Conservation Minnesota

A Lake Manager’s Notebook: Bubba’s Swing

Professional golfer Bubba Watson has just won his second Master’s with a crappy swing, kindly described as “idiosyncratic.”  Yikes, this guy hit his 56-degree wedge 146 yards and has never had a golf lesson.  I recall a commentary of another golfers’ swing, Jim Furyk’s, as looking like an octopus falling out of a tree.  But, both these guys won tournaments.

So, what is more important, the method or the result?

Surprisingly, to me at least, this question often comes into play when contemplating how to manage lakes.  Only, too often, the method/result is confused.

When Eurasian watermilfoil has been documented as being harmful, controlling this pest is indicated.  But how?  We have good knowledge that certain herbicides are effective and have been determined to be “safe,” by the US EPA, or in their jargon, not reasonably likely to cause harm.  However, some consider these “chemicals” an inappropriate method, so explore other, more appropriate methods.  How about weevils or hand-pulling?  The rub comes when you look at the results.

Now, the outcomes of lake management are not as clear cut as the outcomes of golf tournaments.  However, in cases I am familiar with, milfoil control using herbicides is more effective than hand-pulling or weevils, at least at scales greater than a quarter acre.  What surprises me is the interesting amnesia that occurs following ineffective (but correct) treatments – “well, milfoil was not that much of a problem anyway,” or “it’s working, we just need to give it more time.”

Too often proponents of ineffectual methods – albeit proper methods – do not see the need ahead of time to state management goals using objective baseline conditions, nor do they see needs to monitor conditions following the treatment.  If the method is “correct,” the outcome must also be correct.

There certainly are situations where methods are inappropriate, regardless of the outcomes.  For example, using torture to get information is wrong (my opinion).  Bubba’s crappy swing – is not wrong (as long as no rules of golf are violated).

There is a flip side to this as well.  Even if a method is not harmful, does not necessarily mean it works.  I too, have a crappy golf swing, but I also have crappy results.  There are an increasing number of “too-good-to-be-true” lake management methods popping up.  While many sound like good, worthy methods – “natural,” “non-chemical,” “safe” or “cheap” – we do not know if they work.  Beware of methods based on testimonials.

I am writing chapters in the Lake Manager’s Notebook that examines ways to manage various lake management challenges.  I use a standard that looks at methods that work as demonstrated by objective, third-party, peer-reviewed cases.  I do not judge the “rightness” or “wrongness” of any method but I do judge the efficacy and feasibility of various methods to address lake problems based on whether or not they work (as determined by objective criteria).

Yes, there are some lake management methods that are wrong.  We no longer use sodium arsenate to control algae in lakes because arsenic is toxic.  We do use registered herbicides because they have been objectively determined to be permissible.  As a certified lake manager, I have no problem recommending these methods when appropriate because they have been tested, registered and permitted.  I do have a problem not recommending a particular method because of unfounded concerns of safety or efficacy – that would imply I have more specific knowledge than the federal and state regulatory agencies that have spend millions of dollars and decades on testing.

When considering how to manage a lake problem, use these steps: 1) define the problem, 2) diagnose its cause, 3) define a measurable management objective, 4) evaluate feasible alternative controls, 5) decide on a plan and implement the plan, 6) monitor and evaluate relative to the stated objective, 7) adjust if necessary, 8) do it all again.  And practice your swing.

About Dick Osgood

Dick Osgood
Dick Osgood has authored numerous scientific journal papers, made hundreds of presentations at professional meetings, and recently co-authored his first book.  Now he’s working on his second book titled A Lake Manager’s Notebook.  Dick is a Certified Lake Manager and offers lake management consulting services through his business Osgood Consulting LLC.
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