Tuesday, November 9, 2010



That headline about the "lesser of two weevils" won a newspaper award for Rik Davie and his newspaper The Scugog Standard. The substance of those weevil stories should have impact far beyond the weedy shores of Lake Scugog
They show how an environmental group, with the support in varying degrees of the community, conservation authority and the municipality, can help win at least one battle in the expensive war against the water weeds which threaten to carpet Cottage Country since the invasion of zebra mussels let them run amuck.
The lesson should not be lost on Queen's Park and any municipality that has more than one cottage. After all, not only does the explosion of water weeds hurt the enjoyment of Cottage Country, and the real estate values, it also results in a public loss because cottagers have their municipal taxes reduced if they have a water weed problem.
And I'm not saying it has to be as bad as some of my neighbours have at the height of the season when the weeds stretch from dock to dock in a smelly, unsightly mess. They have to carve channels for their boats and swim elsewhere.
So my municipality of Trent Hills has a financial stake in the plight of their cottage residents. If the council was to aid the cottagers in the harvesting or destruction of weeds, and the provincial ministries were more involved, tax money would be regained.
The councils should ask their reps on the board of the Municipal Property Assessment Corp. to get their assessors to give ballpark figures on the total cost in Ontario because of all the lowered assessments.
The Scugog Lake Stewards, a nicely named environmental group, bought thousands of weevils in 2009 from EnviroScience in the U.S. (10 beetles to each milfoil stalk) and planted them near King's Bay in Lake Scugog. Last summer, the result was impressive. The weevils had almost eaten themselves out of house and home because there were empty stretches in between all the dead and dying plants.
There is an advantage in using weevils as a biological control. Not only are they native to the Kawarthas, they leave native plant species alone. There's always a threat when you import a solution that you tip the balance in nature. Unfortunately the world is full of examples. .
The stewards got a mixed reaction when they pitched their scheme. But the Baagwating Community Association donated $25,000 to the pilot project. The township was lukewarm. That council had hired a company at $8,000 to cut water vegetation in Port Perry in 2009 but didn't do it again because of questions about the effectiveness.
Yet the weevils certainly seem effective. A conservation authority official was quoted by the Standard as saying the destruction of weeds is impressive. Yet as I survey what the experts interviewed by the Standard think, and after a message from Davie, I would guess that some in the Kawarthas would only go for weevils if there were countless examples of success.
But the weevil experiment is hardly unique. It has been tried in many waters choked with weeds in the U.S. and the success has lasted from four to 10 years. Yet too many are uncomfortable about anything new.
However, consider the alternatives. There's Reward (diquat) that can be sprayed on the water, which is short-term and expensive or you can cut the weeds, which means they return.
My neighbours, and other groups on the Trent River, have tried Reward and found it not rewarding. Queen's Park controls its sale, and makes it so expensive, the herbicide might as well be liquid gold. The permission process is so extensive, it bothered my neighbour who completed forms for us, and he's a CA used to nitpicking. My conclusion is that the government really doesn't want us using the stuff. If they did, it would be cheaper and easier to obtain.
Now the municipalities could be involved more in cutting the weeds, which they call harvesting. Surely it makes as much sense to do this, perhaps charging cottagers half the cost on a frontage basis, as it does to cut the grass at the side of roads. They certainly have been doing that for years while leaving the water weeds up to the cottagers. And so they lose.
Queen's Park and the municipalities have to get off their fat rumps and participate in weed control as if they actually cared. They can do that with experts to advise cottage associations in language that doesn't read like a PhD thesis. They can do that by helping to pay for pilot projects instead of sticking a community group with the cost. They can do that by buying weed cutting equipment, and if they don't want to get involved, rent them out.
This is also a cause for ratepayer groups, like the North Seymour Ratepayers Association to which I belong. The annual picnic, which is a great bargain in the $10 membership, had displays in July about the latest menaces in water weeds. It's great that the bureaucrats are so quick to deal with the new curse of water soldier. But what about all the old?
Let's put this into perspective. There are only a couple of water soldier plants in my stretch of the Trent. Yet there are millions of plants (probably not much of an exaggeration) of milfoil, the pondweed family etc. I don't pretend to be an expert, not knowing a coontail from a hydrilla, or chara from muskgrass (that's a trick, they're the same) but I do know how water weeds have hurt my point since that foreign freighter dumped its ballast water (with zebra mussels) twenty years ago.
Each summer morning, I cut weeds so that visitors and my grandkids don't grumble incessantly about icky stuff. I'm eager for new solutions. Wouldn't it be great if we could figure out how to cook them so they would be the new Ontario fiddlehead?
There's no benefit for the cottager from water weeds, not even as fish habitat, because there's plenty of vacant shoreline for that. Our area boasts that it is 25 kilometres between the locks at Healy Falls to the one at Hastings. So that means, considering the Trent's meandering path, islands and great expanses of shallows, that there are at least 30 kilometres of shoreline where the weeds can proliferate to the joy of fishermen and environmentalists without hurting cottagers. All you have to do is read the shoreline guide to a healthy waterfront by the Federation of Ontario Cottagers' Association about "keeping aquatic plant population intact" and you realize there are some who really don't give a damn about our problem.
Queen's Park spends almost all its cottage time protecting endangered species and habitat, and ensuring we are harassed bureaucratically and financially if we dare build anything. The water patrols by the OPP are a joke since the cops are more concerned about a bottle of beer in a boat than a speeding yacht. Rural Hydro prices are a scam.
The politicians better start realizing that cottagers figure they're shortchanged when it comes to the benefits they receive. Giving even some feeble assistance with this blight would be a start at a better deal for our taxes. Cottagers would be willing to participate in costs if it loosened the stranglehold on our waterfront. And if FOCA wants to worship aquatic plants, it better do that away from my cottage neighbours.

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