Newsroom

February 6, 1998

Middlebury College Enters Licensing Agreement With EnviroScience Inc.

Ohio Company to Use Environmental Method Developed by Middlebury Professor to Manage Milfoil Infestation in Lakes Across the Country
A licensing agreement between Middlebury College and EnviroScience Inc. of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, will allow the company to market a program in the United States and Canada for the biological control-in the form of an insect-of Eurasian water milfoil (EWM). A fresh water weed infesting lakes in over 40 states, milfoil out-competes most native plants and interferes with recreational activities, wildlife habitat, and facilities such as municipal water systems and power plants. Before its accidental introduction into natural bodies of water, EWM was first imported to North America for use in fish aquariums about 50 years ago. Current efforts to control milfoil in the United States cost millions of dollars annually.

Named the Middfoil® process, the biological control program offered by EnviroScience was developed by Middlebury College and Sallie Sheldon, associate professor of biology at Middlebury, after over nine years of research. Middfoil® utilizes a tiny water beetle known as a weevil that feeds on milfoil. The process includes breeding this native insect on a massive scale and then intentionally introducing it into the body of water where the plant is a problem.

Middfoil® has a number of advantages, including environmental safety-the weevil does not damage native plants or animals. The insect is so tiny-slightly smaller than a grain of rice-that swimmers are unaware of its presence. As milfoil decreases in the treated lake, the weevil population gradually declines to a self-sustaining level, offering long-term, low-maintenance, economical control.

According to Marty Hilovsky, president of EnviroScience, his company's current and potential clients include lake associations and state and federal government agencies. Middfoil® is currently approved for use in Michigan and applications are pending in Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

"We're happy to be able to tell those interested in Middfoil® that the use of this process marks the first time a native herbivore has been used to control an exotic plant. This fact helps explain why the weevil has never shown any signs of becoming an environmental problem itself," said Hilovsky.

Milfoil must be managed continuously to sustain a body of water's environmental and economic integrity. Depending on the initial density applied, weevils take from one to three years to permanently stabilize milfoil below problematic levels by eating the plants until the stems fall to the lake bottom. Current control methods include physical, mechanical, and chemical disruption processes that neither eradicate the weed nor provide long-term effects. These processes are expensive, temporary measures, ranging from weeding the lake by hand to using underwater mowers. Due to their damaging effects on the environment, some of these methods are banned in certain states.

"Using weevils rather than chemicals may take more time, but the weevils are a natural alternative to herbicides that can kill more than just milfoil, including native plants and the fish that feed on them," said Sheldon. According to Hilovsky, weevils also cost less than any of the current control methods.

Weevils have proved to be an effective control method in Sheldon's extensive field trials. She has conducted research in Vermont, Massachusetts and Wisconsin with the support of numerous grants, including more than $750,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. More than 40 Middlebury College students have assisted Sheldon in all aspects of her research, including determining the weevil's eating patterns and creating proper conditions for breeding the insect on a large scale. The College provided the facilities for breeding thousands of the weevils Sheldon has introduced into lakes, including milfoil-infested Lake Bomoseen in Rutland County, Vt.

Equipped with Sheldon's research, EnviroScience is poised to tackle the current milfoil crisis. The company's team of biologists has provided environmental services for over 10 years, maintaining one of the largest aquatic and ecological survey departments in the Midwest. EnviroScience focuses on monitoring the environmental health of biological systems in bodies of water-a procedure known as biomonitoring-as well as lake management. Both processes require implementing sampling procedures, collecting the resulting data, and analyzing this information to establish methods of biological control.

"Why do tourists want to rent a lake house when they might not be able to fish, swim or boat? Why should taxpayers' money go to cleaning milfoil out of a municipal water system? We hope Middfoil® makes these questions unnecessary," Hilovsky said.

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