Lawmakers Seek Elodea Ban

Elodea Canadensis. This popular aquarium plant poses a threat to lakes on the Kenai Peninsula. (Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Biologists have been working to rid the Kenai Peninsula of the invasive water plant elodea for almost two years. Now, they might have a little help from Juneau. A House Bill introduced last week seeks to formalize a ban on the plant.

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It’s already illegal to transport aquatic plants without a permit. But House Bill 344 would place an outright prohibition on the importation, sale, purchase of or release into state waters, certain invasive aquatic plant species. Like, elodea.

Last spring, John Morton from the Kenai Wildlife Refuge addressed the Borough Assembly after a request was made for $40,000 to help stop the spread of the stuff.

“It’s a very bad plant. It’s prolific, it grows very, very quickly, it reproduces vegetatively,” Morton said.

They found it in Daniel’s, Beck and Stormy Lakes near Nikiski back in September 2012.  Over the course of the following year, researchers conducted surveys on 64 lakes to find out if it had spread any further. So far, elodea hasn’t been found anywhere else. But there’s been a rush to eradicate it before it is found anywhere else because it spreads easily. Just a little chunk of this stuff on a pontoon or a propeller is enough to infest another lake. And it’s dangerous because it essentially chokes out everything else up the food chain.

“You saw the price tag on this stuff, you can see how bad it would be if it started multiplying by lakes,” Morton said.

One-hundred-thirty thousand dollars has been provided through grants from a number of agencies, including the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, to treat those lakes with an aquatic herbicide called Floridone.

Eventually, a consortium of agencies hopes to organize a state-wide plan to deal with the plant. Treatment of Kenai Peninsula lakes is expected this summer. Elodea has also been found in the Chena River and Chena Slough and lakes near Cordova The aim of the house bill, sponsored by Peninsula representatives Mike Chenault and Kurt Olson, is to cut off the likely source of elodea, by banning its sale and importation. Because the most likely culprit for it elodea’s presence here is probably a science lab kit or a home aquarium.

In a statement, Olson noted that bans on elodea are already on the books in Iceland and Norway. The bill’s next stop is a hearing with the House Resources committee on March 10th.

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