GROTON -- News from a state wildlife organization has made it easier and more likely that an application by the Great Ponds Advisory Committee with the Community Preservation Commission for funds to help pay for weed control at Lost Lake will be recommended to residents at Town Meeting.
"The selectmen approved the Notice of Intent that we had submitted to the town, Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, and the State Department of Environmental Protection," said Great Ponds member Art Prest of the development. "That NOI was written around the assumption that we had a Massachusetts endangered aquatic plant in the lakes which would require that we take special precautions in our restoration efforts to avoid harming this endangered aquatic plant. Now that we have been informed that the endangered plant is not present, we will have more flexibility in how we proceed in our efforts to restore Knops Pond and Lost Lake."
In its review of a sample of the plant in question, researchers for Natural Heritage, part of the state's Division of Fisheries & Wildlife, found that samples of Sparganium natans did not bear out suspicions that it was an endangered species.
"...no extant S. natans population is present in Knops Pond/Lost Lake at this time," read the finding. "Therefore, no further review of the project pursuant to the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act and its implementing regulations is necessary at this time."
"The claims that this endangered aquatic plant (Sparganium natans) existed in Knops Pond has for the past 20 years prevented the residents of Groton from taking any significant steps to eliminate the non-native invasive weeds that now cover about 60 percent of the lakes up from about 15 percent in the 1990s," said Prest, commenting on the finding. "Over the last 10 years in particular, every time the lake residents attempted to take action against the invasive weeds we were hampered and even prevented from taking the necessary steps to stop or reduce the growth of these weeds because doing so might harm this endangered plant."
Ahead of the state's finding, which was released last week, the Great Ponds Advisory Committee had appeared before selectmen seeking its support in an application before the Conservation Commission for use of chemicals to rid the town's ponds of invasive weeds such as milfoil, combomba, water chestnut, and filamentous.
The committee has spearheaded a losing battle over the years to control the various weeds until finally, it was decided that the use of herbicides was the only solution. If permission for their use is not granted, the weeds threaten to turn Lost Pond/Knops Pond into swampland.
In support of resorting to a chemical solution to the weed problem, committee members have listed 27 other towns in Massachusetts, including Ayer and Littleton, that have used chemicals like Sonar to good effect.
Luckily for committee members, selectmen agreed with their conclusions and voted earlier in the month to support their application with the ConsCom.
As for Sparganium natans, its future is not so dire as its standing as an endangered species might suggest.
"This plant is not endangered globally or nationally," said Prest. "It is only listed as endangered in Massachusetts and New York. And now that (the state) has decided, based on DNA analysis of the suspect plants, that (the specimens from Groton) were not Sparganium natans after all but a totally different aquatic plant, we can now proceed with ecologically safe plans to deal with the invasive weeds.
"This ruling by the very agency that had previously claimed Sparganium natans was here because a few people (had reported) it was here, is of major significance in our efforts to restore our lakes to what they used to be," concluded Prest.
Armed with the findings from the state as well as the recommendation of selectmen, Great Ponds Committee members will next proceed to the Conservation Commission for approval to use chemicals to control the weed problem in the lakes.
If that appeal is successful, the committee's next step will be to apply to the CPC for funds to help pay the estimated $90,000 cost of the cleanup project.