Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Week of November 2, 2008

Suffolk County targets invasive aquatic plants in Yaphank


By autumn, little remains of the thick green carpet of plant life that covers Yaphank's Upper and Lower lakes for much of the year. But the weedy culprits - cabomba and variable leaf watermilfoil - are still here, washing in clumps over the dam at Mill Road or waiting, submerged, to bloom in spring.

Each year, dismayed residents here and at Canaan Lake in North Patchogue have watched the rampant growth of invasive aquatic plants turn these popular fishing spots into virtual swamps.

"The whole lake is just one mat of weeds," said Robert Kessler, an Upper Lake resident and member of the Coalition to Save the Yaphank Lakes. "By June you can almost walk across the lakes."

Now Suffolk County has taken up the problem with a $200,000 study on the best way to eradicate the pesky plants. The study should be completed sometime next year, with work expected to begin on a pilot project at Canaan Lake in 2010.

Options include dredging, dosing the water with herbicide, using a machine harvester to remove the plants or some combination of those techniques. Some have even proposed dismantling the dams that created the lakes in the first place - something Kessler and other Yaphank residents oppose.

Each method has drawbacks. And because rivers run through all three lakes, any action taken there would likely have consequences downstream.Nineteen-acre Upper Lake and 25-acre Lower Lake sit on the Carmans River, which the state has designated a scenic and recreational river. The main stem of the Patchogue River flows through 26-acre Canaan Lake, which is on the state's impaired waterways list because of nitrogen pollution."

It's a really complicated situation, because you're balancing the needs of the residents living on the lake and the issues they are facing, in addition to the ecological and financial issues," said Kathy Schwager, an invasive species ecologist with the Nature Conservancy on Long Island. The Conservancy was part of a coalition of concerned residents, environmental advocates and government officials that researched the issue for more than a year.

At times, the weeds cover 70 percent to 90 percent of the surface of the affected Brookhaven lakes, said Charles Guthrie, regional fisheries manager for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Fish still swim there, but the overgrowth makes it hard to get to the water."

It has really ruined the recreational resource that the community of Yaphank and many others have enjoyed for hundreds of years, since the river was dammed," said Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Connie Kepert.

Last year Kepert set up the Carmans River task force to address the problem at Upper and Lower lakes. The group assembled detailed information on the lakes' plant life and other physical characteristics, and reviewed how other communities have dealt with cabomba and watermilfoil.

In Manorville, the Peconic River Sportsman's Club had tried using a mechanical harvester to remove cabomba from its private 45-acre lake, but the lake was too big for one machine to make much of a dent, Guthrie said.

The club had better luck with an herbicide known as fluridone. But that alone is unlikely to solve the problem in Yaphank and North Patchogue. The herbicide pellets have to remain in place for one to three months, a tricky proposition in a free-flowing river. And fluridone doesn't kill watermilfoil, which requires a different chemical called triclopyr. While both herbicides are approved for use in New York state, DEC regulations don't permit them to be used at the same time, Guthrie said.

Dave Thompson of Trout Unlimited, a fishing conservation group, says removing the dams would help because the plants don't thrive in cool, fast-moving water. It would also create more habitat for native brook trout. Residents have resisted that option, saying they want to restore the lakes' past recreational use. Article


Town of Esopus purchases weed harvester


Projects in Columbia and Ulster counties (New York) are among funding awards announced under the state Environmental Protection Fund's Local Waterfront Revitalization Program.

All grants are awarded on a 50-50 matching basis.

Receiving funding locally are:

* Town of Esopus, $59,088 to purchase a mechanical aquatic weed harvester to improve the town's aquatic vegetation control program, thereby preserving access to public beaches, use of non-motorized boating facilities and fishing areas of the river. Article


Invading bugs ravage Georgia's forests

By Charles Seabrook for the Journal-Constitution

In Georgia’s rugged mountain forests and its lush maritime woods on the coast, ecological tragedies of great consequence are unfolding —- alarming die-offs of native trees from exotic insect pests.

On the coast, it is the red bay tree —- and possibly the sassafras —- that’s succumbing. Driving around Jekyll Island the other day, I saw scores of red bays dead or dying. I saw no healthy ones. The same situation is true for red bays in other maritime forests all along the Southeast coast. Killing them —- and threatening them with extinction —- is a relentless disease called laurel wilt.

Some reports indicate that the malady also may be spreading to our beloved sassafras trees, which are kin to red bays.

The disease is caused by a fungus spread by the exotic red bay ambrosia beetle (Xyleborus glabratus), a native of Asia. The beetle likely entered the country in wood packing material with cargo imported at Port Wentworth, Ga. Red bays began dying in Georgia and South Carolina in 2003.

“All of Georgia’s coastal counties now have confirmed laurel wilt, and the disease is moving northward in South Carolina, southward in Florida, and inland at an alarming rate,” said James Johnson, a tree disease expert with the Georgia Forestry Commission.

No known treatment exists, he notes. Landowners, loggers and others are asked to leave dead red bay trees in the woods and not salvage them for logs, chips or firewood.

Red bays are native to the Coastal Plain region from Virginia to eastern Texas. They are ecologically and culturally important, although of minor commercial timber value. Red bay trees provide fruit for songbirds, turkeys and quails. Deer and black bears browse on the foliage and fruits. The caterpillars of the palamedes swallowtail butterfly require red bay leaves for development.

More information: www.state.sc.us/forest/idwilt.pdf.

Mountain trees

In North Georgia’s mountains —- and throughout much of the Southern Appalachians —- it is the magnificent hemlock that’s dying by the tens of thousands. The cause is a tiny, exotic, aphidlike insect known as the hemlock wooly adelgid, also a native of Asia. It sucks the sap at the base of hemlock needles, which die and fall off. The tree then starves to death.

Hardly any area of the 750,000-acre Chattahoochee National Forest is untouched by the voracious pest. Dead and dying hemlocks —- large and small —- are now common sights along mountain streams, slopes and trails. Scientists say the hemlock, a major component of Southern Appalachian forests, could go the way of another once-common forest tree, the American chestnut, which was virtually wiped out by an exotic blight during the first half of the last century and has never recovered.

A sliver of good news is that special chemical treatments done by trained arborists can help hemlocks withstand adelgid infestations. The treatment is helping save some hemlocks in homeowners’ yards and at some forest campgrounds.

But for the vast majority of hemlocks in the forest, the treatment is impractical. About the only hope —- slim at best —- for the forest hemlocks is imported beetles that prey on the adelgid. Three Georgia institutions —- the University of Georgia, Young Harris College and North Georgia State College and University —- are raising the beetles in special laboratories for release into the forest. But funding is critical. The Georgia ForestWatch organization (www.gafw.org.) is trying to raise funds for the labs. Article


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