Thursday, October 10, 2013

Surveying Adirondack Lakes for Aquatic Invaders

rake tossOver the last decade, I have monitored many lakes in Hamilton County for aquatic invasive plants.  I feel a sense of stewardship to these lakes because paddling, camping, swimming, fishing, and skiing are important aspects to my lifestyle that allow me to distress, reconnect, and stay healthy.  Invasive plant infestations can crowd out native aquatic plants that fish rely on for food and shelter; make boating and paddling unenjoyable; and be costly to manage. I survey lakes because I find it enjoyable and my efforts protect water quality.

This year my co-worker Lenny and I checked Spy Lake for invaders on two glorious September afternoons.  We were on the lookout for plants like Eurasian watermilfoil, water chestnut, fanwort, and curlyleaf pondweed.  The inventory was in accordance with the survey instructions of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program’s Aquatic Invasive Species Project.

Since 2002, APIPP has hosted training sessions across the Adirondacks during the summer to educate volunteers about the adverse impacts, biology, and survey methods for aquatic invaders.

“To-date (not including the 2013 numbers), nearly 600 citizens volunteered over 6,500 hours to survey 300 waterways,” explained Meghan Johnstone, APIPP’s Aquatic Invasive Species Project Coordinator.  “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.”

I attend these sessions every year to refresh my identification skills because invasive plants can often be confused with native look-alikes.  I also learn about any new invaders on the horizon. This year’s July workshop in Raquette Lake was jam packed with volunteers and great information.  Scott Kishbaugh of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation discussed the native range, pathway history, habitat, and identification characteristics for 9 aquatic invasive plants.

Plastic containers filled with water floated plants for comparison and the other attendees and I examined the collection.  Seeing the specimens helps me to learn the key identification characteristics for each invader and refreshes my knowledge of their native look-alikes.

Johnstone detailed how invasive plants are introduced and spread.  Many invasive plants first became established in the United States through pathways like ship ballast water, water gardens, and aquarium releases.  Wind, interconnected waterways, wildlife, watercraft, trailers, pets, and gear also move plants around.  A small fragment of an invasive plant is sometimes all that is needed to begin a new population.  It is important for recreationists to check, clean, drain, and dry their equipment before leaving the water access site.

At the shore of Raquette Lake, we learned how to complete a lake survey, and Johnstone demonstrated the rake toss method.  She 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.

rake with plantsOn September 5th and 6th, Lenny and I loaded up the motor boat with a rake, plant books, and a plastic container to float suspect plants in for proper identification, then headed to Spy Lake in Arietta.  We took turns navigating the boat close to shore and tossing the rake.  After dozens of tosses and picking through copious amounts of vegetation, we were thrilled to find no invasive plants during our survey.

I submitted data sheets to APIPP including a highlighted map of Spy Lake showing the surveyed shoreline, weather information, and hours spent on the lake.  Further action was not necessary as 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.”

My vision is an invasive-free Hamilton County, Adirondack Park, New York State and beyond.  I would love to see lake surveys become obsolete.  In the meantime, I will continue to survey because early detection leads to rapid response, saving money used for management and the ecosystem of the lake.

For more information about how to become involved in APIPP’s Aquatic Invasive Species Project, contact 518-576-2082 x 119 or visit

Photos: Above, Conservation Technician Lenny Croote tosses a rake into the water to survey Spy Lake for invasive plants; below,  aquatic plants dangle from rake tines and are inspected for invaders.  None were found during a survey of Spy Lake. 


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Caitlin Stewart manages the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District. The District's mission is to manage and promote the wise use of Natural Resources in Hamilton County. Caitlin will be sharing the District's conservation-focused services, programs, and events. She’s been a full time resident of Hamilton County since 2008 and is an avid hiker, skier, paddler, and biker. She is obsessed with adventuring with her dog Artemis.

One Response

  1. Kudos to the APIPP, and everyone else involved in monitoring and working to reduce the invasive species problem. An excellent book on the problem, from an international perspective, is “Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion”, by Alan Burdick, available at Amazon, etc. Interesting points include: the biggest man-assisted purveyor of invasive species is the seawater ballast of large tankers, which pump in the ballast in one port and discharge it in another, along with its cargo of often microscopic invaders. In addition, since much of the science is brand new, and since we’ve been transporting invaders for hundreds of years, it turns out that many of the “native” species are themselves invaders, but at such a point in the past, that we can’t pinpoint their arrivals, or whether they are the result of human activities or natural events, such as hurricanes, etc. In a sense, any large North American mammal, such as black bear, grizzly and moose, whose ancestors crossed the Bering Land Bridge during its multiple iterations during the Pleistocene are “invasive species”, as are we!