In what officials say is a key step toward preserving the region’s waterways, an agreement announced Tuesday is aimed at preventing the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species across the Adirondack region.
More than 53 state agencies, local governments, lake associations, property owners, businesses, conservation and sporting groups have agreed to work together to develop a region-wide aquatic invasive species prevention plan.
The Lake Champlain Basin Program is among the groups that signed the Memorandum of Understanding announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Through its boat stewardship program, last year it surveyed more than 14,000 boats entering Lake Champlain. More than 7 and a half percent were confirmed to have aquatic invasive species present. Basin Program Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator Meg Modley explains that the Park-wide effort is an outgrowth from such data. “The Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute took the boat launch steward data that they have, and we took the boat launch steward data that we have from Lake Champlain as well as the boat launch steward data that we have from Lake George, and a few other lakes that are collecting the same survey information. The white paper really forms the foundation for recommendations specifically to the Adirondacks region for strategic invasive species spread prevention. The main focus is we need to expand the stewardship program to a lot of lakes throughout the Adirondack region in concert with looking at high priority sites for boat inspection and decontamination.”
Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program Coordinator Brendan Quirion says the signers to the MOU are in the process of drafting the plan. “The governor proposed a million dollar increase to the Environmental Protection Fund in the invasive species line for a Adirondack-wide AIS prevention program. So we’re in the preliminary stages of seeing what we can potentially do if that million dollars comes through. Actually looking at specific sites where boat washing decontamination infrastructure may give us the biggest bang for our buck. Determining specific areas we know there’s invasives present that are spreading out from these lakes and could affect other water bodies. Those are the types of things we’re considering right now.”
Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board Executive Director and Town of Chester Supervisor Fred Monroe is among those calling the agreement historic. “As I see it, it’s both an educational tool and it’s a commitment by an extremely diverse group of organizations and it creates a great deal of moral authority to make that happen. It’s very encouraging that the governor saw fit to include a million dollars in the budget. There does seem to be a sense of urgency which is also very encouraging to those of us who are concerned about invasive species and their impact on both the environment and the economy.”
FUND for Lake George Executive Director Eric Siy says efforts to prevent and control invasives in Lake George could be considered a teaching tool as a park-wide program is established. “We started with an MOU underscoring the gravity of the threat and the need for all hands on deck to protect our waters. As we’ve learned at Lake George prevention is really the only means of protection from invasives. Unless we prevent them from getting in the consequences can be catastrophic. So this is an historic next step in saving our waters park-wide.”
The program is expected to include boater education, boat inspections and decontamination of boats and trailers entering Adirondack waters, patterned after efforts on Lake George. Lake George Mayor Robert Blais is chairman of SAVE — Stop Aquatic Invasives from Entering Lake George. “We’re actually under siege with the invasives that are coming into the Adirondack Park and our lakes obviously are our greatest asset. Our program the first year has been reported as being highly successful and it was. If they pattern what they’re going to do somewhat after what the SAVE group accomplished along with the Lake George Park Commission and the assistance of DEC, and the governor’s office I think they’ll find the same success.”
A study commissioned last year by the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program found that if eight new invasive species spread throughout the Adirondacks, they could cost the region up to $900 million including losses in visitor spending, property values, and agriculture and forest production values.