STUART — Ways to control non-native plants in Florida lakes and waterways were once again a topic of discussion at the July 17 meeting of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“In January 2019, FWC announced a pause in their aquatic plant management program due to public perception of lake impairments resulting from program action,” said Dr. James Leary of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants.
He said six public listening sessions were held across the state. He attended five of the six meetings. At each of these meetings, there was a strong, consistent message from the public for FWC to use more mechanical harvesting to control aquatic invasive plants, he continued.
“The FWC answered this call by identifying integrated pest management and mechanical harvesting as a top priority enhancement to their APM (aquatic plant management) program. Mechanical harvesters have an extensive history of successful use in Florida. Today they are generally regarded as a more expensive option.
“We need new, quantifiable information to accurately estimate cost-effectiveness of mechanical harvesting in order to optimize its reintegration into a comprehensive APM strategy,” he said. “Research conducted at the center adheres to strict scientific standards, ensuring that the quality of our findings is verifiable.”
Dr. Leary is the principal investigator for a new study of mechanical harvesting on Lake Toho. He said they are upgrading the mechanical harvesting program with information technologies that will more accurately measure the amount of aquatic vegetation in the water before and after harvesting.
Other speakers at the meeting encouraged the use of mechanical harvesting.
Retired reptile dealer Jim Watt referenced a book that was written by two FWC biologists, “Amphibians and Reptiles of Florida,” which states that the effects of chemical herbicides on reptiles and amphibians are largely unknown.
“Why are you spraying millions of gallons of deadly chemicals into wetlands and wildlife habitat if you are clueless on the effects on wildlife?” he asked.
He said the herbicide spraying could kill endangered turtles native to Lake Okeechobee.
The situation on Lake Okeechobee with low water and constant spraying could set off a massive kill-off of turtles that are on FWCs list of protected species.
He accused of the FWC contractors of spraying federally protected birds with Diquat on Lake Kissimmee.
“FWC statutes are being violated every day your boats are spewing poisons into our wetlands,” he said. “I have no illusions that you will stop this until your senior biologist or somebody else is charged with a crime.”
He said the spray applicators themselves are in danger from the chemicals.
Pastor Scott Wilson, who fishes the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, said videos taken by Floridians of FWC contractors spraying chemicals into lakes and streams are exposing the truth about the aquatic spraying program.
“As a retired pastor, I am totally accustomed to being hated for speaking truth,” he said.
He said the videos are “an undeniable visual witness to an ecological genocide.”
The videos show the truth, Mr. Wilson said, “from puking chemicals anywhere on anything, including live egrets, active bird nests, active duck boxes, miles of nesting snail kite feeding habitat, to the magical disappearance of Grassy Island, never turning nozzles off, not targeting anything, spraying in 20 knot winds, spraying just hours before a substantial rain event and emptying tanks at the landing.”
He said that a loophole in the law allows 12 untrained, untested, unlicensed applicators to work under one license holder.
He said the loss of the filter vegetation is contributing to algal blooms that are turning lakes green.
He added that no adjustments were made for the low water levels this year.
“What happens when we spray full-strength herbicide in 8 inches of water where there should be 5 feet?” Mr. Wilson continued.
He accused FWC of allowing criminal pollution and blamed the spraying for the lesions found recently on fish in Florida.
“I offer a simple and affordable working solution,” he said.
“During Texas Aquatics’ pilot program on Lake Toho, they were on the lake for three weeks. Not one FWC official showed up,” he said.
“Texas Aquatics knocked it out of the park,” he said.
Mike Hulon, from Texas Aquatic Harvesting of Lake Wales, said mechanical harvesting of aquatic plants not only removes the unwanted nonnative plants but also removes the nutrients from the water.
He said in the past they have primarily targeted large floating tussocks of vegetation.
He said in a study including waterways in Citrus County from Feb. 18 to June 28, Texas Aquatic Harvesting removed 1,600 truckloads of floating mud tussocks, about 16,000 cubic yards. The nutrient load in that material included 103,429 pounds of nitrogen and 4,147 pounds of phosphorus.
“That cost was totaled at $300,000 and change, and averaged about $80 per pound of phosphorus,” he said. Other methods of removing phosphorus from the waterways are more costly, he added.
“Consider this as part of the project, not only removing the elements that create algae but also cleaning up the habitat for our fish and wildlife,” said Mr. Hulon.
“I am very angry that at the advanced age of 85, I am still spending my time begging and working and pleading for clean water,” said Jackie Trancynger of the Martin County Democratic Environmental Caucus. “It really drives me nuts.
“You stopped spraying glyphosate in January. You’re spraying it again. Even Martin County, which can be backwards sometimes, put a ban on having their employees using glyphosate,” she said. “We do not need you to spray glyphosate in Lake Okeechobee,” she said. “Please stop.The entire continent of Europe, practically, has banned it. Everybody is banning it, and you guys decided in March to start using it again,” said Mrs. Trancynger. “I want you to stop.”
“We started out building harvesters, working hard,” said Jim Vaughn of Texas Aquatic Harvesting. “We were cleaning lakes, we were scraping shorelines. We were working and we did it. Then the new regime comes in and shut us down and said ‘we’re going to start spraying. We’re going to cookie cut. We’re going to chop it. We’ve got data that we can spray tussocks now and sink this to the bottom or chop it and it’s going to go to the bottom and it’s going to disintegrate.’
“We are in trouble. Florida is in trouble because these lakes are full of mud and muck and nobody seems to care,” he said.
“It’s like we’re going to have this magical chemical that is going to come and get rid of all of this muck and it’s going to wipe out the algae. I know people who haven’t been around it and haven’t seen it. I’ve been around for 30 years. They haven’t seen us going in with the big trucks and bulldozers and scraping mud and muck.”
He said for years they cleaned big lakes mechanically, and it worked. “Now it’s complicated,” he said. Instead of cleaning the lake, they are spending millions of dollars to build reservoirs south of the lake.
“The problem is still here and it’s only getting worse. We’ve got to get some of this funding in the northern basin.
“Do you ever drive through Orlando and see all the ditches and guess where it goes? They spray the ditches, and green slime comes down into Lake Toho. All of our water now is impaired now coming out of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes,” he said.
“Give us a portion of the funding and we can do it. We’ll go back to work.”
Task force to meet
Lake Okeechobee Aquatic Plant Management Interagency Task Force will meet Thursday, Aug. 8, at 10 a.m. in Okeechobee at the SFWMD Okeechobee Service Center, 316 N.W. Fifth St., Okeechobee.