By ROY WOOD
Osoyoos will lobby Ottawa and Victoria for the right to continue uprooting Eurasian milfoil despite fears for the future of an at-risk native freshwater mollusc called the Rocky Mountain Ridged Mussel (RMRM).
Responding to a request from the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB), council this afternoon agreed to send letters to the appropriate federal and provincial ministers supporting the board’s request to allow the milfoil “de-rooting” program to continue.
In urging members of council to agree to send a letter in support, Mayor Sue McKortoff, who sits on the OBWB, said: “I can’t emphasize enough how important this is.”
At issue is the possibility that the RMRM will move up the Species at Risk Act hierarchy from “at risk” to “endangered.” Such an upgrade brings with it the danger that milfoil eradication in the valley’s large lakes – Okanagan, Kalamalka, Wood, Skaha and Osoyoos — could be more severely restricted because of its negative effects on the mussels’ habitat.
In a lengthy letter to the to the senior levels of government, OBWB executive director Anna Warwick Sears outlined the dangers posed by unfettered growth of milfoil in the lakes, including:
Negative effects on native plant and animal species, including salmon and other fish.
Warwick Sears points out that the summer harvesting method of milfoil control, which is employed in some areas where de-rooting is restricted or impractical, is less effective than de-rooting.
As well, she writes, “Harvesting … creates a danger to public safety through increased weed growth in swimming areas, as the machines enter the swimming areas during beach use and operate in peak boating season.”
She asks that the federal fisheries and provincial forests, lands and natural resources ministries to agree to:
Review the literature and conduct field research on the effects of uncontrolled milfoil growth; and/or
Allocate funds for an up-to-date survey of RMRM habitat in the Okanagan’s large lakes.
Warwick Sears also asks: “Until an evidence-based decision can be made” that milfoil de-rooting be allowed to continue in areas where it has historically been used and in “high public-use areas.”
The OBWB has been conducting de-rooting for four decades, according to Warwick Sears, using an annual budget of $825,000.
“Our annual treatment areas,” she wrote, “represent a small fraction of the lakeshore focusing on public beaches and boating areas.”
She wrote federal and provincial ministry staff have increased restrictions on de-rooting “based on the assumption that milfoil de-rooting has a negative effect on RMRM … but does not consider the negative effects of the milfoil itself on RMRM, other species, or their habitat.”
McKortoff told council she will attend an OBWB meeting on Tuesday and will report council’s decision to support the board’s efforts