Plans being discussed to try to stamp out AVM

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Helicopters droned above Thurmond Lake last week as scientists tried to determine how many bald eagles have arrived at the reservoir so far this fall.

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Army Corps of Engineers biologist Ken Boyd examines a strand of hydrilla, an invasive aquatic weed first discovered at Thurmond Lake in 1995. The plant harbors an algae linked to deaths of bald eagles at the reservoir.  ROB PAVEY/STAFF
Army Corps of Engineers biologist Ken Boyd examines a strand of hydrilla, an invasive aquatic weed first discovered at Thurmond Lake in 1995. The plant harbors an algae linked to deaths of bald eagles at the reservoir.

By day’s end, the airborne teams had counted 18 eagles – two adults and 16 immature birds, said Army Corps of Engineers biologist Ken Boyd.

The numbers may seem encouraging, but odds are strong that many of those birds will die before warm weather returns next spring.

The silent, mysterious killer is a tiny algae bloom linked to hydrilla, an invasive aquatic weed that showed up at the lake in 1995.

Despite costly herbicide treatments, the initial 55-acre patch has expanded to 7,300 acres today along 400 miles of shoreline.

Its spread has created a cycle of death – known as avian vacuolar myelinopathy, or AVM – that is as sinister as a science fiction movie.

Hydrilla is a favored food for coots, which are eaten by bald eagles. The algae-born AVM creates lesions inside the brain that cause fatigue, disorientation and death.

The condition has also been confirmed in owls, Canada geese and ducks, which is why wildlife authorities want to prevent AVM from spreading to other lakes and rivers.

To date, 76 dead eagles have been recovered from Thurmond Lake, which is one of 17 waterways across the Southeast where AVM has emerged.

One possible solution is the use of grass carp that would reduce hydrilla. Such a step, however, is both costly and controversial, since it would add a large new species to the lake.

Scott Hyatt, Thurmond Lake’s project manager, cited a recent survey by the University of Georgia in which stakeholders in the region were supportive of stocking the carp. Such an action, he added, will require a formal environmental assessment for which fiscal 2014 funding has been requested, but not yet approved.

Even in a best-case scenario, it could take years before any results could be expected.

“Assuming that sterile grass carp is the corps’ preferred action, and assuming there’s money to move through the process, my rough estimate is 18 months to 2 years,” Hyatt said.

CORPS MONEY WOES: Speaking of corps budgets, there was more sobering news out of the Savannah District Office last week that includes more cuts and park closures along the Savannah River.

“We selected recreation areas for full or partial closures based on an analysis of our recreation program, which included visitation numbers, costs to operate and maintain parks, and the location of similar facilities,” the corps said in a statement.

Thurmond Lake will close four campgrounds: Raysville, Broad River, Clay Hill and Hesters Ferry.

Partial closures are also planned at Lake Springs Day Use Area, where three of six loops will be closed.

Mount Carmel Campground will close, leaving its boat ramp open, officials said, and Gill Point Day Use Area will close, also leaving its boat ramp open.

COLD WEATHER RABIES: The Columbia County Health Department warned Thursday that yet another raccoon has tested positive for rabies. The raccoon had come in contact with a dog near Thoroughbred Way and Lewiston Road in Grovetown – and the dog killed the raccoon.

Fortunately, the dog was current on its rabies vaccinations and did not have to be euthanized, said Pam Tucker, the county’s emergency and operations division director.

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Buzzjet 11/25/13 - 10:15 pm
Clarks Hill Bald Eagles and the AVM Connection

I have read many times about the connection between bald eagle mortality and AVM. The shortsighted answer seems to be: eliminating the hydrilla will eliminate the problem. NOT TRUE. The bald eagles feed on coots which eat all types of aquatic vegetation everywhere they go during their yearly migration. The coots that end up at Clarks Hill could already be infected from vegetation that was injested elsewhere. There isn't any proof the migratory birds are becoming infected at Clarks Hill nor has the research been completed determining the exact process of the disease.
To be fair, if we eliminate the hydrilla, we will have fewer coots migrate into the area. If there are less coots, the bald eagles would not have the opportunity to eat as many. The thing we need to consider is the other things that will happen as a result of eliminating the grass. For one, we will have fewer largemouth bass and other desirable fish species in the lake. The hydrilla is the life-blood of the reservoir. When the fish spawn, the vegetation gives the fry a place to hide and survive until they get big enough to take care of themselves. This process is called recruitment. Without the grass, the recruitment rates will plummet resulting in a rapid decline of largemouth bass, crappies, bluegill, etc. Eliminating the hydrilla will also result in a decrease in the duck migration. Killing the grass will have a immediate negative impact on fishing and hunting in the area.
Eliminating the hydrilla is NOT a solution. What we are saying is lets spend a lot of tax dollars to destroy our fishery and reduce our duck population on a hunch this will save the lives of a few bald eagles. We all love bald eagles but we must strive to find a solution that will benefit all of our wildlife. The proposed solutions on the table simply are unacceptable.

Rob Pavey 11/28/13 - 02:53 pm
here's the most complete info on AVM....

thanks to both of you for your comments - there is much more known about AVM not than a decade ago, but we still have more to learn. you can go to Dr. Susan Wilde's UGA website and get details on most of your observations.
It is my understanding the cyanobacteria are being ingested at clarks hill by coots that are otherwise healthy when they migrate into the region. I could be mistaken, though. As of last week, the official number of dead eagles recovered at our lake was 76 - excluding an unknown number that were never found. As far as adding carp, I've always thought it seems like a reasonable idea - and if the results are not satisfactory, the fish cannot reproduce and cimply die out. (or they could always organize a big bowfishing tournament)

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