Eurasian water-milfoil. (Contributed - Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters)

Greater Vernon Chamber calls for ongoing milfoil control

The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce has begun voicing concern that federal and provincial policies regarding milfoil control will negatively impact our community and economy.

The chamber recently wrote the federal and provincial governments and urged them to permit the control of invasive Eurasian milfoil as the control mechanism has occurred in Okanagan lakes since the 1970s.

“Our chamber appreciates the need to protect aquatic species and specifically the Rocky Mountain Ridged Mussel (RMRM). However, we have significant concern about regulations that have recently prohibited the rototilling of the milfoil weed in areas where RMRM are located, particularly as there is no firm evidence that rototolling negatively impacts the RMRM,” said Diana Wilson, chamber president, in the letter. “If anything, there is evidence that allowing milfoil to grow unchecked will disturb conditions for the mussels.”

Related: Milfoil control stirs up Vernon water turbidity

Related: Climate change brings higher numbers of invasive aquatic plants in Okanagan

The chamber is also concerned that the decision to classify the RMRM as endangered under the Species at Risk Act does not reflect more recent studies, and particularly a 2015 study that estimated the total population at nine sites to be more than 13,000.

“We believe strongly that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada must review the latest data, and that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans must conduct public consultations on classifying RMRM as endangered,” said Wilson. “Anyone familiar with the Okanagan knows that our lakes are at the very heart of our lifestyle and economy. We depend on them for drinking water, irrigation, recreation and tourism. It is because of our reliance on these lakes that effective milfoil control is essential. Without it, the invasive plant infests public beaches, boating areas and marinas.”

In 1991, a B.C. Ministry of Environment report indicated that terminating the milfoil control program would lead to an economic decline of $85 million in tourism revenue, employment in tourism of 1,700 positions and real estate values of $360 million. Along with this, milfoil has a negative impact on water species.”

“Two of Vernon’s beaches infested with milfoil are now partially or wholly prohibited for milfoil derooting due to RMRM as is the community’s primary marina on Okanagan Lake. These amenities attract thousands of residents and visitors annually and any restriction on milfoil control will have a ripple effect on those activities,” said Wilson. “The chamber takes the status of the RMRM very seriously and we support measures that allow the species to flourish. However, there is a requirement for a more evidence-based and balanced approach that protects the RMRM while allowing the invasive Eurasian milfoil to be addressed.”

The chamber is asking the federal and provincial departments to conduct further research into the potential impact of milfoil derooting on RMRM and to permit the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) to conduct derooting in areas where milfoil control historically occurs.

Related: Native mussel species crimping Okanagan milfoil control plans

Related: Swimmer gets entangled in milfoil

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