Our Opinion: Action is overdue on Stockbridge Bowl

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Spring is approaching, and with it will almost assuredly come the growth of the invasive plants that put the Berkshire gem that is Stockbridge Bowl off-limits to recreation last summer. An opportunity was missed to address this problem, which can't be allowed to happen again.

A toxic bloom of cyanobacteria triggered by invasive Eurasian milfoil plants placed the lake off-limits as a health hazard in the summer of 2018. Robert Kortmann, a scientist hired by the Conservation Commission to study the lake and propose a solution, said at a public hearing that the use of fluridone, a herbicide approved by state and federal agencies, as proposed by the Stockbridge Bowl Association, was the wise approach. He recommended a cautious strategy that limited the chemical treatment to a 40-acre southern section of the 372-acre lake as a "dry run" before beginning a more ambitious program for the entire lake.

The Conservation Commission, however, unanimously rejected the SBA's application to use the herbicide, and by extension rejected the advice of the scientist it hired. The commission faulted lakefront residents for polluting the lake with landscape fertilizer, which if true, and it is not clear that it is, doesn't address the need to do something about the milfoil that is strangling the bowl.

Select Board Chairman Donald Chabon, speaking at the public hearing as a lakefront resident, mourned the town's "fractured basis" of lake management. Indeed, along with the Conservation Commission and the SBA, the Select Board, Board of Health, Mahkeenac Boat Club, the state Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and the Berkshire County League of Sportsmen have weighed in on the future of the bowl. Input is valuable, but it can lead to paralysis through analysis.

Better lake management is necessary but it can wait. A better lake, however, cannot. Unless the Conservation Commission can go beyond speculation and provide scientific evidence that the use of fluridone will pose a threat to native plants, rare snails or aquatic wildlife, a dry run of the herbicide should be conducted in a portion of the lake. If successful, the treatment of the entire lake can follow.

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