The boating season is under way, and with it comes a high alert for dangerous introductions of aquatic invasive species (AIS). Luckily there are extra sets of eyes on the lookout for these plants and animals hitchhiking free rides into our waterways.
A program in place and gaining ground in the Adirondacks is the Watershed Stewardship Program (WSP). The program uses watershed stewards, also known as boat launch stewards or lake stewards, to reduce the risk of introductions of AIS by intercepting them at a point of entry - the launch.
Initiated by Paul Smith's College in 1999, the WSP now spans across the region and into Vermont. Together with PSC, numerous groups including the Lake George Association, Lake Champlain Basin Program, lake associations and the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program are working together to ramp up prevention efforts at water access sites. The goal is to unify local efforts into a consolidated, regional prevention program. Stewards of various organizations all receive training through PSC. Shared training and educational materials mean that stewards across the region will all give a similar message to boaters and use similar inspection practices. Many lakes will alert boaters to this program with a sign, "Lake Steward on Duty."
A steward reviews AIS inspection points with owner of personal watercraft.
(Photo courtesy of Paul Smith’s College Watershed Stewardship Program)
The stewards' season kicked off Memorial Day weekend, and they are already making "saves" by removing invasives like milfoil or zebra mussels clinging to craft before they are introduced to lakes. Both paid and volunteer stewards are on hand at nearly 20 lakes and ponds this summer, and that number is on the rise each year. Coverage may be one day or the entire week, depending on available funding and recreational use patterns of the lake. Waters under watchful eyes include Raquette Lake, Long Lake, Tupper Lake, Upper St. Regis Lake, Lake Placid, Lake George, Lake Champlain, and the list goes on.
New this year is the region's first AuSable River steward. Much like lake stewards, a river steward informs the public about the harmful impacts of invading stream species such as didymo (or rock snot), New Zealand mudsnail, and rusty crayfish. The river steward travels along various stretches of the AuSable talking with anglers about AIS and what measures, if any, anglers took to clean their waders and gear before casting their line. Involvement in community events and with local outfitters and tourism centers is also on the river steward's radar.
No silver bullet exists to completely stamp out invasives, particularly once they get established in lands or waters, but we can slow their spread. One way is to identify the pathways of introductions, then put into place a combination of programs and policies to help reduce the likelihood that introductions occur via those pathways. The lake or river steward program does just that. A recent study from the University of Notre Dame on the effectiveness of inspection and removal programs revealed that visual inspection and removal of material by hand can reduce the amount of plants on boats by 88 percent and of small-bodied organisms like spiny waterflea by 65 percent. If each aquatic enthusiast takes a little extra time and effort to make cleaning gear part of the sport, the benefits will pay off in big dividends. Stewards help to reinforce that message, and that is an investment worth making to protect the future of Adirondack waters.
When you are traveling the park this summer, say hello to a steward! Also, remember to check, clean and dry watercraft and equipment. Learn more online at www.protectyourwaters.net.
Eye on Invasives is a biweekly column that spotlights a top invader when it is easiest to identify. Hilary Smith directs the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, a partnership program housed at the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy in Keene Valley. Find out more about this award-winning program online at www.adkinvasives.com.