Lake board feels ravenous fish is the only cure for weedPatrick Alexander The News Guard
The body responsible for the health of Devils Lake has agreed to pursue the idea of adding more Chinese grass carp to tackle invasive weed despite opposition from some bass fishermen who say the ravenous creatures have ruined the lake’s fishery.
At their Feb. 24 meeting the board of directors of the Devils Lake Water Improvement District (DLWID) approved the first ever strategic plan for the lake, a document that sets out steps for improving water quality and promoting native species.
Grass carp are a central component of the plan, which credits them with saving the lake from a choking weed infestation in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
The District stocked the lake with more than 32,000 sterile grass carp in three batches between 1986 and 1993, with the population going on to devour the weed that had put large sections of the lake off-limits to boating.
Now, Lake Manager Paul Robertson said, the carp are dying off and the weed is starting to make a comeback.
“The concern is without that vegetation management control in place, or access to it, then the weeds could get out of hand quite rapidly,” he said.
Through the Devils Lake Plan, the District has set its sights on persuading the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to waive rules that currently prohibit the use of grass carp in all but small, privately owned lakes.
However, the idea of adding more carp to the lake has attracted opposition from bass fishermen from across Oregon and into Idaho.
The fishermen say that by clearing the lake of almost all vegetation, the carp have ruined a previously thriving bass fishery by depriving the piscivorous fish of the cover they need to hunt effectively.
DLWID Board Member Jack Strayer picked up on the bass fishermen’s concerns, telling his colleagues that the addition of carp was a failed experiment.
He said the District should try other weed-control measures, which he said could include physical, chemical and biological methods.
Robertson said the plan does include localized weed-control measures, such as hand-pulling, raking and diver-assisted suction dredging.
Board Member Joe Barnes said he has yet to see evidence of any method other than grass carp that could effectively control the weed across the lake as a whole.
“It’s like terminal cancer in my opinion,” he said.
Board Member David Skirvin said the carp application is likely to take several years – time the District can use to look at other options.
If no other option can be found, he said, the carp would be the District’s “ace in the hole” to deal with resurgent weed.
Board Chair Brian Green said having carp in the plan would draw out for alternative strategies from lake users.
“Leave it in,” he said. “And let the debate begin.”
Speaking from the audience, Noel Walker said he recalled the original debate that led to the introduction of carp.
“There was no one that could even stomach the idea of putting chemicals in [the lake],” he said, adding that mechanical weed removal measures were prohibitively expensive and complicated by the question of where to dump the removed weed.
“The same choices are out there today that were out there in ’85,” Walker said.
“We have two choices,” he said. “What we used to have in the ‘80s and ‘90s, or you’ve got what we have today.”
Strayer cast the lone vote against adoption of the Devils Lake Plan, citing a letter from ODFW in which the agency makes it clear that the use of grass carp would be contrary to state law.
“We can go 90 miles per hour towards this brick wall,” he said, “but there’s still a brick wall there.”
Barnes said the District should be prepared to take the issue all the way to the Legislature, saying that many people have bought homes around the lake based on how it looks since carp were introduced.
“I think they [ODFW] are going to have a legal battle in front of them if that lake goes back to the way it was before,” he said. “They allowed it before. I think they are going to have to allow it again.”
Lakeside purchase possibility
The DLWID board of directors has also agreed to further explore the possibility of buying the old Union 50 building on S.E. 1st Street to act as a lakefront office for the District as well as providing space for research and education opportunities.
According to the Devils Lake Plan, the proposed Center for Applied Freshwater Ecology, or CAFÉ, could also be used as a base for recreational opportunities such as kayak trips.
The proposal has attracted some interest from Portland State University’s Center for Lakes and Reservoirs, which wants to see a business plan showing how the building would be used.
At the Feb. 24 meeting, Board Member Joe Barnes said early negotiations with the Oregon Coast Community College, which owns the property, have given him hope that the District could own the building for just a little more than it is currently paying in rent.
Board Member Jack Strayer opposed the idea, saying the purchase of office space is outside the District’s mission.
Barnes said the District could rent excess space to partner organizations to offset the costs of the building, which he described as a high-visibility asset that would appreciate in value.
“It’s going to give some credibility to who we are and why we are here,” he said.
Lake Manager Paul Robertson said the Lincoln City Urban Renewal Agency, which has broad authority to purchase and develop property, is also a potential partner and could be attracted by the project’s economic development prospects.