Group’s petition pushes for inclusion of weevils

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SANDPOINT — Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper announced Friday it is pursuing litigation to force the state to include biological controls in its arsenal for controlling Eurasian milfoil.

The water quality watchdog group filed a petition for judicial review in 1st District Court on Tuesday. The Idaho State Department of Agriculture and its director, Celia Gould, are listed as defendants.

Waterkeeper filed the petition after repeated requests to work with ISDA in cooperatively revising Idaho’s noxious weed rules, which currently prohibit biological control research and implementation to beat back milfoil in the Pend Oreille watershed.

“We can’t afford to sit back any longer and wait passively for the changes that need to occur to emerge on their own,” Shannon Williamson, executive director of the nonprofit, said in a statement.

“We need to be proactive, advocate for what we know is a viable solution to aquatic weed management and make biological control a reality for Lake Pend Oreille,” Williamson said.

Officials from ISDA were not immediately available for comment on Friday.

Waterkeeper’s press release was issued shortly after 5 p.m. PST, more than an hour after the end of the work day in Boise.

Waterkeeper contends biological controls have a 50-year track record in effectively managing non-native invasive species. But efforts to nail down the effectiveness of weevils in managing Pend Oreille milfoil have been blocked.

Waterkeeper developed a research project to collect weevils on native milfoil, rear the sesame seed-sized bugs in aquariums and release them back into the water to expand their populations.

But ISDA — which favors the use of herbicides, bottom barriers and diver dredging in controlling exotic milfoil — rejected the project last year because state law prohibits the transportation of viable plant fragments unless they are going to be destroyed.

In light of the “immovable roadblock,” Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper filed a petition for initiation of rulemaking in June in an attempt to work cooperatively with ISDA to amend the rule to allow for biological control research and implementation.

Waterkeeper said ISDA misinterpreted its request by framing it as a request to develop a permitting system that subverted legislative intent. The group maintained it was trying to help ISDA attain a goal in its 10-year strategic plan to incorporate biologic controls for curbing milfoil.

Waterkeeper moved for reconsideration, but ISDA declined in July to change its position. The group asserts that ISDA declined its motion because introducing invasive weeds was antithetical to state law.

“These statements inherently preclude the development of any effective biological control mechanisms for aquatic invasive weeds, despite ISDA’s stated objectives of integrating biological control into all appropriate weed management programs across the state,” Williamson said.

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