PROTECT OUR LAKE: The Lake Host Program
The photo accompanying this article is of exotic milfoil—something we don’t want in our lakes. It is not native to New Hampshire and now the two kinds, variable and Eurasian; along with other exotic aquatic nuisance plants infest 78 water bodies in our state. Many of these plants were originally brought from other countries and into the United States through ballast water used to weight large cargo ships crossing the ocean, and likely brought into New Hampshire by boaters from other states and possibly through the pet industry (think fish tank plants. Exotic aquatic nuisance plants and animals hitchhike into and around the state primarily on watercraft and boat trailers. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department warns, "These invaders spread quickly, wreak havoc on native plants and animals, degrade the quality of aquatic resources and make waters unusable for boating, fishing, and swimming." Further, "… once they become established, aquatic nuisance species can be impossible to contain and control."
The good news is Eastman Lake is (so far) free of aquatic nuisance plants and animals. But they are in water bodies all around us, including Lake Sunapee, Mascoma Lake and the Connecticut River. Boats from these waters and many others visit our lake each summer. An infestation of an aquatic nuisance species in our relatively shallow lake would be particularly devastating. Some of these plants can grow to be 15’ in length. That means much of the northern half of our lake, as well as our shoreline and swimming beaches would be potentially at risk.
Here at Eastman Lake our primary defense against hitchhiking aquatic nuisance plants and animals is by our participation in New Hampshire Lakes Association’s (NH LAKES) Lake Host Program. NH LAKES is a 501c(3) nonprofit statewide organization established in 1992 and funded through state grants, private gifts and member support. The mission of the organization is to protect New Hampshire’s lakes and their watersheds through education and advocacy. Since 2002 NH LAKES, through its Lake Host program, has conducted over 576,000 courtesy boat inspections and captured over 1,400 hitchhiking fragments of nuisance plants and animals statewide. NH LAKES supports local groups participating in the Lake Host Program at approximately 100 of the most highly used public boat ramps in New Hampshire.. In 2013 NH LAKES began a new initiative called “Clean, Drain, and Dry”. This is a proactive program to help boaters rid their crafts and trailers of hitchhiking aquatic nuisance plants and animals. It could take just a fragment of a nuisance plant or a drop of water containing nuisance animal larvae to infest our our lake. In addition to the Lake Host Program and other educational activities NH LAKES performs advocacy work for our water bodies with legislators, state agency personnel and other conservation groups.
A grant from NH LAKES helps fund the Lake Host program at Eastman. NH LAKES accepts our Lake Host volunteer time as “sweat equity” to match the grant they provide us with to pay the salary of Lake Hosts (typically Eastman youth) hired as seasonal NH LAKES employees to work at our ramp . Last year we had 52 Eastman volunteers staffing our public boat ramp weekdays and paid Lake Hosts on the weekends. NH LAKES provides the educational material and training for our Lake Hosts. In turn, trained Lake Hosts educate visiting boaters about exotic species, distribute brochures, answer questions, complete a brief boater survey, perform courtesy inspections on every boat launched at our ramp and bag any suspicious plant or animal life found on the boats for analysis. We have found boaters happy to cooperate as no one wants to infest our Lake. The Lakes and Streams Committee also sponsors a “Weed Watchers” program. These volunteers, who are specially trained in exotic plant and animal identification, paddle the Lake’s shoreline regularly looking for infestations.
Our lake is at the heart of Eastman. We do need to protect it for the enjoyment of our community in the years to come. The 2014 boating season is approaching. Our goal is to staff the boat ramp with Lake Hosts 12 hours a day seven days a week. This is not easy but any gaps provide a chance for unwanted species to enter our lake. This is one of those situations where anything less than 100% staffing is proportionately risky. The Lakes and Streams Committee will be looking for volunteers to join us as Lake Hosts. After training, the time requirement for Lake Hosts is 2 hours a week. Substitutes are available if a volunteer cannot make it one week. In addition you get a free hat and blue tee shirt! If you would like to learn more about Lake Hosting please contact, Sharon Parker, Lake Host Coordinator (firstname.lastname@example.org), Ernie Mills, Lake Host Point Person, (email@example.com) or John Larrabee, Chair of the Lakes and Streams Committee, (firstname.lastname@example.org).