tourism,
recreation and fishery industries. According to the US Fish and Wildlife
Service, exotic aquatic plant species have been a contributing factor,
or the major factor in the listing of one-quarter of all threatened and
endangered species in the United States. A number of species have
already become extinct as a result of alien pests.
What parts of the state are affected by these exotic aquatics?
The unfortunate truth is that these exotic aquatics have infested all
parts of the state. Preliminary maps compiled by Mr. Rick McVoy of
Massachusetts DEP/ Division of Watershed Management, highlight the
different species that have spread within each DEP region across the
state: SOUTHEAST (includes South Shore, Cape Cod, Buzzards Bay):
Purple Loosestrife, Phragmites, Variable or Broad-Leaved Watermilfoil,
Fanwort. WESTERN (includes areas west of Connecticut River):
Curly-Leaved Pondweed, Eurasian Watermilfoil (traditionally a high
alkaline water species resulting in western distribution, but is
spreading east into the Central Region), European Naiad. CENTRAL
(includes areas west of Route 495): Variable or Broad-Leaved
Watermilfoil. NORTHEAST (includes areas east of Route 128, immediate
Boston suburbs, North Shore): Purple Loosestrife, Water Chestnut.
Emerging in this region are also Variable or Broad-Leaved Watermilfoil.
What are exotic aquatic plant species?
Exotic aquatic plant species listed in the Massachusetts DEM/Lakes and
Ponds Program's Guide to Invasive Non-Native Aquatic Plants in
Massachusetts (June 1997) include: water chestnut (Trapa natans),
fanwort (Cabomba caroliniana), variable watermilfoil (Myriophyllum
heterophyllum), eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum),
curly-leaved pondweed (Potamogeton crispus), naiad (Najas
guadalupensis), european naiad (Najas minor), south american waterweed
(Egeria densa), yellow floating heart (Nymphoides peltata), hydrilla
(Hydrilla verticillata), european frog-bit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae),
flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus), parrot feather (Myriophyllum
aquaticum). These exotic species now grow in areas where they are not
native. Aquatic plants easily establish themselves at new sites. When
torn apart, plants like the watermilfoils develop roots and form a new
plant. Many exotic species present in other New England states, such as
hydrilla and zebra mussel, have the potential to create future problems
in the Commonwealth.
How did these species get here?
The invasion of exotic species began when European colonists altered the
native landscape by clearcutting forests and plowing fields. Most new
exotic aquatic plant species arrive in association with cultivation,
commerce, tourism, or travel. Other species were imported as crops,
ornamental plants, or aquaculture species and later escaped. A number
of species which were imported and released for soil conservation or
biological control later turned out to be harmful. Native fish,
insects, fowl and wildlife have not been able to adapt to these new
species. We know relatively little about how these species spread beyond
their natural ranges. We do know that once established, exotic aquatics
spread with and without human assistance. Seeds and plant fragments
often deposit themselves in the shafts of boat propellers and ballasts,
or attach to duck feet and feathers, allowing them to spread to new
locations. Rivers also provide means for weeds to spread. The rate at
which additional species arrive here fluctuates widely because of
social, political, and technological factors. New trade patterns and
innovations in transportation may increase the spread of harmful species
by exchanging seeds between previously isolated regions. Broadened
consumer interest in ornamental plants may increase the supply of exotic
species within the country.
What are the goals of this legislation?
Our legislation embraces the following goals: (1) Integrating
environmental and economic goals in the decision making process in order
to select the most cost-effective actions that protect and enhance the
natural resources of the Commonwealth; (2) Stressing management
decisions that identify the root causes of invasive plant growth (3)
Developing best management practices to prevent future infestations and
create a list of ways to minimize environmental impact. (4) Building
flexibility into programs so that state agencies and organizations can
adapt according to emerging issues, resources, and technologies.
What will this legislation accomplish?
This legislation is a comprehensive approach to a complex problem. The
legislation will create a database to: monitor all waterway cleanup
programs in the state; study the causes of the problem; list what
actions have been taken to remove the weeds; and ascertain costs for
projects and post-project monitoring. In addition, the legislation
creates a database of information that locates the extent of
infestations across the Commonwealth, maintains pre- and post-project
water quality and vegetation surveys, and records the money spent on any
project or survey. DEM will monitor the technical progress and
financial success of existing management strategies, so that we can
develop a comprehensive strategy for keeping our waterways clean and
clear of harmful exotic weeds. Our legislation also directs a
nine-member technical advisory committee (including members from state
environmental and agricultural agencies, the Massachusetts Nurseries
Association, the state university system, the Great and General Court
and state conservation commissions) to decide which plant species should
be prohibited from sale, transport, etc. The Department of
Environmental Management will make this list public, and the
Environmental Police of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife
penalizes violators by a fine of not more than five thousand dollars.
Our legislation directs the Department of Environmental Management to
provide necessary technical oversight to volunteer water quality
monitoring groups. DEM will also form a cooperative partnership with
state universities and other research facilities. This partnership will
provide student survey teams to monitor waterbodies during the summer
How will we prevent future infestations?
DEM will maintain a public education program. This program informs
recreational users, shorefront property owners, and members of lakes and
ponds associations of appropriate steps to take to monitor and manage
invasive plant growth.
Our legislation takes the following pro-active
approaches: (1)A partnership approach that relies on existing agencies
and organizations to implement control strategies while building future
capabilities through the formation of innovative partnerships; (2) A
holistic approach that recognizes the effects of activities on the
environment surrounding the problem area and focuses water quality
protection and ecosystem restoration efforts along these boundaries;
(3)A consensus based collaborative approach that strengthens the
outcomes of decisions by facilitating a dialogue among multiple
interested parties. These measures provide the greatest chance for early
identification and treatment before an exotic species becomes
established in a water body. Preventing new introductions of exotic
species is the first line of defense. Greater accountability and more
adequate funding for control and eradication projects will limit the
impact of established plant communities. The bill establishes a grant
program specifically for exotic aquatic species control projects,
including research/pilot projects at state universities to test new and
emerging control technologies. Grants are available to municipalities
that are striving to meet the challenges of lake and pond and river
How will this bill affect current and future projects?
This bill does not impose any additional regulations or restrictions on
exotic aquatic species control projects. It will, however, establish an
exotic aquatic species control grant program for municipalities, as a
subcategory of the existing aquatic species nuisance control grant
program. It will also include sections of rivers for grant availability
to alleviate those sections affected. DEM will collect and monitor data
from exotic aquatic control projects. Of particular concern is the
collection of pre- and post-project water quality and vegetation
surveys, and the amount of money spent on any project or survey. These
measures will ensure greater accountability and improved data-collection
Who will decide which plants are prohibited?
A nine-member commission, comprised of representatives from the
Department of Environmental Management, Division of Fisheries and
Wildlife, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of
Food and Agriculture, the Massachusetts Association of Conservation
Commissions, the Massachusetts Nursery Association (which will submit a
list of three individuals to the Governor, who will choose one), an
appointee of the House Speaker, an appointee of the Senate President and
one member with botanical experience from a Massachusetts college or
university appointed by the Secretary of Environmental Affairs.
How much do we spend now?
The DEM Lake and Pond Grant Program helps municipalities that are
striving to meet the challenges of lake and pond management. This is
the fifth year of the program. In the first four years, DEM awarded 127
grants totaling $925,000 across the state. In 1998, 31 grants were
awarded for a total of $253,793. The cost of fixing this problem will
continue to grow the longer we wait.
What techniques are used to control the growth of exotic aquatic
Preventing new introductions of harmful species is the first line of
defense. After an infestation has already occurred, plant control
technologies are divided into four basic categories: (1) Mechanical:
dredging, harvesting, hand removal; (2) Chemical: systemic and contact
herbicides; (3) Biological: insects; (4) Habitat Manipulation: lake
drawdown, freezing, benthic barriers, shading. The Charles River
weed-harvesting experience illustrates the need for selective
species-control strategies. "We're involved in a scientific alteration
of an ecosystem, and when you do that there's a learning curve," said
Dan Driscoll, a senior planner at the MDC, which has overseen the
Charles River weed-harvesting project. "And we're all kind of going
through this learning curve together."
Will this lower the cost of projects?
The anticipated cost of this program is $1 million per year. This
legislation streamlines state environmental controls, tracking the
amount of money spent on each project. This bill assures that
management techniques measure both immediate and long term costs,
benefits, and impacts. Each control project must identify root causes
of the existing exotic species problem, including any nutrient loading
from the surrounding area that may exacerbate exotic plant growth.
DEM's public education program and cooperative partnership with state
universities, colleges, and research facilities will educate residents
about taking action to prevent future problems. These measures ensure
more informed planning and more cost-effective decisions. By tracking
costs and monitoring the success of control projects it will actually
reduce costs. By streamlining the entire process and working with other
agencies, universities and volunteer groups across the state we will
accomplish more work for less money. The sooner we act, the more money
we will save.
Why this legislation does not impose a fee on boat owners.
According to the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife,
Environmental Law Enforcement Division, there are approximately 140,000
private motor boats registered in the Commonwealth. The department
already collects a $30 registration fee, which is renewable every two
years. Total funds specifically marked for control and eradication
projects, through an additional $3 fee, would amount to approximately
$420,000. This is not a cost-effective means of protecting and
enhancing our inland waterways. While numerous invasive species have
spread beyond their natural ranges with human assistance, directly
targeting private motor boat owners ignores the need for a collaborative
approach for monitoring and managing invasive plant growth. All public
boat launches in the Commonwealth should have signs posted to inform
boaters about the simple precautionary steps they can take to prevent
the spread. Management decisions, however, should recognize the complex
inter-relationships within ecosystems, including the sources of nutrient
overloading into our rivers, lakes and ponds. Designating private motor
boat owners as the prime contributors ignores the need for long-term
management strategies. We should seek ways of securing adequate and
consistent appropriations for waterways restoration, invasive aquatic
>control and management projects.
Dave Gomberg, San Francisco mailto:gomberg at wcf_com