Eco-Harvester Operations Update

By Dave Neuswanger — August 22, 2019

I have good news and bad news regarding the invasion of our lakes by Hybrid Eurasian Water Milfoil (HEWM). First, the good news: Our Eco-Harvester aquatic plant puller and outstanding volunteer operators have made significant headway in reducing the area of Lost Land Lake infested with HEWM. Since harvest operations began in late June, crews led by Norm Bratteig and Kim Phelps have pulled so much HEWM from Wilson Bay, the west shore, and Morgan Bay that it has become difficult to even FIND a significant bed of “topped out” HEWM in Lost Land Lake! We’re not seeing large beds lurking just beneath the surface either. This is quite an accomplishment! Now for the bad news: We have confirmed the presence of HEWM in some of the westernmost areas of Teal Lake, near the mouth of the Thoroughfare leading from Lost Land. Some of that milfoil inexplicably but thankfully died out on its own. But a patch just south of the mouth of the Thoroughfare produced a full load for removal by the Eco-Harvester. So the Teal Lake cloud seems to have a silver lining. Teal may be less hospitable to HEWM than Lost Land, and we have “nipped it in the bud” so to speak by removing the only obviously large, dense patch of HEWM we could find in early August. We will keep on top of it in Teal and try to prevent any further spread.

Our Mechanical Harvesting Permit from the Wisconsin DNR requires that we file a monthly report regarding the nature and extent of activities conducted under the authority of that permit. Rather than reiterating the details here, I ask that interested readers click on the bold blue link below to view the three-page report to WDNR on harvest activities through July 31, 2019. We will file another report and share it here at the end of August.

Report to WDNR of Eco-Harvester Operations through July 31, 2019

Folks who want to see the Eco-Harvester up close and talk to (and thank!) our volunteer operators should attend our Annual Picnic at Boulder Lodge on Saturday, August 24 from Noon to 4 p.m. A booth being prepared by Jane and Tom Precht will allow picnic goers to learn more about HEWM and make a contribution to continue supporting Eco-Harvester operations.


On Wednesday, May 22, 2019, the Quiet Lakes Improvement Association received our highly anticipated Eco-Harvester aquatic plant puller, delivered to the equipment shed of QLIA Vice-President Norm Bratteig where watercraft and trailer were registered and prepared for use in removing Hybrid Eurasian Water Milfoil (HEWM) from both Lost Land and Teal lakes. Unfortunately, we have confirmed the existence of HEWM in at least two locations on Teal Lake, in bays north and south of the mouth of the Thoroughfare leading into Teal from Lost Land. We knew this highly invasive plant was likely to spread from Lost Land to Teal sooner or later, but we would have preferred later.

Fortunately, we now have some very good equipment for harvesting and removing HEWM. Our goal is to prevent HEWM from attaining levels of abundance that would seriously impede navigation, discourage recreation, compromise ecosystem integrity, and depress lakeshore property values. After years of monitoring, planning, and experimenting with ineffective chemical control methods, I am confident we are now employing the only potentially effective strategy for achieving our goal.

Eco-Harvester Operations Supervisor Norm Bratteig and Eco-Harvester Lead Operator Kim Phelps return to the public boat landing on Lost Land Lake on July 3, 2019 with a full load of Hybrid Eurasian Water Milfoil to be off-loaded and hauled to the old Town landfill nearby.

Eco-Harvester hydraulics (paddle-wheel propulsion and various conveyor systems) worked flawlessly and easily from the start, but QLIA “test pilots” Norm Bratteig and Kim Phelps learned some valuable lessons during the first couple test runs in early June — lessons that will help guide future operations. Most importantly, we learned that HEWM must be at the water surface before the stems are long enough and strong enough for Eco-Harvester’s rolling drum to remove them by the roots rather than breaking off tender tips still well beneath the water surface. To avoid fragmentation and inadvertent spreading of HEWM, future operations will be timed if possible to coincide with HEWM’s emergence at the surface, when it forms visible seed heads. This means we will likely be operating in early to mid summer more than late spring, depending on annual variation in weather conditions. It also means that timely reports of HEWM reaching the surface (called “topping”) will help our volunteer operators to remove these weeds before the seeds mature and various forms of recreation fragment the plants and facilitate colonization elsewhere. Bottom Line: The OPTIMAL time for Eco-Harvester operation is when these invasive plants first reach the surface at a time when desirable native plants are still well below the surface and are relatively invulnerable to our mechanical removal method.

Eco-Harvester operating in a large, dense patch of “topped-out” Hybrid Eurasian Water Milfoil (HEWM) on July 3,2019 in Wilson Bay, a couple hundred yards west of Wilson Bay Lodge.

As of Friday, July 26, 2019, the team of Bratteig and Phelps (joined eventually by several other volunteers) had operated the Eco-Harvester on Lost Land Lake for a total of 11 full (9-hour) days since some patches of HEWM became optimally harvestable in late June. Most of the effort to date has been on Wilson Bay of Lost Land Lake where the problem first emerged and has been most severe, though one day was spent removing a topped-out bed of HEWM in the southwest corner of Morgan Bay (aka Steamboat Bay) of Lost Land Lake. Curiously, significant beds of HEWM developing in early spring in other areas of Morgan Bay seem to have died out on their own by early July for reasons we do not understand. But we are not complaining!

The Eco-Harvester is capable of storing approximately 2 cubic yards of harvested plant material before it is deemed “full” and must be driven slowly (4.2 mph when fully loaded) to the nearest boat landing for off-loading. As of July 26, 2019, our amazing volunteers had harvested 22 loads (44 cubic yards, compacted) for transport to boat landings, where 11 trips were made with Norm Bratteig’s dump trailer to the old Town landfill. To put this in perspective, we have removed roughly the equivalent of three dump-truck loads of HEWM from Lost Land Lake to date, clearing several acres of topped-out HEWM from the worst areas of infestation in Wilson Bay and one problem area in Morgan Bay. Other areas will be visited as soon as HEWM is ready for harvest and volunteers have time to operate.

Plants harvested by Eco-Harvester have been at least 98% Hybrid Eurasian Water Milfoil, leaving desirable native plants to recolonize formerly infested areas.

Other Important Lessons Learned: At first we were not sure we could operate this program exclusively with volunteers. In fact, a straw poll conducted at our Annual Meeting on July 20, 2019 supported a tentative plan by the Executive Committee to begin searching for a contract operator and helper. (A helper with rake and pitchfork is essential for effective operation.) However, such plans are now on hold in light of a wave of volunteerism by conscientious members who support this program and have begun working with Eco-Harvester Lead Operator and Volunteer Coordinator Kim Phelps. Kim is confident he can coordinate the efforts of enough volunteers to keep the Eco-Harvester operating when and where needed. Moving the program even further along, Kim discovered a hydraulic dump trailer that will drastically reduce the amount of manual labor required to redistribute HEWM upon off-loading. The Executive Committee subsequently approved Kim’s purchase of a $6,400 hydraulic dump trailer on sale in Rice Lake for $5,500. This frees up Norm Bratteig’s personal dump trailer for his own upcoming home construction project, and gives us a trailer that seems almost custom-designed for our purposes.

QLIA’s new hydraulic dump trailer for use in transporting HEWM from boat ramps to the old Town landfill on Trappe Road. Plant material will be covered with a tarp for transport. The Town of Spider Lake Board unanimously approved our resolution to dispose of harvested milfoil (conditional on receipt of a $300 DNR Mechanical Plant Harvest Permit, which we received on May 14, 2019) at an old landfill site on 40 acres owned by the Township at the end of Trappe Road, only three miles from the nearest boat ramp on Lost Land Lake.
Low bed design and side-swinging rear gates will allow Eco-Harvester’s bow-mounted conveyor system to off-load plants throughout the trailer bed, resulting in far less manual labor than with the previously borrowed trailer.

Funding to Date: Thanks to the caring generosity of more than 100 QLIA memberships, we made a 30% Eco-Harvester down-payment of $23,240 on December 18, 2018. Our final payment of $54,724 on May 22, 2019 (which included a $500 custom kit to shade our volunteer operators from the sun) brings the total cost for Eco-Harvester and trailer to $77,964. Our fall/winter pledge drive generated $82,505 in funds earmarked for Eco-Harvester purchase and operations, so $4,541 was available for all registrations, licensing, insurance, minor equipment purchases (two-way radio, depth sounder, boat bumpers, life jackets etc.) and 2019 operations (gasoline to power Eco-Harvester generator and mileage reimbursement to volunteers who will use their own vehicles to haul harvested HEWM to our disposal site). The QLIA Executive Committee decided to tap into approximately half of our $10,000 in general operating funds to purchase the hydraulic dump trailer that will make it easier for volunteers to do the work. We are very grateful to all members and friends who have entrusted us with the funds needed to try to keep our lakes healthy.