Invasive plant found in South Bay

A non-native aquatic plant that has the potential to crowd out beneficial plant life and impair recreational pursuits has been found in South Bay.

The Department of Environmental Conservation announced last week that more than 20 acres of Variable-leaf watermilfoil (myriophyllum heterophyllum) was found growing in waters up to 6 feet deep in the southern portion ofSouthBay.

“DEC experts surveyed the area and gathered samples of the species and were able to confirm the presence of Variable-leaf watermilfoil,” said Meg Modley, Lake Champlain Basin Program aquatic nuisance species coordinator.

Although the species is present throughout waters in theAdirondacks, as well as other waters in theLake Champlainwatershed, the discovery is the first known concentration of the species on theNew Yorkside ofLake Champlain.

The plant was discovered previously inMissisquoiBayon theVermontside of the lake in 2009.

Modley said experts believe the infestation inSouthBaywas introduced separately.

“The two infestations are very far away with little or no growth in between,” she said. “Transport on a boat or trailer is the likely vector or source of the infestation inSouthBay.”

Variable-leaf watermilfoil is difficult to control once a population is established in a body of water. It has the ability to grow in a broad range of environmental conditions and can do so rapidly and aggressively.

“When it invades, it’s very pervasive, Modley said. “It can crowd out other vegetation and outcompetes native species.”

Beds of the plant can become so dense that they can make swimming, boating and fishing extremely difficult, if not impossible.

It’s believed the density of the bed inSouthBayranges anywhere from 5 to 50 percent.

Although it doesn’t directly harm fish, the plant can displace spawning habitats and drops the level of oxygen in the water.

It can also dominate the shoreline, thus possessing the potential to lower property values because it could block the ability of a landowner to access the water from their property.

Officials said they were unable to develop a rapid response to remove or kill the plant.

“Because of the extent of the beds, there was nothing they could do to eradicate them,” said DEC spokesperson David Winchell.

“We conducted a species risk assessment,” Modley said, “and it was determined that it wouldn’t be feasible to pursue active management of the species given our resources at this time. The challenge inSouthBayis its spread in different spots throughout the bay.”

Unlike plant species like water chestnuts, which several local organizations, including the Nature Conservancy and the town ofDresdenhave been able to effectively control over the last several years using mechanical means of removal, watermilfoil presents a different challenge.

The plant spreads quite easily with stem pieces, roots and seeds possessing the ability to propagate new growth, meaning that any effort to pull or cut the plant (which are the methods used to remove water chestnut) could exacerbate the problem.

Lake Placidrecently had an infestation of the plant but officials were able to curtail and it appears eliminate the species using a rapid response program.

Modley said there are several tools available to help combat the infestation-such as a method called suction harvesting, which is like a giant vacuum and even aquatic pesticides-but for now officials plant to implement a prevention program.

Modley said it’s important for boaters and anglers to take proper precautions to prevent the plant from “hitchhiking” on equipment and gaining access to other bodies of water.

She said her organization is going to make a boat launch steward atSouthBaya priority next year.

The steward would conduct complimentary boat inspections, distribute informational pamphlets and take down demographic data, such as the more recent body of water the vessel navigated.

There are several measures residents can take to help stem the spread of the species.

Boaters and anglers are encouraged to inspect their equipment for any sign of vegetation and remove any visible mud, plants, fish and animals that may be on the equipment and dispose of it at invasive species disposal stations which are located at many boat launches.

Modley also encourages people to clean their boats and drain any water. Users can even take the extra step of drying and disinfecting their boat of fishing equipment.

Lastly, boaters are encouraged to avoid driving through infested areas which could spread its growth.

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