Hold line against invasives

The threat to Adirondack waterways from aquatic invaders has loomed over the Park for years, prompting an environmental call to arms that in the past three years has become both more urgent and more effective. An alliance of community and government groups has formed to provide the financial and political resources to make a real difference in defense of the Park’s waters. The leaders of this effort deserve praise for the decisive steps they have taken so far and support for even stronger measures.

Boat inspections are the key to preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. Photo by Seth Lang
Boat inspections are the key to preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species.
Photo by Seth Lang

A handful of aquatic invasive species have already entered Adirondack lakes, diminishing water quality, interfering with recreational activities and racking up financial costs for communities trying to cope with them. Other species lurk not far from Park boundaries waiting for careless visitors to inadvertently carry them here. With all of these, the most effective response is to prevent spread. Trying to fight them once they take hold is far more difficult and expensive than keeping them out to begin with.

Lake George has been the center of concern in the Adirondacks, though one invasive species, Eurasian watermilfoil, has reached more than forty Adirondack lakes. Lake George, too, has taken the lead in the fight against invasives. Local government leaders, environmental groups, state representatives and concerned citizens of many descriptions have joined forces there.

The Lake George Association lists six invasive species that have found their way into Lake George: Asian clams; Chinese mystery snails; curly-leaf pondweed; Eurasian watermilfoil; spiny waterfleas; and zebra mussels. Local organizations and governments have spent countless volunteer hours and millions of dollars to try to eradicate these squatters. All those efforts will come to nothing if each season a new wave of invasives rides in on visiting boats.

The key both for Lake George and those areas that are trying to keep invasives from arriving to begin with is a system for decontaminating boats before they are launched. This can be done through a process known as “Clean, Drain, and Dry.” Invasives, sometimes in microscopic life stages, stow away on trailered boats, hiding in engine waters, bilge waters, ballast waters, and anchors, as well as live-bait containers. Draining these waters, washing boats and trailers, and drying them gets rid of the invasives.

This has been known for some time, but until a couple of years ago, officials relied on boater education and voluntary compliance to promote washing. Though helpful, the voluntary system was not enough. The folks around Lake George took the fight to the next level.

A coalition of groups called SAVE (Stop Aquatic inVasives from Entering) Lake George Partnership was formed in 2012 to push for mandatory boat inspection and washing for boats using the lake. In 2014, the Lake George Park Commission approved a mandatory Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Program.

Under the program, all trailered boats must get inspected at one of six regional inspection stations. Boats that are not “cleaned, drained, and dry” must be decontaminated. Once cleared, boats receive a seal that allows them to be launched on the lake. There is no charge to the boater for inspection or decontamination.

Also last year the state passed a “Clean, Drain, and Dry” law that requires boaters to take reasonable precautions to prevent the spread of invasives. And this year, the state provided $1 million for a pilot program to extend the “Clean, Drain, and Dry” program beyond the Lake George region to other areas of the Park, with eleven new boat-wash stations and fourteen new locations staffed by stewards provided and trained by Paul Smith’s College. Stewards will examine boats and refer them to the wash stations if needed for decontamination.

These steps are very encouraging, but they should be seen as steps toward an even stronger program. State funding for the pilot program, for instance, covers just one year. It needs to be permanent with funding assured for the future. And the state effort, unlike the Lake George program, is voluntary. It should be mandatory. Even though most boaters will act in good faith when given the opportunity for inspection and decontamination, the threat justifies a firmer hand. There should be no option for defying instruction to protect our waters.

One truth that the invasive-species threat has made clear is that waterways are interconnected by boater activity as much as by actual water flow. Lax standards on a lake threaten others each time a visitor loads his boat on a trailer and heads to another lake. The strong progress made in Lake George and now in a wider Adirondack region needs to lead to a coordinated campaign across the state as well as neighboring states. Dangerous species that have not yet arrived in the Adirondacks lurk in waters just a short drive from the Blue Line. The fight against the invasive threat needs to keep expanding. We’re all in this together.

New state boat-wash locations
Okara Lakes
Paul Smiths
Ray Brook
South Colton

—Tom Woodman, Publisher

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