Home | News | Milfoil Concerns

Milfoil Concerns

Font size: Decrease font Enlarge font
Milfoil Concerns

For mothers and others concerned with herbicide use against milfoil, a ray of hope - the county task force is committed to an integrated management plan

Sandpoint Mothers for Safe Water, a group of over 200 local mothers and fathers concerned about the herbicide applications used in the lake to treat milfoil infestation, are actively seeking information for themselves and the community on the potential effects of herbicides. They are advocates for safe drinking and swimming water for everybody.

The group invited Caroline Cox, a research director at the Center for Environmental Health, a foundation working to eliminate the use of synthetic chemicals, to speak at Sandpoint’s Community Hall last month. Cox has a master’s degree in entomology from Oregon State University and she volunteered to come to Sandpoint free of charge.

“The most important thing,” Cox said, “is I’m a mom. I’ve had the privilege over the last 15 years to read and study the hazards caused by herbicides. I’m just the messenger.”

Cox gave a presentation that listed ten reasons not to use herbicides in the lake.

Cox stressed that finding ways to recreate a healthy lake, such as having boat wash stations and repairing septic systems, is more beneficial than using herbicides to destroy milfoil.

“System management, rather than species management, should be the focus,” Cox said.

Milfoil, the invasive weed eating our lake, originally came from Europe and Asia. It was introduced to the United States as early as the 1940s. People used milfoil in aquariums for decorations, and when they got tired of fish in a glass, they often dumped the works, allowing the milfoil to migrate into area water sources. It was also brought as ship’s ballast from Europe. Milfoil reproduces rapidly and will infest an entire lake. Fragments of the plant break off, float to other areas, sink, and start fresh growths. A new plant can start from a very tiny fragment. Boats most often carry the scourge, successfully transplanting it in each area they travel to. Because it came from Europe and Asia, there are no local species that eat it to keep it in check.

The draft Strategic Plan for management of Bonner County’s aquatic invasive species warns, “Due to escalation of aquatic invasive species spreading in the west, Bonner County is in danger of losing the aesthetic beauty, wildlife habitat, and recreational attributes of its waterways. If left untreated, the densest of these invasive species (currently), Eurasian watermilfoil, can eventually blanket boat launches, severely impact the fishery, and impede swimming areas, which could prevent many recreational uses and reduce wildlife habitat in or near the waterways.”

Brad Bluemer, Bonner County weed department supervisor, said the county started applying 2,4-D and Sonar in 2001 on a 5-10 acre area of the lake.

“We had very little money at that time,” Bluemer said, “and we applied small amounts around boat docks and inlet areas to prevent the spread of milfoil. That was done each year until 2006, when we got funding.”

In 2006, state representative Eric Anderson helped craft House Bill 867 to appropriate funding to address milfoil infestation. That summer, the county treated almost 3,000 acres of lake and river. In 2007, Bluemer said they did not get funding to herbicide the river, but that 1,700 acres of the lake received treatment. This year, the county is covering 3,000 acres with 2,4-D, Triclopyr, Diquat and Endothal.

Bluemer said that after this year, the county would have employed $5 million worth of herbicides. “Currently, the state of Idaho’s eradication funds for Eurasian watermilfoil are pretty much all the county has to address aquatic weeds.” There are fairly limited parameters for this funding (has to be for eradication, not much in the way of prevention/education, no personnel time, and no research projects.) So herbicides have been the de facto tool of choice. “We need a broader range of streams of funding,” explained Kate Wilson, chair of the county’s Aquatic Invasive Species task force.

“I’m not sure we’ll ever eradicate (watermilfoil),” Bluemer said. “They found it in Montana, and it will continue to feed into our system. My personal goal is to get the milfoil under control so that we only have to apply a minimal amount of herbicide every year.”

Bluemer said the amount of 2,4-D applied to the lake poses no health risks at all.

“I wouldn’t be afraid to swim in it,” Bluemer said. “There’s no swimming restrictions because the amount used isn’t that strong. You don’t drink it or irrigate it according to the restrictions posted. At the levels it is in the lake, a person would have to drink 500 gallons a day (to be harmed).”

The chemical 2,4-D is used to battle a variety of obnoxious weeds on land as well as in the water. Cox said that in 1987, 1997 and 2003, the U.S. used 33 million pounds of 2,4-D a year.

“If 2,4-D was really working,” Cox said, “you’d expect to see less of it used over time.”

Cox said that herbicide exposure is all around us. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture tested a variety of fruits and vegetables. They found 70 percent of the produce tested contaminated with at least one herbicide, and about 40 percent tainted with more than one herbicide.

Herbicides are also found in the air and water. Cox states the U.S. Geological Survey has found herbicides in one or more water samples from every stream tested in 50 river basins. Half of the samples detected 2,4-D. According to monitoring studies of air compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey, 60 percent of the air samples were contaminated with 2,4-D.

[Ed. Note: See box regarding studies]

“Herbicide hazards,” Cox said, “are real, but not well understood.”

Steve Holt, president of the Panhandle Environmental League, said the bug that eats the milfoil is already present in the lake. PEL formed in 2007 in response to concerns about the long-term use of aquatic herbicides in Lake Pend Oreille. They hope to accomplish their mission, promoting sustainability in protecting the environment of the Idaho Panhandle, by supporting research and development of a biological control program using the milfoil weevil.

“We already have the weevil. They are native to Lake Pend Oreille,” Holt said, “but there’s not enough to tip the scale.” The milfoil weevil is a native to North America, and it tends to prefer the exotic Eurasian brand of milfoil to the relatively benign local forms of the plant. The weevils living in the lake would need to be supplemented by an outside source in order to address the current milfoil infestation. In addition, studies in midwestern lakes suggest fish predation of the weevil limits their ability to ingest milfoil in amounts sufficient to control the invasive weed.

Nothing eats the sesame seed-sized weevil, Holt maintained, but the weevil only eats milfoil. Someone from the audience asked, “Why don’t we buy more weevils?”

“It’s really a matter of funding,” Holt said. “Buy a weevil today. It’ll take between $70 and $80 thousand to get a population of weevils thriving.”

Another member of the audience asked why we’ve spent 5 million dollars on poison but won’t spend $80 thousand on bugs. Brad Bluemer said the reason the state won’t provide funding for the weevils is that there’s no scientific evidence that they will succeed.

“We can’t spend the taxpayers money without the scientific facts showing the weevils will work,” Bluemer said.

The weevils have actually been the focus of many scientific studies over the past 20 years, and their impact on Eurasian watermilfoil growth has had mixed results nationwide - as have various chemical herbicides. The problem is with long-term eradication. Studies undertaken nationwide have shown that herbicide treatments and the introduction of weevils have about an equal success rate - no long-term eradication. The biggest culprit appears to be re-introduction of the weed.

The Minnesota Department of Fisheries and Wildlife reports that use of the weevil to control Eurasian milfoil has been “quite effective at some sites, (but) it has not been effective at other sites. Currently, we cannot predict when, where and how the weevils will or will not be effective.” Just one lake in Minnesota, Cenaiko Lake, has had a Eurasian watermilfoil crash due to the weevil; other weevil lakes are yet to show declines in Eurasian watermilfoil.

“How many millions of dollars,” Holt said, “are we going to go through before somebody steps up and says ‘enough is enough?’ We already have 1,000 signatures of people who are concerned.”

The AIS task force is all for setting weevils at local infestations of Eurasian watermilfoil - provided funding can be obtained. In fact, the members of the task force read like a Who’s Who of the area’s environmental “warriors,” with names like Phil Hough (chairman of the Friends of Scotchman Peaks); Ruth Watkins (former director of the Clark Fork Coalition’s Sandpoint field office); and Susan Drumheller (North Idaho Associate for the Idaho Conservation League). “Everyone on the task force,” Bluemer said, “including myself, is in favor of finding a biological solution for milfoil. If we can find a site were they can be implemented and tested, we can do it. What we can’t do is use taxpayer dollars.”

The AIS task force’s draft strategic plan states, “The County is interested in the research and evaluation of all means of controlling aquatic invasive species, including preventative strategies, more education and outreach efforts, re-vegetation, new technologies, biological control, rapid response protocol, and additional monitoring. It is a goal of the County to reduce Eurasian watermilfoil populations to levels low enough to be controlled without large-scale herbicide treatments.”

Bluemer added, “Bonner County and I are big proponents of biological control. We have two types of bugs fighting knapweed. We need names and phone numbers of people who want those.”

Those interested in obtaining up-to-date information on the county’s problem with aquatic invasive species and its resources for dealing with the same, especially those interested in volunteering in the effort, are encouraged to contact Chair Kate Wilson at [email protected] or to call Bluemer at 208-265-1497.


• Herbicides in water. USGS has been studying herbicide residue and their degredates in water for decades. Links to their study reports can be found here: http://toxics.usgs.gov/highlights/. Specific research on 2,4D showed the presence of this chemical in just 16 percent of samples. USGS has found “Pesticides and degradates are typically present throughout most of the year in streams draining watersheds with substantial agricultural or urban areas, but are less common in ground water.” They add, “The occurrence of pesticides in streams and ground water does not necessarily cause adverse effects because detections were often at low concentrations.” Download a copy of the 2007 USGS study “The Quality of Our Nation’s Waters Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Ground Water, 1992-2001” (Revised February 15, 2007.)
• Herbicides in air samples. The USGS website did not list any studies undertaken of pesticides in air .

In 1995 a study in Mississippi showed detectable levels of pesticides in all air and rain samples collected. (Because this URL is so long, please read this story on www.RiverJournal.com, and click on the link suggested.)

• Milfoil weevil. Milfoil weevil success in Minnesota. Sheldon/Creed report on milfoil weevil • Panhandle Environmental League - No website, but call 208-263-2217 for information.
Bonner County Weed Department -

AIS Task Force listserve:

Pend Oreille Basin Commission (Lakes Commission)

Sandpoint Mothers for Safe Water

Subscribe to comments feed Comments (0 posted)

total: | displaying:

Post your comment

  • Bold
  • Italic
  • Underline
  • Quote

Please enter the code you see in the image:

  • Email to a friend Email to a friend
  • Print version Print version
  • Plain text Plain text

Author info

Desire Aguirre Desire Aguirre lives in Sandpoint with her daughter, DaNae, and numerous pets. An LCSC student, she plans on graduating May, 2009, with a bachelors in communication. Her favorite sport is riding her horse, Splash-of-Paint, into the wilderness with Cholo, her son's faithful dog.

Tagged as:

No tags for this article

Rate this article