Legislature eyes action for Bistineau weevils

By Bonnie Culverhouse
Journal Correspondent

Lake Bistineau, which covers more than 15,500 acres and portions of three Northwest Louisiana parishes, is a paradise for hunters, fishermen and, unfortunately, Giant Salvinia.

Located in Webster, Bossier and Bienville parishes, Lake Bistineau is fed by Dorcheat and Clarke's bayous, as well as other smaller waterways.

Giant Salvinia, a floating fern from Brazil, was found in the lake several years ago. No one knows for certain how it got there. All they know is it has multiplied rapidly and isn't disappearing at a rate hoped for by agencies and individuals involved in eradication attempts. The battle against the aquatic growth continues on a daily basis.

Members of the Bistineau Task Force, a group consisting of Bossier and Webster police jurors, soil and water conservationists and concerned citizens, know that different techniques are still being used, including one that has introduced millions of tiny combatants onto the floating mats of the vegetation. Unfortunately, little progress has been seen, said one of the men involved in the eradication programs.

"Since 2007, more than two million (salvinia) weevils have been introduced into the lake.

We've done quite a bit with weevils, but we've seen no practical results," said Jeff Sibley, biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Lee Eisenberg said chemical treatment is still the prime means of trying to control the salvinia, but noted that interest in the weevils is increasing. In 2012, Eisenberg was raising salvinia weevils at Caddo Lake for Texas A&M University.

Currently, he works as a contractor for The Greater Caddo Lake Association in Uncertain, Texas, a group that has an interest in biological control of giant salvinia.

"Last summer, we had between 6,000 and 7,000 acres of giant salvinia. That means many recreational opportunities are gone, such as hunting, fishing and boating," he said.

One disadvantage of using weevils to fight salvinia is the climate in Northwest Louisiana, Eisenberg said.

"The weather here isn't really conducive for the best use of weevils. They thrive more in tropical conditions," he said. "But we're going to keep adding to them and we fully expect to have something to show next fall."

Sibley said weevils have been spread on the upper end of Lake Bistineau " in close spots where the timber is thick, we've put them in close quarters and we've scattered them. None have shown a difference in results."

Like Eisenberg, Sibley acknowledges the weevils face a disadvantage in this area.

"This is a tropical insect, we are in a temperate zone," he said. "We keep hitting roadblocks with winter temperatures. We have another event, we have to start over again."

Lake Bistineau resident and long-time fisherman Cody Williams said sportsmen have mixed emotions about the salvinia.

"I'm 34 and have fished the lake all of my life, and I personally think it's helped the fish population out a lot," Williams said. "The salvinia covers so thick that people can't catch all of the spawning fish so a lot more have productive spawns. I hate it (salvinia), too, but there are some good things that go along with it."

One of those "good things" is the size of the fish Williams is catching.

"The bass are getting bigger and bigger every year because the fishing pressure is not near as bad once the salvinia takes over," he said. "A lot of people just quit fishing."

In the meantime, District 10 State Rep. Gene Reynolds continues the fight against the Giant Salvinia by introducing House Bill 228 during this session of the Louisiana Legislature.

The proposed law would dedicate $300,000 to a management account in the state's Conservation Fund. It would then be appropriated to the Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries for weevil production and construction of a research facility on the lake.

As of press time, the amended bill had passed the House by a vote of 97-0 and made its way to the Senate Finance Committee.