Lake George has been center stage in the fight to prevent the spread of invasive aquatic species that can destroy the ecology of a lake and the recreational economy built around it.
But a new alliance is forming to wage that war on the much broader six-million acre front of the Adirondack Park.
“If we do not get a regionwide program, we cannot hold the line in Lake George. It has to be a concentrated effort and the commitment has to be real,” said Fund for Lake George Executive Director Eric Siy.
The Lake George Park Commission’s publicly and privately funded two-year pilot program launched in May placed six mandatory boat inspection stations for trailered boats around Lake George. The stations logged nearly 20,000 inspections from May to December of boats from as far away as Lake Mead in Nevada, according to the log.
The effort yielded a rare catch, too: Widespread support across political affiliations and special interests. To make it happen, S.A.V.E — which stands for “Stop Aquatic inVasives from Entering” — Lake George Partnership was formed in late 2012. The group’s memorandum of understanding, or MOU, declared the need for preventative boat-washing stations. The need wasn’t a tough sell, but finding the funding was a challenge.
The Save Lake George Partnership put up half the money to match $700,000 in state cash for each of two years, which will cover the cost of equipment and inspectors through next year.
Lake George isn’t the only body of water fighting invaders, and soon leaders around the Adirondacks will take a page from the partnership’s playbook and pass a similar memorandum of understanding. It will call for 20 boat-washing stations around the park near popular lakes and well-traveled entry points at a startup cost estimated at $500,000.
The memorandum is a nonbinding commitment, but the intent is to cooperatively create and administer the program while providing resources, which means fronting money and volunteers.
“Let’s face it. There’s no constituency for invasives, so that makes it easier. And there’s no time to lose. That helps us, but I think what really helps, more than anything, is when they see the threat they face,” Siy said.
The wording of the document that will be up for a vote at various
municipalities and boards is nearing completion as a variety of groups and municipalities have their say in drafting it, including sportsmen and women, who contribute $9 billion annually to the state economy, said Walt Paul, a land use specialist with the New York State Conservation Council.
“There’s no mistake that the sportsmen contribute a lot to the New York state economy. It’s a big, big industry, far bigger than most people understand, so anything that would harm that access would also harm local businesses,” Paul said.
He said the council provided feedback in drafting the memorandum.
Siy and Fred Monroe, supervisor of the town of Chester and executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board said the sportsmen community is essential to have on board since they move between different bodies of water and know the best places to put boat-washing stations.
“We’ve been more than well represented in that effort,” Paul said.
One of their chief concerns with boat-washing stations is flexibility.
“We have reviewed the MOU and the map they put forward. At this point, we think what they came up with sounds like a sensible plan. One of the conversations we’ve had and we put out there is that there needs to be a great deal of flexibility in terms of the ability to access those boat-washing stations. Many times people who fish walleye for example, go fishing in the dark and may fish well after dark. There has to be flexibility in terms of being able to access those stations,” Paul said.
Conservation groups and municipalities have spent about $8 million on Lake George alone on the fight to control invasives, mostly to root out milfoil.
At Loon Lake in Chester, Monroe said, they’ve spent $400,000 since 2001 trying to control milfoil.
“I just see how much money we’re spending on one of our lakes. If we’re spending $400,000 just to control one invasive in one of our three lakes, how are we ever going to deal with five or 10 invasives in all three lakes?” Monroe said.
In 2013, $19,500 was spent on a Loon Lake boat-washing station on Route 8 that started in July. Last year, it cost $25,000 to operate it 12 hours a day from May to Oct. 15.
“The funding need is relatively small compared to the value we’re trying to protect. This is ultimately an investment. You can’t look at this as a one-way street. Investment and prevention delivers extraordinary returns both economically and ecologically,” Siy said.
Inside the park there are 18 documented harmful invasive species, but outside it, there are nearly 200.
Siy said the Adirondack region is positioned to show leadership in stopping species like the water weed hydrilla, which has taken hold in other state bodies of water such as Cayuga Lake, or the quagga mussels that have taken a toll on the Great Lakes.
“What defines tourism and the draw to the region are the waterbodies,” he said. “To the degree those are degraded and you lose them to invasives and other contaminates, you weaken that thread and future hope of economic health in the region.
“The economy and environment go hand in hand.”
Siy and Monroe are working to launch the larger coalition on the model of the SAVE Lake George partnership.
“We’ve spent millions in Warren County on water milfoil alone. If that was hydrilla, you could multiply that. It’s much worse,” Monroe said.
Monroe said he envisions a public-private funding partnership regionwide.
“I think it’s going to be more difficult Adirondack-wide. One thing is there’s not as much wealth in some parts of the Adirondacks, and there are other parts that are predominately state waterbodies where you don’t have the constituency you have on Loon Lake or Lake George with people concerned about values. It’s somewhat more difficult, but our plan is to approach the governor’s office,” he said.
The new alliance will aim to protect lakes that don’t have anyone directly looking out for them.
“The problem is a lot of these lakes can’t afford treatment. So it makes it even more dire. Lake George is better off than most,” Siy said.
They’re also advocating that the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, a document drafted in the 1970s, be updated to include prevention of invasive species.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Eurasion watermilfoil has reduced Vermont lakefront property values up to 16 percent.
A study released by the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program in October estimates invasive species reduce shorefront property value
3 to 6 percent, translating to a reduction of $400 million to $800 million in shoreline values.
Siy and Monroe think that estimate is conservative.
Ed Griesmer, president of Loon Lake Association, was involved in forming a a group last year that brings together some of the small Adirondack lake associations. It's called the Adirondack Lakes Alliance.
These small associations are made up of volunteers that work to protect and improve particular lakes where the members own property.
For example, the East Shore Schroon Lake Association Lake Stewards program, which includes both paid stewards and volunteers, manned the Horicon Boat Launch at the southern end of Schroon Lake last summer, with four stewards on duty seven days a week.
They inspected more than 1,500 watercraft and found and removed Eurasian watermilfoil and water chestnuts.
“The mission here is to be a voice for the lake associations within the Adirondack Park, and primarily that’s a group that has not been represented,” Griesmer said. “Invasive species pose a real threat.
“There’s a pocket here within the Adirondack Park where you have lakes that are clean and free of invasives. Part of our mission is trying to maintain that and protect them and make sure we have good prevention programs,” he said.
Griesmer said the group now has more than 60 lake groups on its roster.
“We’re all volunteers. These have been the folks that have been working with invasive species since they were identified in our lakes,” Griesmer said. “They’re the divers. They provided lake stewardship programs. They developed lake management plans and tried to find funding for support.”
The group has five regional directors now and had its first meeting in Piseco about a month ago to talk about regionwide prevention plans.
“Prevention is key here. Prevention is a lot less costly than it is once you have an invasive and are trying to control it. So prevention becomes a key way to try and do something positive here,” Griesmer said.
Follow Amanda May Metzger on Twitter @amandawhistle and read her blog at www.poststar.com.