Monday, December 15, 2014

On The Lookout For Invasive Species

Eurasian watermilfoil is an aquatic invasive plant that spreads by fragmentation to form dense populations.   This summer and fall, by land and by water, I was on the lookout for invasive insects at the Sacandaga Campground and invasive plants in Lake Algonquin.  Surveys are one component of a suite of tools that help protect the Adirondacks’ natural resources.  When infestations are detected in their early stages, fast action can be taken for management or even eradication.

Invasive species cost the United States billions of dollars each year.  Without the checks and balances found on their home turf, they can rapidly reproduce to outcompete native species.  Invasive insects can threaten maple syrup and baseball bat production, nurseries, agriculture, and forest health.  Infested trees are costly to remove and limbs may fall on power lines, homes, or cars.  Aquatic invasive plants can degrade water quality, inhibit boating, and overrun fish habitat.

Tom Colarusso gets a closer look at ash tree bark during an invasive insect forest survey.  In August, I partnered with Tom Colarusso of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to survey the Sacandaga Campground for invasive insects.  We were searching for emerald ash borer (EAB), Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA) and balsam woolly adelgid (BWA).

During our survey, a camper approached us and inquired what was up with the binoculars and clip boards.  Tom explained to the camper that the Adirondacks are an ecologically and recreationally important area and a unique expanse of forests that receives between 7 and 10 million visitors a year.  Some of these visitors are campers bringing firewood.  For this reason, it is very important to survey and monitor for invasive forest pests to determine if there are dangerous or damaging pests present, possibly due to firewood transport.  Trees are a vital cornerstone in our natural world so invasive insect infestations throw our entire ecosystem off balance.

We checked hardwood trees for woodpecker damage, crown dieback, sawdust-like frass, and shoots at the base of trees known as epicormic sprouting.  Binoculars allowed us to zoom in on hard-to-see spots and scan tree trunks and branches for D-shaped exit holes left by EAB and large, round exit holes of ALB.    Hemlock and balsam trees were examined for the characteristic white waxy “wool” of HWA and BWA that covers adult insects.

Tom and I are elated to report that no signs or symptoms of invasive insects were found at the Sacandaga Campground.  We did note a few trees with premature defoliation and woodpecker damage to check back on during future surveys.

I have been a longtime partner of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP) and conduct an annual lake survey for their Aquatic Invasive Species Project.  In June, my coworker Lenny Croote and I attended an APIPP training session to sharpen our plant identification skills and learn about new invaders on the horizon.

At the meeting, APIPP’s Aquatic Invasive Species Project Coordinator Erin Vennie-Vollrath explained to the volunteers that the success of APIPP’s early detection and monitoring program really depends on the commitment and passion of citizen scientist volunteers and partners.  Once an invasive species becomes established, eradication is nearly impossible and ongoing management is costly and complicated. That is why it is so important that new infestations are detected early and acted upon swiftly to minimize economic, social, and ecological impacts, as well as to allow for the possibility of elimination.

Lenny Croote uses the rake toss method to survey for aquatic invasive plants.  On a mild September day, Lenny and I surveyed Lake Algonquin for aquatic invasive plants.  We piled monitoring equipment into the motor boat including a double sided metal rake attached to a length of rope, a GPS, botany books, and a bucket to float suspect plants in for identification.  Lenny drove the boat in a zig-zag pattern along the shoreline while I tossed the rake into the water, allowed it to sink to the bottom, then slowly dragged it back to the surface.  Rake tines were inspected for invasive plants like Hydrilla, Eurasian watermilfoil, and water chestnut.

Eurasian watermilfoil was already confirmed in Lake Algonquin during previous surveys, and Lenny produced an updated map of infestation locations and density.  No other invasive plants were discovered.  We submitted data sheets and the map to APIPP.

Caitlin Stewart holds up a strand of invasive Eurasian watermilfoil.  Our survey efforts provide information about where invaders are and are not located, and infestation severity.  This data is important when prioritizing what species to manage, selecting specific management techniques, and implementing rapid response plans that involve partner organizations to stomp out invasive species from the Adirondacks.

Help prevent the spread of invasive species with these steps:

*  Don’t move firewood as invasive insects are hitchhikers.

*  Inspect your trees for signs and symptoms of invasive insects.  Watch this video to learn how:  www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2MKlcQHp2I

*  Learn more about invasive pests at the APHIS Hungry Pests website:  www.hungrypests.com.

*  Check, Drain, Dry:

–  Check boat, motor, trailer, and gear for invaders before leaving the boat launch and remove all plants, animals, and mud. Throw away in the garbage or on dry land away from the water body.

–  Drain bilge water, live wells, bait buckets, motor, and ballast tanks at the launch.

–  Dry boat, trailer, and gear for at least 5 days before launching into another water body.  If possible, hose everything down with a high pressure washer or at a boat or car wash.

*  Volunteer for APIPP’s Aquatic Invasive Species Project:  518-576-2082 x 119, adkinvasives.com

Photos, from above: Eurasian watermilfoil; Tom Colarusso gets a closer look at ash tree bark during an invasive insect forest survey; Lenny Croote uses the rake toss method to survey for aquatic invasive plants; and Caitlin Stewart holds up a strand of invasive Eurasian watermilfoil.


Caitlin Stewart is Conservation Educator at the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District (HCSWCD). One of HCSWCD’s largest programs is their Invasive Species program and Caitlin will be sharing her field experiences, as well as the efforts and results of forest surveys, and monitoring and management.

Caitlin has deep roots in Hamilton County as both her grandparents purchased property on Sacandaga Lake and Lake Pleasant in the 1960s. Her parents met and were married in Lake Pleasant, and she spent summers and vacations there. She’s been a full time resident since 2008 and is an avid hiker, skier, paddler, runner and biker.




2 Responses

  1. drdirt says:

    the youtube click sent me to a heron nest article .,..,couldn’t find invasives on page.,.,???

    The sacandaga campground has been our favorite spot since childhood .,., thank you for your efforts and the clean billof health. Perhaps all the attention on firewood transport is working.

    Algonquin just recieved a complete dredging .,.,., I guess they didn’t pay attention to invasives during the work .,., or did they bring it in?

  2. Caitlin Stewart says:

    Thank you for your comment drdirt. The Eurasian watermilfoil in Lake Algonquin was discovered well before the dredging.