An aggressive invasive aquatic plant that can invade the habitats of other species in Maine lakes has been first discovered in Hancock County.
Authorities recently determined that a plant sample taken from Lake Alamoosook in Orland last summer was the invasive watermilfoilraising concerns about possible spread in the region.
The fast-growing plant that lives along the shoreline can, when left unchecked, interfere with boating and swimming, cause property values to drop, and colonize native plant habitats.
The extent of the infestation in Alamoosook is unknown, but state officials and other organizations are working to eradicate the plant before it takes hold firmly in the 997-acre lake.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection plans to begin surveying the lake for Eurasian watermilfoil later this year and will remove the plant by hand, said John McPhedran, a biologist with the Aquatic Invasive Species Program of the state.
This particular species is one of the most common invasive aquatic plants in Maine. First found in Sebago Lake in the 1970s, watermilfoil can choke out other vegetation, especially in shallow areas.
“They tend to grow and dominate the habitat,” McPhedran said.
The best chance of successfully eliminating the plant is to pull it out before it spreads.
“Finding the plant early when it’s not prevalent provides a window of opportunity to manage and eliminate whatever is growing on it,” McPhedran said. “We hope it will be limited to a small area.”
Alamoosook Lake Association board member Katie Greenman was hopeful the infestation was in its early stages and said it was a major concern for local communities and the surrounding watershed .
The association, Lake Stewards of Maine, DEP, Hancock County Lakes Association and other area groups are all mobilizing to try and eradicate the plant before it gets too far.
“Mitigation of advanced infestations would represent a major financial burden on the community,” Greenman wrote in a notice to surrounding towns.
Alamoosook Lake is popular with anglers and boaters. It is also home to the first federal fish hatchery in the United States and has a large gaspereau industry.
The plant is often spread from lake to lake by boats or other human activities. A plant can be stuck in a propeller or hung from a trailer and then taken to an uninfested body of water.
Once it begins to grow in a lake or pond, it can also spread further downstream naturally, or via bird droppings, potentially endangering other waters in Hancock County, according to McPhedran.
The presence of wingwings is confirmed in about 30 lakes and ponds in Maine and has been eradicated in about five. Its only reported occurrence in Hancock County is in Lake Alamoosook. There is also an infested lake Down East.
Officials say one of the best ways to prevent the spread of these invasive aquatic plants and other invasive aquatic plants is for boaters inspect their boats after a day on the water. Spending a few minutes searching for plants left hanging from boats can reduce the risk of transporting invasive species to new lakes.
“Any lake is in danger,” McPhedran said. “We really need to do our part to help stop the spread of these plants.”