Elodea is the first invasive species to threaten the waters of Alaska. While seaplanes have the potential to spread this plant which damages fish habitat, their pilots may also be part of the solution by helping monitor lakes and water bodies to determine its distribution. Toward this end a small group of float plane pilots recently attended a training session, organized by the Fairbanks General Aviation Association, to learn about this threat, and how to respond. The training included both lecture and hands-on sampling experience. Plans are being made to distribute sampling kits to pilots that attended, providing the means for them to sample lakes and rivers they use, and report findings back to the team actively working to eradicate this threat to Alaskan waters.
Thought to have been transported originally as a component of aquariums, this hearty aquatic plant was first identified in Cordova in 1982. More recently, it has been found in water bodies in south central Alaska, and in 2010 was identified in the Chena Slough and Chena Lakes near Fairbanks. Last year an infestation was discovered in Totchaket Slough, off the Tanana River downstream from Nenana.
Elodea has proven to be a robust plant that can grow under lake ice in the winter months, when most native vegetation is dormant. A statewide inter-agency task force has been established, led by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, to eradicate this threat to Alaskan waters. An herbicide is available which effectively starves the aquatic plants at very low concentrations (less than 8 parts per billion) without imposing restrictions on fishing, swimming or potable water during treatment. A public process is currently underway to obtain the permits to treat the three interior Alaska infestations. Treatment programs area already underway in other parts of the state. It is expected that after treating the water bodies for three seasons, Elodea should be eradicated. In the meantime, we need to determine if it has spread to other locations.
The training session in Fairbanks covered monitoring and assessment. Aditi Shenoy, the Invasive Plant Specialist for the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District, provided the background on Elodea, where it is known to exist today and how to identify it. She also outlined the plans for eradication in the three interior water bodies where it is known to exist. The plant reproduces vegetatively, so if broken fragments of Elodea are transported to another water body, they may take root. Adam White, Government Affairs with the Alaska Airmen’s Association, covered ways to minimize risk of spreading Elodea by checking your float plane, and cycling water rudders soon after take-off to dislodge anything that might have been hitching a ride. Shenoy also shared with the group the locations that had been surveyed without finding Elodea. This is where local float pilots come into play. We can help extend the network of surveys to make sure we are keeping ahead of this situation. The final component of the training session was held at the Float Pond at Fairbanks International Airport. A number of sampling kits were distributed among the attendees, and sampling procedures demonstrated, which involve throwing a two-headed rake attached to a rope into the water, pulling it out and looking to see what types of vegetation are present. Teams then used these procedures to sample at seventeen locations around the float pond, adding to our confidence that Elodea is NOT present in those locations.
Extending the Survey
The kits will be shared with the pilots that went through the training, and used this summer to extend the number of water bodies sampled for Elodea. This a trial program to involve the aviation community in the effort to monitor and eventually eradicate this threat to fish habitat. If successful, I hope to see similar projects in other places. Thanks to the Fairbanks Soil & Water Conservation District, Fairbanks International Airport’s Operations Staff, the Alaska Airmen’s Association, Interior Alaska Flight Instructors Association and the Fairbanks General Aviation Association for their work to address this issue!