Summer is finally here, and people are beginning to get out on their favorite waterways and beaches. People from Cortland County especially get to enjoy the aesthetic beauty and many activities that our waterways have to offer. Tully Lake, Little York Lake, and the Tioughnioga River are just a few of the more popular boating, fishing, and swimming areas in the County.
These bodies of water are popular for what they have to offer to the public; however, there are silent invaders that have and will continue to threaten the grandeur of these places. As air and water temperatures rise, aquatic invasive species (AIS) become more prevalent and damaging than ever. These species are non-native to an area, and they have the ability to outcompete many native species. They also reproduce very rapidly which only enhances their ability to take over an area. In a recent article posted by the Department of Environmental Conservation, North Country Assemblyman Billy Jones warns the public of the threat these species pose. “Once an aquatic invasive species takes over; it can have a devastating impact on our lakes, ponds, rivers and other bodies of water and waterways.” The article goes on to say the economists estimate that invasive species cost the U.S. approximately $120 billion per year, and unfortunately they’re still spreading.
In order to combat AIS, Cortland County Soil and Water partnered with Cortland – Onondaga Federation of Kettle Lake Association (C-OFOKLA) to obtain a 3-year, $100,000 grant from the DEC to help stop the spread of aquatic invasives such as Eurasian Water Milfoil, Starry Stonewort, and Hydrilla. “STOP The Invasion”, the program funded by the grant, extends the Finger Lakes Institute’s already successful ‘Watercraft Steward’ program. For the second year, watercraft stewards will soon be stationed at boat launches throughout Cortland County, asking boaters to participate in a voluntary inspection of their watercraft in order to check for AIS before and after launching. The inspection and discussion with the stewards is a means of educating boaters and anglers on preventing the spread of AIS and complying with DEC regulations.
These regulations, which many boaters may be unaware of, state that boaters shall not launch, or transport their watercraft from a launch with any aquatic plant or animal attached to the watercraft or trailer. In addition, boaters must not launch or leave a launch without first draining the bilge areas, livewells, bait wells and ballast tanks of their watercraft.
To comply with these regulations, watercraft stewards will ask boaters to complete 3 simple steps, best summarized as: Clean, Drain & Dry. When leaving a launch, boaters should always remove all visible plants and animals from their boat, trailer, and any other equipment that has been in contact with the water and dispose of them in a trash container or on dry land far enough from the water body that no invasives find their way back to the water. As part of the grant, AIS disposal stations will also be installed at some boat launches. Running your boat through a car wash or pressure washing it at home is also highly recommended to ensure that no invasives hitch a ride to the next launch. Draining the boat’s bilge, live wells, and ballast tanks, as well as blowing out the cooling intake on Jet-Skis and simply pouring water from kayaks and canoes before and after launching will help prevent the spread of AIS.
Finally, when transporting watercraft from one body of water to another, it is recommended to let the watercraft dry for at least five days between launches to ensure that all unseen aquatic invasive species have dried out and can no longer establish new colonies in our water ways. In addition to the watercraft steward aspect of the program, “STOP the Invasion” will also support community outreach and education, school programs, and have an online presence.
With cooperation between watercraft stewards, boaters, and anglers, we can help to prevent the costly spread of AIS and ensure the environmental, economic, and aesthetic security of our water ways in Cortland County.
Chase Davis, Conservation Aide