DNR intends to issue permit for Rock Lake plant harvesting

rock-lakeA permit for harvesting aquatic plants on Rock Lake is expected to be issued soon for the next year, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources representative said at a DNR-sponsored informational meeting at Salem Town Hall.

Craig Helker, water resources biologist  with the DNR, said the conditions of the permit will likely be similar to one issued for the lake last year, but which was never used. (See the 2012 permit here.)

Plant harvesting on the lake was waylaid last year when a harvester brought to do the work was found by citizens to be infested with zebra mussels, an invasive species currently not found in Rock Lake. Residents who opposed the harvesting formed a human barrier to keep the harvester from entering the water.

Issues surrounding harvesting or cutting of plants on the lake have been controversial among two local lake associations. Membership of the Rock Lake Restoration Association have favored some weed cutting to open up a navigable channel to open water in the center of the lake. Rock Lake Highlands Association members oppose weed harvesting on the lake.

Both views were represented among the about a dozen people that attended Thursday’s meeting. Also in attendance were three DNR conservation wardens and town Supervisor Dennis Faber.

This year, the Rock Lake Restoration Association has plans to purchase its own weed harvester.

Helker said he intended to issue another permit for mechanical harvesting this year.

“Harvesting is a recognized tool in Wisconsin,” Helker said.

He outlined the provisions of the permit from last year, which did  not allow any cutting of plants in water less than three feet in depth, except for a single cutter width access in the northwest channel of the lake. Other access lanes to open water cannot be more than 30 feet wide. Overall, harvesting will be allowed in an about 2 acre area of the lake.

Before harvesting, Helker said he will be training the local operator in plant identification and other matters. The harvester will be inspected and disinfected and have any remainder aquatic plants removed. That inspection will probably take place during the training.

David Hoke, representative of the Rock Lake Restoration Association, said his group expects to take possession of the harvester next week and begin cutting shortly after. Harvesting is expected to take place on weekends.

Helker said he will not be present for the initial harvesting day, but that he will conduct an inspection within three days to determine that the conditions of the permit were followed.

The frequency of harvesting is up to the permit holder, Helker said. Hoke said it likely will not be done every weekend.

If the permit is issued as expected, Warden Jennifer Niemeyer had some words of warning for those who might contemplate trying to block the activity again.

“Any impediment by the citizens could be construed as disorderly conduct,” Niemeyer said. “(Harvesting) is nothing new or special on Rock Lake that we haven’t done on other lakes.”

Wardens would only directly enforce irregularities in how the harvesting is actually done, Niemeyer. Other problems, such as blocking harvesting, would probably be referred to sheriff’s deputies.

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