Local News

FWC: Illinois pondweed treatment going successfully

LAKE PLACID - Several herbicide treatments in public access and recreation areas of Lake June have been "successfully" conducted over the past two weeks to control Illinois pondweed, said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regional biologist Kelle Sullivan. Over the last few months, several residents who live on Lake June or use it for boating or water sports have been upset by what they say is an explosion of the aquatic plant, which is native to the state and apparently found in 10 percent of Highlands County lakes. Sullivan said the areas around Lake June boat ramps and Lake Henry canal are now clear. The swimming area at Bishop Park was initially missed so it was treated Monday. The areas at the south end of the lake near Catfish Creek and the north west cove at Sterns Creek were treated last week and "it has not been enough time yet to evaluate them."
Weather permitting, FWC hopes to start treating larger areas starting Monday. "I fully expect these treatments to open up the public recreation and navigation areas. Unlike hydrilla, Illinois pondweed is not an extremely aggressive exotic aquatic plant that displaces other beneficial species. It is a beneficial native to Florida's fresh waters including Lake June," she wrote in an email. "FWC is striving to balance the competing needs of Lake June and its stakeholders, and is committed to working in a public/private effort to find a solution." At a public hearing held last month, Sullivan explained that Illinois pond weed has been found in Lake June since the late '80s. She said its recent proliferation in some parts of the about 3,500-acre lake could be because of all the rainfall we've been getting or the presence of certain nutrients in the lake. It could even be a cyclical phenomena, she explained at that time. Many people who had been present in the audience at that time were upset and said they wanted an aggressive treatment done to rid the lake of the pondweed, which they feared was bringing down their property values and could be a potential danger to boaters and swimmers. Wednesday, Lake June resident Al Pelski underscored that feeling. He lives by the cove and said the weeds were still growing rapidly and was hoping the cold weather dampens some of their growth. Some residents have applied to the FWC for a free permit to use herbicide or hire someone to do it. Pelksi said he was not paying to do that because the weeds are growing back after treatments are completed, he said. He and his wife, Sandy, instead, were going to pull the weeds from the beach area and hope it didn't grow back. Highlands County Lakes Association President John Ruggiero said he's heard from the state that these treatments take some time to show results and the pondweeds don't just die off after they are treated. "Nobody knows for sure what's causing this growth pattern this year," he said. Meanwhile, Highlands County Lakes Manager Clell Ford said Illinois pondweed grows in about 10 percent of Highlands County lakes. It has been "well-established" on the west side of Lake June for some time, he said, and grows in Lake Istokpoga, too, where it is considered "great for fishing." Since Illinois pondweed is not considered an invasive, exotic aquatic plant and is not on the county's treatment plan, local lakes officials are not involved in its current treatment efforts, which FWC is handling, he added. Meanwhile, Sullivan wrote that she has received a number of new FWC Aquatic Plant Management permit applications from lakeshore residents who have applied to use a herbicide to control the pondweed around their private docks and shorelines. "I am working on these applications to get them processed as soon as possible. Please remember that if you already have an FWC Aquatic Plant Management permit, but it does not have Illinois pondweed listed on it for control, you need to submit a permit modification to add Illinois pondweed and the herbicide to control it to your active permit before you treat around your dock or shoreline," she added. Those interested in more information or need help with a new permit application or modification should contact Sharon Stinson at (863)534-7074. Sullivan said she has also spoken with several residents who are interested in obtaining a group permit. "I have also spoken with contractors regarding quotes to support this option. Once the treatments are completed in the public access areas around the lake I will follow up further with more specific information regarding group permitting," Sullivan said. Meanwhile, those like Pelski who want to yank the weed by hand don't require permits. No permits are required for residents to manually remove the plants along 50 feet of their shoreline or a distance that is 50 percent of their lake frontage, whichever is less. "This clearing should be placed perpendicular to the shoreline and may extend as far out in the lake as necessary for a boat or swimmer to reach open water," Sullivan added. Permits can be applied for online at: https://public.myfwc.com/CrossDOI/PermitSystem/loginForm.aspx?ReturnUrl=%2fCrossDOI%2fPermitSystem%2fDefault.aspx