Property Owners Association
HLPOA News

Swimmers Itch

Your Itching Questions for Dr. Blankespoor:

Dear HLPOA and HLSIO Supporters,

Spring is the time of year we regularly get questions about our Swimmer’s Itch Control Program and what we are doing about all the common merganser sightings on the lake.  To efficiently address these questions we have added this new section, “Your Itching Questions for Dr. Blankespoor.”  This section will be updated whenever new questions/answers are received and answered.

Your Itching Questions For Dr. Blankespoor – June 1, 2018:

1. Q: Tell us about your lake-wide spring bird surveys on Higgins Lake.

A: Since we started working on the lake in 2015, we’ve conducted regular lake-wide bird surveys from ice-out until July 31. We go around the entire perimeter of the lake, which takes 3-4 hours, and we record the various birds and ducks we encounter.  On May 18, 2018, we found16 common mergansers (4 males and 12 females) and a large mixed flock (50+) of common and red breasted mergansers near the island.  Migrating individuals typically aggregate in large groups, so we believe the vast majority of the ducks we saw during this survey will not take residence on Higgins this summer. These ducks were spring fly throughs.  The red breasted mergansers are protected, as our permit only allows trap and relocation of common mergansers.

On, May 26, we conducted our second lake-wide survey of 2018. As expected, the spring fly throughs had departed, including all of the red breasted mergansers.  We found only 5 common mergansers (3 hens and 2 drakes) remaining on the lake.  

2. Q: Do you have an estimate of the number of common merganser broods you expect to see on Higgins Lake this year?

A: That number is always difficult to predict, but the numbers should be low again this year.  I’d estimate a maximum of 4.

3. Q: What do these surveys tell you about whether relocated common mergansers return to Higgins Lake.

A: We’ve always said that successfully breeding hens are expected to return to Higgins.  However, if ducklings are relocated when they are less than 1 month old, we believe they won’t return to Higgins Lake. Instead, they return to the general area where they were relocated.  For the third year in a row, our lake-wide bird surveys confirmed this — there are no second year birds (“teenagers”) on Higgins Lake. Once we trap and relocate any hens and their broods, the lake will essentially be free of any common mergansers again this summer.  If the ducklings from last year, or from 2016, returned to Higgins Lake, they would stay the summer.  The last time we saw a large number of 2nd year common mergansers staying on the lake during the summer was 2015.

4. Q: Did you band the chicks you relocated last year?  

A: No. We tried to get a permit from the DNR to place plasticine bands on common merganser ducklings in 2016 but the DNR refused our permit request on the grounds that the plasticine leg bands would cause too much physical harm to the ducklings.  Last year we were successful in getting a permit to use web tags (tiny self-piercing metal tags that are affixed to their toe webbing) instead of plasticine leg bands and all 55 common merganser ducklings trapped and relocated from Higgins Lake in 2017 were fitted with web tags. 

5. Q:  Tell how your research project to fit common mergansers with transmitters is progressing.

A: The custom made, miniature GPS units just arrived from the United Kingdom this past week. On Friday, we are making a special trip to Ohio to learn from waterfowl experts and be certifiedto fit common merganser hens with light-weight, specialized backpack harnesses that will carry the GPS units. We plan to outfit all the hens we trap on Higgins Lake this year with those GPS backpacks. They will be programmed to record GPS locations several times a day, so we hope to gain valuable information not only on common merganser nesting sites, but also on other aspects of common merganser behavior that might lead to effective long-term swimmer’s itch control strategies.

 

Your Itching Questions For Dr. Blankespoor – April, 2018:

  1. Q: I’ve noticed a large number of common mergansers in the lake near my cottage this spring.  Should I be concerned?  Should I report the sightings?

A: Every spring, large numbers of common mergansers migrate north through the state on their way to their summer home, typically in Canada. The Michigan Swimmer’s Itch Partnership (MISIP) lakes throughout the state are reporting a similar large number of fly-throughs.   Higgins Lake has always been a popular stop-over lake because our abundant minnow population provides easy food for hungry migrant ducks.  We believe the science, data and experience demonstrate that we don’t need to be concerned about these spring fly-throughs so they don’t need to be reported.  The late ice out may have compressed the fly-though time window making it seem like there are more common merganser this spring.

2. Q: Are all these common mergansers going to stay on Higgins Lake this summer?

A: No. Most of these common mergansers will leave the lake after staying only a few days.  They will be replaced by new fly-throughs.  A few will stay to breed.  The males will leave shortly after the hens start incubating their eggs. The hens will stay on the lake to raise their broods.  You have probably noticed the lake has been largely common merganser free the past three summers after the fly-throughs leave and all the broods have been captured and relocated.

3. Q: Won’t these fly-throughs infect our lake with swimmer’s itch?

A: The science, data and our past experience tell us that these common merganser fly-throughs present a very low risk of adding to the swimmer’s itch infection level in Higgins Lake.  Necropsies of approximately 50 adult common mergansers lethally taken on Higgins Lake over the past 3 springs have shown about half were not infected with swimmer’s itch parasites and nearly all the rest were only lightly infected.  In addition, the very cold spring waters make the snails largely inactive and not receptive to swimmer’s itch infection. In fact, after the Northpoint Fisheries spring harassment program from 2015 to 2017 chased large numbers of common mergansers into the Lyon Township section of Higgins Lake (where they were not allowed to shoot or harass common mergansers) the analysis of snails from both townships showed slightly lower infection levels in Lyon Township snails compared to those from Gerrish Township.  And Lyon Township residents reported a similar significant reduction in swimmer’s itch cases as Gerrish Township.  So we have strong evidence from Higgins Lake that spring harassment isn’t effective and spring fly-throughs don’t increase the risk of swimmer’s itch.

4. Q: How many broods are you projecting for Higgins Lake this year?

A: It’s always difficult to predict the number of broods on any lake in any given year. Our best guess is 6 or less in 2018.

5. Q: Why does your program focus on trap and relocation of common merganser broods?

A: Decades of research has shown that common merganser ducklings are the primary carriers of swimmer’s itch infection on northern Michigan lakes.  They spend a flightless summer on the lake and become highly infected.  In fact, research has shown their infection levels can be as much as 50 times higher than adults.  The trap and relocation method of control targets the primary carriers of swimmer’s itch on Higgins Lake and it has a strong track record for success on other lakes.  Brood ducks are relocated to waters that are free of the Stagnicola snails that are needed to cause swimmer’s itch.  That’s why several other Michigan lakes are using common merganser trap and relocation as their swimmer’s itch control program of choice.

6. Q: Broods typically should start appearing on the lake beginning around June 1.  If I see a common merganser hen fly into a tree, or a common merganser brood swimming on the lake, where should I report it?

A: Go to www.swimmersitchsolutions.com/ higginslake

 

April, 2018 Update: Swimmer’s Itch Control Program for 2018 and Beyond:

The DNR has developed a new permit application process. Below is the link to the background and development which led to the adoption of the Roscommon County Resolution. Thanks to all who supported these efforts:

January, 2018 MISIP Newsletter Posted:

2017 Final Report: Swimmer’s Itch Solutions, LLC (SIS):

Dear HLPOA members,
 
We are pleased to send you the following letter and attachment received by the Higgins Lake Swimmer’s Itch Organization (HLSIO) with the 2017 Annual Report for the 3rd year of the SI control program to combat and reduce SI in Higgins Lake. 
 
As stated in the letter, “We must remain vigilant and committed to a long-term effort to maintain, and hopefully further improve, on these excellent results.”
 
Thank you for your continued support.
 
Charlene Cornell
HLPOA President

 

HLSIO Swimmer’s Itch Fund Raiser Dinner – August 24, 2017:

The 2017 HLSIO Swimmer’s Itch Fund Raiser Dinner is scheduled for Thursday, August 24th from 6:00PM to 9:00PM.  The location is the same as last year’s event: Jim and Laura Witt’s Barn, 7578 E Higgins Lake Dr.  Dinner and beverage donated by Fred’s Restaurant of Roscommon.  Tickets are $100 ea. and are available by contacting Dianne Wagner at 989-821-5932.

Swimmer’s Itch Solutions LLC (SIS) Presentation at the July 15, 2017 HLPOA Annual Meeting:

The presentation on the status of the 3-year SI Reduction Effort. presented by Dr. Curt Blankespoor of Swimmer’s Itch Solutions LLC at this year’s HLPOA Annual Meeting is posted below.  Of particular interest are slides 20, 21 and 22 that compare 2015 to 2016 to mid-July of 2017.  On each of these three slides is a chart showing the snail infestation percentage — anything over 2% of the snails being infected with the SI parasite represents an epidemic level of SI infestation.  In 2015, the average of all snails tested showed the highest lake-wide infection percentage Dr.’s Harvey and Curt Blankespoor had ever seen in their collective 50+ years of SI research — 3.9%.  This is reflected in the amount of red and orange depicted in 2015’s chart.  After working that year and the next two years removing Common Merganser (COME) hens and broods from the lake and sealing nesting sites, notice the complete lack of any red or orange on the 2017 chart.  The 2017 infection rate is down to only 0.14%.  What a dramatic improvement!  A long term maintenance program is now being planned to keep Higgins Lake at this low infection rate for years to come.

July 9, 2017 Swimmer’s Itch Update:

Dear HLPOA Members and HLSIO Supporters,

We are pleased to send you the update received over the weekend from the Higgins Lake Swimmer’s Itch Organization, HLSIO, and a report from the Scientists of Swimmer’s Itch Solutions LLC on the status of their SI reduction activities for their third year of work on Higgins Lake.  There is also mention of their recent work on Crystal Lake, where they are in the first year of activity there.

HLPOA Board

How to Report Merganser Nesting Sites, Ducks/Broods Sightings and Cases of Swimmers Itch:

If you spot any Merganser Ducks, nesting sites and/or their broods on Higgins Lake, click on the first link below to access the Swimmer’s Itch Solutions LLC website page to report your sighting.  Swimmer’s Itch Solutions LLC is the name of Dr. Curt Blankespoor’s new company that is contracted by the Higgins Lake Swimmer’s Itch Organization (HLSIO), and supported by the HLPOA, for 2017 to help reduce Swimmer’s Itch on our lake.  Dr. Curt Blankespoor was formerly associated with SICON which had done the Swimmer’s Itch Control in 2015 and 2016.  With the formation of Swimmer’s Itch Solutions LLC, SICON has been dissolved.

Additionally, should you or someone you know contract a case of Swimmer’s Itch on Higgins Lake this summer, the link below will direct you to another area of Dr. Blankespoor’s Swimmer’s Itch Solutions LLC website where you can report your case of Swimmer’s Itch.

Thank you for taking the time to make these reports — they will help Dr. Blankespoor/Swimmer’s Itch Solutions LLC to further reduce the infection rate of snails with the Swimmer’s Itch parasite and therefore the incidents of Swimmer’s Itch on Higgins Lake.

Gerrish Twp Approves Motion to Seal Duck Nest Boxes

Gerrish Twp, in a special meeting on April 13, 2017, voted unanimously to approve a motion raised by Trustee Jim Lippert to request Steve Sendek of Northpoint Fisheries Mgmt seal all duck nest boxes they erected that have not yet been taken down.  Those on private property will require permission of the property owner to do so.  This action, commendable by the Gerrish Twp. Board, is in response to the recently amended USFWS and MIDNR permits issued to Gerrish Twp for their Swimmers Itch Control Plan as administered by Northpoint Fisheries Mgmt that specifically prohibits the use of nest boxes to attract and destroy nesting Merganser hens, their eggs or chicks using those nest boxes.  The Gerrish Twp meeting minutes with the motion is attached below:

US Fish & Wildlife Service and MI DNR Amend Gerrish Township SI Permits — Disallows the Use of Artificial Nest Boxes for the Depredation of Merganser Hens, Chicks and/or Eggs.

It has been confirmed today, March 27, 2017, that an amendment has been received this week addressed to Gerrish Township from the US Fish & Wildlife Service.  The amendment reads as follows:

” K.  Amended 3/20/2017 : Amended to clarify that nest/egg destruction is for natural nests only and not for artificial nest boxes.  The intent of this permit was not to allow placement of nest boxes to attract more common mergansers to Higgins Lake.”

In addition, the MI DNR has also amended the permit issued to Gerrish Township to disallow the use of nest boxes.  Efforts are currently underway this week by Gerrish Township to remove the two dozen or so artificial nest boxes they had erected in 2015.  In other words, these nest boxes should be removed prior to the return of nesting common mergansers hens to our lake this spring.  This is an action that the HLPOA, HLLC and HLEEC supported and publicly proposed at a March 14, 2017 meeting of the Gerrish Township Board.  The amended permits are posted below:

 

Joint HLPOA, HLLC & HLEEC Letter of Feb 28, 2017 to Gerrish Twp Board:

Dear HLPOA Members and Supporters,

Attached, below, is a letter dated February 28, 2017 sent to Gerrish Township officials from the Higgins Lake Property Owners Association (HLPOA), Higgins Lake Land Conservancy (HLLC) and Higgins Lake Environmental and Economic Coalition (HLEEC) expressing our strong support for the Higgins Lake Swimmers Itch Organization’s (HLSIO) science-based approach to tackling swimmer’s itch. Unfortunately, four of the five longer serving Gerrish Board members (Clerk Kathleen Patchin, Treasurer Leasa Tulgetske, Trustee Mary Link and Trustee Jim Lippert) did not abide by our recommendation and voted to continue with the Northpoint Fisheries Mgmt approach for 2017.  The newly elected Gerrish Twp Supervisor, David Udy, fully supports the HLSIO approach but was unable to convince any of the other four Gerrish Twp Board members to do likewise.  Please know that even though the swimmer’s itch problem on Higgins Lake is improving, we will continue our efforts so you and your family can maximize your enjoyment of Higgins Lake.

November 3, 2016 Update — SICON’s 2016 Final Report:

Dear HLSIO Supporters,

Attached, below, is the SICON Final Report of their activities for 2016.  The work completed in 2016 represents Year 2 of the comprehensive science-based program that focused on actions to significantly reduce swimmer’s itch on Higgins Lake from both measured and reported epidemic levels.  In the summer of 2015, an extensive analysis of over 10,000 swimmer’s itch-carrying snails established a pre-program, summer lake-wide baseline avian schistosome infection level of 3.01%. A similar analysis in 2016 revealed a summer lake-wide snail infection level of 0.28%. In only the second year of SICON, LLC’s comprehensive swimmer’s itch control program on Higgins Lake the snail infection level on Higgins Lake was reduced by 90%.  Please read the attached report for further information on SICON’s activities for 2016.

August 18, 2016 Update:

 

The following was recently sent to those who have contributed to the Higgins Lake Swimmer’s Itch Organization (HLSIO):

Dear 2016 HLSIO Supporters,

 
 
We are pleased to send you the attached report (below) prepared by the Office of the Michigan Attorney General covering financial information of the Higgins Lake Swimmer’s Itch Organization for the calendar year ending December 31, 2015.  Please note that the HLSIO only spent 2.01% of its income for supporting services (primarily for printing and postage) which means that 97.99% of all contributions made by our donors last year went directly to our efforts to combat swimmer’s itch.  This is extraordinary.  Most charities spend from 20% to upwards of 50%, thereby reducing the dollars available for their respective programs. The HLSIO is able to operate at minimal support service costs because of the generous volunteers who support this organization without any pay.
  
 
We thank you for your tax deductible contribution this year as we strive to combat swimmer’s itch at Higgins Lake.
 
 
Additionally, there are tickets still available for the fundraiser dinner sponsored by Fred’s of Roscommon and hosted by Jim and Laura Witt on Thursday evening, the 25th of August. Tickets are $100 and can be purchased at either Fred’s or Jim’s Collision prior to the dinner.
 
 
Again, we thank you for your support this year.  If you haven’t made a contribution for 2016, please send your tax deductible contribution to:
Higgins Lake Swimmer’s Itch Organization
P.O. Drawer 665
Grayling, MI 49738

July 16, 2016 Presentations @ HLPOA Annual Meeting:

Dr. Curt Blankespoor of SICON presented an update on their Swimmer’s Itch activities in 2015 and 2016 at the July 16, 2016 HLPOA Annual Meeting.  This presentation will be posted below in the immediate future.  Also attached is an update from the MSIP presented by Jim Vondale at this same meeting.

July 7&8, 2016 SI Update:

Dear HLPOA Members and HLSIO Supporters:

Attached below is an update letter from the HLSIO (Higgins Lake Swimmer’s Itch Organization) as well as a SICON update on the results of their work through July 7, 2016 in the fight against Swimmer’s Itch.

SICON Presentation at 6/22/2016 Michigan Swimmers Itch Partnership (MSIP) Conference:

2016 SICON Open House Information — Revised:

The SICON Scientists (Dr.’s Harvey and Curt Blankespoor, Ron Reimink) have announced their 2016 Open House schedule.  Like last year, the weekly Open House events will be held on Mondays.  The location is unchanged — the Dragon Fly house, located at 104 Webster Blvd, near the intersection of W. Higgins Lake Dr. and W. Pine Dr.  The first Open House is scheduled for Memorial Day from 1:00 to 3:00PM to give visitors the opportunity to stop in if they are facing a long drive home after the holiday weekend.  Thereafter, the Open House events will be held on Monday evenings from 6:00 to 8:00PM throughout the months of June and July with one exception: the June 20th session has been moved to Wednesday, June 22.  These are very informative events and will give you the opportunity to ask questions of the SICON Scientists.

 

 

May, 2016

Dear HLPOA Members and HLSIO Supporters:

Attached below is an update letter from the HLSIO (Higgins Lake Swimmer’s Itch Organization) as well as a SICON update on the activities underway for 2016 in the fight against Swimmer’s Itch.

Also attached is the agenda for the upcoming MI Swimmer’s Itch Partnership (MSIP) meeting on Wed., June 22 at the Roscommon High School auditorium.  The Public is welcome to attend the afternoon portion of the meeting, beginning at 12:30.  The morning session is open to HLPOA Members but otherwise is closed to the public.

 

March 6, 2016

Dear HLPOA Members:

Recently, there have been several communications between Gerrish Township, Chief Larry Harrison of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&WS) and the Higgins Lake Swimmer’s Itch Organization (HLSIO).  These items are introduced below.

Brad Gibson, President HLPOA

On January 22, 2015, Larry Harrison, Migratory Birds Permits Chief with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&WS), sent a Letter of Inquiry to Frank Homola, Supervisor of Gerrish Township, with questions pertaining to Gerrish Township’s Special Purpose Permit to address swimmer’s itch.  On February 2, 2016 Mr. Homola sent the following email to Chief Harrison acknowledging receipt of the USF&WS Letter of Inquiry:

On February 22, 2016, Chief Harrison responded to a December 23rd email from Mr. Homola that requested the USF&WS approve an amendment to the existing Gerrish Township’s Special Purpose Permit that would have expanded the lethal taking of additional Mergansers and other actions.  This request was denied in the following response to Mr. Homola’s request:

On February 22, 2016, Mr. Homola submitted a formal response letter to the January 22, 2016 Letter of Inquiry from Chief Harrison.  The HLSIO reviewed Mr. Homola’s letter and submitted the following response on February 29, 2016 (via email) to Chief Harrison:

 

Dear HLPOA Members,

Last fall the HLPOA and the HLSIO sent letters to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service  expressing concern with actions of the Gerrish Township Board and its contractor, Northpoint Fisheries Management, regarding  the Township’s swimmer’s itch control program.  Immediately below is a recent Letter of Inquiry issued to Gerrish Township by Larry Harrison, Migratory Birds Permits Chief, Midwest Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Brad Gibson, HLPOA President