Saving loons – UNH finds toxins in our lakes that threaten the waterfowl (1186)


MOULTONBOROUGH — Loons capture the public's imagination through their distinctive red eyes and far-ranging calls. Their plumage is also distinctive, and they have small numbers of chicks at a time, often carried around on their parents' backs. These lake-dwellers are loved by many people, but are also an important waterfowl because they occupy a position near the top of the food chain in aquatic areas, allowing the researchers who study them a good look into the health of their ecosystems.

Concern was expressed for the birds recently by Jim Haney, a professor of biological sciences at the University of New Hampshire about their exposure to high levels of liver and neurotoxins.

"We are examining whether this nerve toxin may be contributing to the recent disappearance of the Common Loon from certain New Hampshire lakes," said Haney. "Levels of BMAA, a toxin suspected to be related to human neurological disorders such as ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, were highest in the chick feathers. This suggests these birds have been exposed to relatively high concentrations in fish they were fed by their parents," said Haney, who also directs the UNH Center for Freshwater Biology.

UNH is study examining the possible role of neurotoxins that are developed in blue-green algal blooms – a type of algae that is increasing in its concentrations in lakes due to a number of factors, including global warming – in the decrease in loon population growth in recent years. 

Harry Vogel, senior biologist and executive director of the Loon Preservation Committee called this release premature, as it merely stated a possible link without any conclusive findings, but also called this type of research important, as biologists are just beginning to understand the wide range of environmental factors contributing to a loon health and much more research needs to be conducted to help save loons and other species.
The algal blooms are another of the "co-occurring stressors that affect the health of our birds," he said. "There's always this sense that we want to attribute the troubles of loons to this one thing, and the reality is that there are contributions from many things."

The research, according to Vogel, is going to help, but if the findings produce a definite link between these neurotoxins and loon health they will still be just part of a chain of many contributing factors.

"Loons are having to deal with all of these factors at the same time," said Vogel. Research into every facet of the ecosystem needs to be done in order to understand what's happening to loons in order for the conservation efforts to be most effective for these beloved birds.
The Loon Preservation Committee in Moultonborough is also conducting a census of the loon population. They celebrated the birds with their annual Loon Festival last Saturday.

"This is an event to celebrate loons and our fascination with them," said Vogel. "This year's Loon Festival was another great success, and adults and kids enjoyed balloon animals by Mo, children's crafts and activities, live animal demonstrations courtesy of the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, free hot dogs courtesy of Meredith Rotary, and a dunk the biologist dunk tank," said Vogel.

The New Hampshire State Senate named last Saturday Loon Appreciation Day in recognition of the work done by the Loon Preservation Committee with their Loon Festival and the Loon Census that operates in conjunction with it.
"The census is a one-hour event to get a snapshot in time of New Hampshire's loon population by having as many observers on the water as possible to count loons. Participants have until July 31 to mail census forms back to us and numbers will be tallied by mid August," said Vogel. It is important to count loons not just for loon health but as an indicator of the health of the ecosystem.
Since the mid-1970s, thanks in large part to environmental efforts and the work of the Loon Preservation Committee and similar organizations, the loon population has tripled in lakes in the Northeast United States, including, of course, the lakes of Central New Hampshire. A large part of this growth can be attributed to stopping the use of DDT, an insecticide that was found to be harmful to birds and other wildlife and eventually banned in the United States in 1972.
This alone is not enough to account for the loon population growth. The Loon Preservation Committee has many efforts to cultivate loon population growth in New Hampshire. The reason the Loon Preservation Committee was founded in 1975 was people noticing that the loon presence on New Hampshire lakes had been diminishing.

"Human activities were seen as causing that decline," said Vogel, "and the thought was that human intervention of the opposite variety could help to reverse the trend."

Each year, the Loon Preservation Committee has been setting new records for their involvement in aiding loon population recovery.

"We are managing to mitigate some of the negative consequences of human involvement," said Vogel. Results from the census demonstrate this, as the Loon Preservation Committee estimates one out of every four loon chicks hatched last year was born on rafts they put out for the purpose.
Although the figure of tripling the loon population since the 1970s is staggering, many lakes in Canada have triple our concentration of loons, and in the past five years our local census has reported almost no growth in the loon population.
Environmental factors of all kinds are contributing to this stagnation in growth. Two highlighted by Vogel are lead sinkers and jigs and an increase in dangerous algal blooms. Although the sale of lead fishing equipment is banned, Vogel said the Loon Preservation Committee is still finding loons dying due to lead poisoning. Everything that can be done legally and by organizations like Vogel's has already been done to stop this, but lead sinkers are still around in old tackle boxes and it is now up to the fisherman to be vigilant about what kind of equipment they are using.
Algal blooms are a different type of problem.

"If you have contaminants that increase in concentration as they move up the food chain, which loons are near the top of," said Vogel, "and also biomagnify in long-living animals like loons, increasing in their concentration in the animal over time, makes them a useful indicator of environmental health and the quality of the water."

Due to their position at the top of the aquatic food chain, loons feel the effects of these contaminants far more than other species.
An upcoming event that may be of interest to those who want to help save the lakes of New Hampshire is the 10th annual Squam Swim on Aug. 11. It's a 7-mile relay swim across the length of Squam Lake to raise funds for the research going on on Squam and help recover the population of loons on that lake.

07-21 Wickwas 27Jun16263730

A loon on Lake Wickwas stretches wide during preening in June. (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Free the Nipple leader waives arraignment, trial is next


LACONIA — The Gilford woman who is at the center of the "Free the Nipple" movement in New Hampshire has waived an arraignment scheduled for her for Monday at the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division.

By waiving the arraignment, Heidi Lilley and her two co-defendents, Kia Sinclair and Ginger Pierro, have agreed to go to trial, which will be scheduled for sometime in September.

All three woman were charged with violating the city of Laconia's ordinance that bans baring the nipple portion of the female breast for sunbathing topless at Weirs Beach on May 28.

The three are charged with a violation-level offense that is punishable by a fine of $250 for a first offense.

This is the state's second case of female nipple exposure in as many years. In 2015, Lilley and co-defendant Barbara McKinnon were cited by Gilford Police for being topless at Gilford Beach on Labor Day.

Represented by attorney Daniel Hynes, 4th Circuit Court Judge Jim Carroll dismissed that charge saying that since New Hampshire does not prohibit female breast exposure in its criminal code, cities and towns are prohibited from making something illegal that is not illegal in state statutes.

Lilley and Hynes made a second argument that said exposing the female nipple is protected free speech under both the state and federal constitutions, but Carroll disallowed that argument.

In both cases, police said their actions were prompted by complaints from other beach goers.

Lilley has also challenged the city's ordinance by going to the City Council and speaking during public comment. She had requested a spot on the agenda; however, Mayor Ed Engler said he wouldn't support her request.

Her comments were met with disdain by some members of the City Council who told her to go "back to Gilford."

Fewer Laconia residents and businesses are recycling


LACONIA — When the mandatory curbside recycling program was introduced in July 2013, the goal was to recycle 30 percent of the solid waste stream, but four years later City Manager Scott Myers has concluded "It appears that we have peaked somewhere in the 22 percent to 24 percent range."

The program aimed to reduce the cost of collecting, transporting and disposing of solid waste. The recycling contract provides for collecting recyclable materials at the curbside every other week as well as emptying the four remote dumpsters at a fixed cost irrespective of the tonnage collected. Consequently, each ton removed from the solid waste stream by recycling spares $150 in collection, transportation and disposal costs.

However, the solid waste expenditures, excluding compensation and benefits, has not decreased but increased by more than $150,000, from $1,446,916 in 2013-2014 to $1,598,250 in 2015-2016.

The mandatory recycling ordinance requires residents and businesses to separate designated materials for recycling from trash as well as limits residences to two 32-gallon containers of trash each week and businesses and multi-family buildings to seven containers. There is no limit to the volume of recyclable materials collected at the curbside, but they must be placed in appropriately marked containers.

Earlier this summer, the city undertook an audit of its trash collection routes in an effort to measure compliance with the mandatory recycling program. Afterwards letters were sent to some 700 property owners, about a fifth of all the stops on the five routes, who were found out of compliance. Specific infractions, such as failure to recycle, failure to separate and excessive trash, were noted, and directions for complying with the ordinance were offered.

Myers said that the letters were mailed, so he expected recycling to increase over the prior collection cycle or the same cycle the year before. However, the volume of recyclables collected at the curbside actually declined and was less than both the prior two-week period and the same two-week period a year ago.

"We're at where we're at," Myers said Friday, "We've squeezed out what there is to squeeze."

He said he will report to the City Council when it meets Monday, but other than continuing to educate property owners and enforce the ordinance he has no specific recommendations. He conceded that a pay-as-you-throw program, which requires purchasing marked bags for disposing of trash, is the "only logical alternative." An evenly divided City Council scuttled a pay-as-you-throw program in 2013 as then Mayor Mike Seymour cast the deciding vote against it.