How to Stop Invasives

Eric Siy and Fred Monroe
January/February 2015 Issue

Will Adirondack waters still be as clean, clear, and free of invasive species in twenty-five years as most of them are now? The answer depends on how we act now. The Adirondack Park is literally an island in a sea of destructive invasive species. As of 20 I I, there were 184 aquatic invasive and non-native species in the Great Lakes, 122 in the Hudson River, eighty-seven in the St. Lawrence River, and forty-nine in Lake Champlain . In the Adirondacks, we have only eighteen aquatic invasive and non-native species, including Eurasian watermilfoil, Asian clams, zebra mussels. and spiny waterfleas. Even more menacing species, such as quagga mussels and hydrilla, are headed this way.

Most aquatic species arrive via trailered boats (usually motorboats). This year, Lake George successfully implemented the
first mandatory boat-inspection and decontamination program in the eastern United States. State agencies, local governments,
and conservation groups shared the cost of the necessary equipment and operations. More than nineteen thousand boats were
inspected, and over I ,300 boats were decontaminated. Nearly I50 cases of visible invasive species were caught,” including watermilfoil, Asian clams, and zebra mussels.

Given the success at Lake George, we should act to protect all Adirondack waters. We can do this by establishing boat inspection
and wash stations at or near major entry points to the Adirondack Park as well as near popular Lakes. Such an operation would optimize convenience for motorists traveling with trailered boats.

There are now five stations around Lake George and one at Loon Lake in Chester. The accompanying map shows where we could locate twenty other boat-wash stations in the region (at an estimated cost of $500,000). This map could be refined if we establish a regionwide initiative.

Adirondack Park Boat Washing Stations. Image courtesy of Warren County

We have a great opportunity but a very short window-to take aggressive action to prevent the spread of invasives from nearby waters into the Adirondacks. An exploding population of quagga mussels in the Great Lakes is causing severe impacts to the natural ecology and fisheries. The mussels are considered responsible for millions of dollars of damage every year from algae blooms. food-web impacts. declines of important fisheries, dense obstructions of potable-water intakes, and much more. Quagga mussels out-compete native species and create a degraded ecosystem hazardous to health and safety. 

Hydrilla, native to Asia, now clogs the Cayuga Lake inlet in Ithaca and is spreading. Much more aggressive than Eurasian watermilfoil , it poses a grave threat to waters throughout New York, including in the Adirondacks. Hydrilla grows extremely fast, as long as thirty feet in as much as twelve feet of water. It forms dense mats covering the water surface, ruining recreational opportunities as it effectively takes over the water body. It causes declines in dissolved oxygen, harming economically important fisheries. and increases in blue-green algae that produce a neurotoxin harmful to native species and humans.

Another invader, the spiny waterflea, has spread to several Adirondack water bodies. It has a long, barbed tail and competes with native species at the base of the food web. Small fish are unable to feed on the waterflea because of its barbed tail.

A recent study of the economic impacts of only eight invasive species, including four aquatics-Eurasian watermilfoil, Asian clam, spiny waterflea, and hydrilla-titled “The Actual and Potential Economic Impact of Invasive Species on the Adirondack Park: A Preliminary Assessment,” completed for the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program very conservatively estimates that invasive species reduce shorefront property values by 3 percent to 6 percent, This translates into a reduction of $400 million to over $800 million in shoreline values. Studies in other northeastern states put the estimated impact much higher- at more than I 5 percent.

The experience of western states with quagga mussels and zebra mussels indicates that mandatory inspection and decontamination programs using high-pressure and hightemperature boat-wash stations with waste-water collection systems work to prevent the
spread of aquatic invasives. Quagga mussels, Asian clams, zebra mussels, hydrilla, Eurasian watermilfoil, and spiny waterflea are
but a few of the hundreds of invasive species threatening Adirondack waterways. Since trailered boats are a primary way that invasives spread, stopping these menaces requires that boats be clean, drained, and dry. Skyrocketing costs of managing invasives makes prevention the only real means of protection. Conservation groups and municipalities had spent approximately $8 million attempting to control aquatic invasives in Lake George (which still only has five) with only limited success.

Time is not our friend, but the ability to tackle one of the most serious threats facing Adirondack waters remains within reach. Lake
George provides a working model for a regional prevention program . Working together we can save the wealth of natural waters
that makes the Adirondacks unique in the world and that provides us with our last best hope for a healthy economy into the future.

FRED MONROE is executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board. and ERIC SIY is executive director of the The FUND for Lake George. Both are members of the S.A.V.E. Lake George Partnership.

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