Caitlin Stewart, conservation educator
Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District
ARIETTA - Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District staff surveyed Spy Lake for aquatic invasive plants two glorious afternoons in early September.
Invaders like Eurasian watermilfoil, variable leaf milfoil, water chestnut and curlyleaf pondweed can crowd out native aquatic plants fish rely on for food and shelter; make boating and paddling difficult; and be costly to manage.
Over the last decade the SWCD has monitored many lakes in Hamilton County in accordance with the survey guidelines of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program's Aquatic Invasive Species Project.
Since 2002, APIPP has hosted training sessions across the Adirondacks to educate volunteers about the adverse impacts, biology and survey methods for aquatic invaders.
"To date (not including the 2013) nearly 600 citizens volunteered over 6,500 hours to survey 300 waterways," APIPP Aquatic Invasive Species Project Coordinator Meghan Johnstone said. "Volunteers are crucial because their vigilance each year in APIPP's early detection program has established a baseline to better understand the distribution of invaded waterways in the Adirondack region.
"Armed with this information, organizations and communities take prescriptive prevention and management actions, such as having stewards at boat launches to inspect watercraft for attached plant fragments or starting control programs to remove invading plants."
District staff attend these sessions every year to refresh their identification skills, because invasive plants can often be confused with native look-alikes. They also learn about any new invaders on the horizon.
"This year's workshop in Raquette Lake was jam-packed with great information," SWCD Conservation Educator Caitlin Stewart said. "Attendees learned the native range, pathway history, habitat and identification characteristics for nine aquatic invasive plants."
Volunteers then examined invasive plants and their native look-alikes.
At the shoreline of Raquette Lake, participants learned how to survey a lake for invasive plants, including a rake toss demonstration. Johnstone threw a double-sided metal rake attached to a length of rope into the water, then slowly dragged it back to the surface. Tines were inspected for suspicious plants.
If rakes were unavailable, volunteers could conduct a visual survey with polarized sunglasses or a view scope.
TO SPY LAKE
District staff loaded up the motorboat Sept. 5 and 6 with a rake, plant books and a plastic container to float suspect plants in for proper identification. Conservation Technician Lenny Croote and Stewart took turns navigating the boat close to shore and tossing the rake.
The rake was tossed dozens of times as the boat went around the lake, and vegetation was examined for invaders. No invasive plants were found.
"The number of 'invasive-free' lakes surveyed by APIPP volunteers and partner staff is more than two times that of invaded lakes," relayed Johnstone. "A real opportunity exists in the Adirondacks to protect waterways from widespread degradation by aquatic invasive species.
"We believe so many volunteers work with us year after year, and many new volunteers continue to get involved, because so many Adirondack waterways remain free of invaders, which is not always the case in other places. Volunteers want to play a direct role in protecting the waterways they love, and they can do just that through the Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program."
For more information about how to become involved in APIPP's Aquatic Invasive Species Project call (518) 576-2082 ext. 119 or visit www.adkinvasives.com/.
Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District has been working to manage and promote the wise use of natural resources in Hamilton County since 1965. For more information visit www.hamiltoncountyswcd.com or call (518) 548-3991