Invasive water plant found in Bear Lake

Matthew Coombs from Utah Forestry, Fire and State Lands paddles a kayak in the shallows of Bear Lake searching for pockets of an invasive Eurasian watemilfoil in 2019.

BEAR LAKE – An invasive water plant, Eurasian watermilfoil, has been growing in Bear Lake unchecked for nearly two years, said Jeremy Varley. Varley is the program manager for the noxious weed program at Idaho Department of Agriculture.

Eurasian watermilfoil is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa and can raise havoc in lakes if not checked.

The Idaho Department of Agriculture found the plant and then informed their Utah counterpart, Aaron Eagar from the Utah Department of Agriculture.

Varley said his crews were conducting a routine survey of the lake, looking for invasive species when they discovered it.

“We sent a sample off to the lab to make sure it was Eurasian watermilfoil,” he said. “Once the plant was verified, we formed a treatment plan and went to work removing it from the lake.”

The waterweed is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa and came to the U.S. as early as 1880, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture website.

Varley said they’ve worked for a couple of months now trying to remove as much of it as they could.

Idaho crews spent the last two months pulling it by hand. Divers have been operating portable dredges with suction heads that remove plants and roots from the sediment – essentially vacuuming the bottom of the lake.

“I think the area was about three quarters of a mile of Eurasian watermilfoil near the Fish Haven shoreline,” Varley said. “The weed has nothing to keep it in check, so it can spread easily and it crowds out native plant species.”

Eurasian watermilfoil is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa and was introduced in the United States as early as 1880.

Idaho has the plant in other lakes on the western and northern side of the state.

“There is native species of watermilfoil called northern watermilfoil, it has the same look and growth patterns,” he said. “You have to know what you are looking for to distinguish it.”

Varley’s team felt like they got it all this year. They finished up on September 25.

Varley informed Aaron Eagar, program director and Utah state weed specialist what was found in Idaho and thought there may be some on the Utah side of the lake.

Eagar confirmed they did find it on the Utah side, the Department of Agriculture worked with Forestry and State Lands for two days and found six locations with both the Northern and Eurasian watermilfoil.

“We found multiple locations at that point; we will put together a group to do a thorough assessment and map it,” Eagar said. “We need to get some additional data and decide where it could spread to.”

This week, the group of three started going out in kayaks to hopefully map where the watermilfoil is at.

Once mapped, we will develop a plan to get rid of it, but it will not happen until next spring.

“It will take couple more weeks before they get all the data we need,” Eagar said. “The Forestry, Fire and State Lands have the authority and rights to handle the issue.”

Eurasian watermilfoil, a native to Europe, Asia and North Africa, was recently found in Bear Lake.

He said their scientist will be up there all week monitoring the weeds.

Idaho found it near Fish Haven, and that is where the Utah study will begin.

Eurasian watermilfoil has been found in several lakes in Idaho, but in Utah it is a little more rare.

Claudia Cottle and her husband, David, live in Fish Haven. The two are co-directors of Bear Lake Watch, a group of people who want to be included in decisions concerning the lake.

Recently, they published a piece on their blog concerning the invasive watermilfoil found in the lake.

The Cottle’s constantly study the lake and look for things that don’t look right. After doing a symposium on aquatic plants, they’ve been more vigilant looking for plants that are new in the lake.

Utah Department of Agriculture worked with Forestry and State Lands to find and map locations Eurasian watermilfoil.

“We actually noticed some different plant growth in the lake,” she said. “We were looking for curly-leaf pond weed.”

They also noticed the Eurasian watermilfoil and called the Idaho Department of Agriculture to report it.

“This is a hot item; now we want to know what to do next with this invasive plant,” she said. “We are trying to be involved with the both states‘ Bear Lake management plan.”

Bear Lake Watch wants to be help shape the management plan for Bear Lake’s watermilfoil and other issues.

Both Utah and Idaho have been pushing boaters to clean, drain and dry their boats to prevent invasive species from being brought into their waters.


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