Idaho man builds career out of aquatic species removal after home lake is threatened
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – From homeowners association president to underwater weed warrior, Doug Freeland has seen the problems aquatic invasive weeds can cause.
But he’s also seen enough success in the fight against nuisance species to realize efforts to control them aren’t useless.
With the help of the Tahoe Resource Conservation District, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency staff and an AmeriCorps volunteer, the Idaho resident finished what has become an annual cycle of removing invasive weeds, especially Eurasian watermilfoil, from Emerald Bay’s waters on Tuesday.
Using a suction device attached to a small boat, Freeland pulled large, green clumps of weeds from the bay at a regular clip during the past week.
The project is part of a $20 million effort to control the spread of aquatic invasive species at Lake Tahoe, said TRPA spokesman Jeff Cowen.
Milfoil was first discovered in the Tahoe Keys in the late 1960s or early 1970s and has since spread around the lake, usually by boat traffic moving easily-sprouted plant fragments to new areas.
But Freeland, who has become one of the go-to divers for controlling aquatic weeds at the lake, started his career in aquatic weeds control from an unlikely position: as the president of the Spirit Lake Property Owners Association President in Idaho.
The discovery of 50 acres of dense milfoil at the 1,500-acre lake in northern Idaho encouraged Freeland to learn everything he could about the aquatic invasive plant.
With no experts in milfoil removal available in the area, the experienced diver became knowledgeable enough to begin working for Kootenai County’s noxious weeds program before starting ACE Diving, a company specializing in removing aquatic nuisance species throughout United States.
Freeland, along with the property owners association, Kootenai County and volunteers, were able to reduce the infestation at Spirit Lake to between 10 and 15 acres in 2006 and to one isolated patch in 2007, according to the Idaho Department of Agriculture.
Despite the success, ongoing monitoring and education are still needed to prevent the re-infestation, according to the agency.
The spread of invasive plants at lake Tahoe is not yet at the levels of control seen at Spirit Lake, but educating the public about the effects of aquatic invasive remains important, Freeland said.
Aquatic invasive plants multiply rapidly and their effects can be “devastating,” Freeland said.
“It’s interesting to see people not believe this is going to be a problem for the lake,” Freeland said, pointing to the Tennessee Valley, where milfoil is one of the species that has formed large mats on water bodies.
The depth of Lake Tahoe will keep the weeds out of the main body of the lake, but it’s the near shore areas and marinas that face the most risk, Freeland said.
The voracity of the aquatic invasive species already in the lake likely means they will remain a part of one of the most picturesque places in North America, but control of the plants is possible by creating an effective long-term, lake-wide plan, Freeland said. That plan is currently under development, Freeland said.
And every plant removed today is a step to at preventing green invaders from overtaking the lake’s historic blue, Freeland added.
“Every plant I take (now) is 10 I don’t have to take out next year,” Freeland said.