A win in the war on invasives

SARANAC LAKE – Organizations throughout the Adirondacks are leading workshops for the eighth annual Adirondack Invasive Species Awareness Week.

On Monday morning, Guy Middleton, lake manager of the Upper Saranac Lake Foundation, kicked off the week with a paddling tour on Fish Creek Ponds and Fish Creek. The purpose was to educate the public about Eurasian watermilfoil, an aquatic invasive plant the foundation has been battling for years.

“The idea of today is awareness, education, making people aware of (invasives) so they can spread the word to stop invasives,” Middleton said. “Really the key to preventing further invasives from entering the area is education.”

The foundation has been battling milfoil since 2004, when it embarked on a three-year project to remove as much of the plant as possible from its waters. The project, which cost more than $1.5 million in the initial phase, relied on divers to hand-harvest plants from the shallower waters along the shoreline where milfoil grows.

Since then, the foundation has been in maintenance mode, hiring teams of divers every summer to continue hand-harvesting milfoil. The project costs more than $100,000 annually. This year, divers started working the shorelines in late May and will continue until October.

“We feel that we have milfoil under control on the lake and that we’re actually winning the battle,” Middleton said. “Milfoil will never be eradicated from the lake, but we feel that we have it well under control. It’s to a point now that milfoil is considered a rare plant on the lake.”

Middleton said it’s nearly impossible to eradicate the invasive from the lake, partly because it’s so resilient and partly because it’s found in connected water bodies. Fish Creek and Fish Ponds are two of those.

On the paddle up Fish Creek, Middleton pointed out thick beds of milfoil. The plant is also found in Middle and Lower Saranac lakes, Copperas Pond, Follensby Clear Pond, Lake Flower, Lake Kiwassa, Lake Colby, Lake Placid and Long Lake.

However, invasive species specialists also point out that milfoil is not in many water bodies throughout the Adirondacks, and that’s why it’s important to be diligent in preventing its spread. Places such as Upper and Lower St. Regis lakes, Osgood Pond and the St. Regis Canoe Area have no reported infestations of milfoil.

The plant can be moved from lake to lake by people recreating. It “clings to the wheels housings of trailers, wraps around propellers, sticks between trailer pads and attaches to your boat and on other recreational gear,” according to a pamphlet put out by the foundation.

Once in the water of a lake, it overwhelms native plants, “eventually forming a thick surface mat that suffocates a lake, affects food web structure, promotes algal growth, and can even decrease property values,” according to a foundation’s pamphlet.

Karl Schoeberl, who is from Unionvale and a member of the state’s Invasive Species Advisory Committee, was one of the paddlers on the trip. He has been a biologist for 25 years and has been coming to Fish Creek for about the same amount of time.

Schoeberl said it was important to battle invasive species for both economic and environmental reasons.

“It’s a battle worth fighting where we can fight it,” he said.

Michael Specht, who has a home on Upper Saranac Lake and joined the trip, said the milfoil issue is relatively new to him.

“I just became aware of milfoil over the last couple of years through the work of the Upper Saranac Lake Association and the Upper Saranac Foundation,” he said. “They’ve done a pretty good job of raising awareness, at least mine, and I pressure neighbors and folks as well.”

He said it affects people “from an entertainment standpoint: using the lake, swimming, boating and clarity of water especially.

“It isn’t just Upper Saranac Lake itself, but the surrounding ponds as well,” he said. “I do a lot of canoeing in those ponds, and it’s nice to keep them all clean and fresh in their natural state.”