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Bonner County plans for milfoil treatment halved

SANDPOINT — The state has scaled back grant funding for the control of the spread of Eurasian milfoil, an invasive underwater plant, in local waters, Bonner County officials say.

Public works director Leslie Marshall said the county wanted to treat nearly 687 acres with herbicides at Lake Pend Oreille and the Pend Oreille River to battle the plant.

Marshall says the Idaho State Department of Agriculture is only willing to pay for treatment of about 334 acres. The department has rejected scores of treatment sites because infestations were too small, located in sparsely used stretches of river or in areas where water flows are high.

Commissioner Lewis Rich said the news could harm county efforts to beat back milfoil colonies to more manageable sizes.

“They’re hamstringing us,” said Rich.

Pamela Juker, an ISDA spokeswoman in Boise, told the Bonner Daily Bee that she was researching the matter. Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, a driving force behind the legislation that established the grant program, said he also was looking into the situation.

Nearly 40 of the county’s 80-plus identified treatment sites could be off the table.

The herbicide program is somewhat controversial, with advocates saying it’s the best way to control the invasive weed and keep Idaho’s waters from becoming clogged with milfoil and opponents contending the herbicides jeopardize public safety and the environment.

Officials believe Eurasian milfoil, if left unchecked, can displace native plants and alter the lake and river habitats. The plant usually grows in water less than 20 feet deep and can eventually reach the surface, forming a dense layer that can entangle swimmers and hinder boats. Idaho and other states have spent millions trying to eradicate it.

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