July 15, 2013
WEST HAVEN, VT – July 10, 2013– Many Vermonters naturally turn to Lake Champlain for recreation once summer arrives, whether it’s a dip during the heat of a summer afternoon, a paddle along the shoreline or an early morning fishing trip. However, summer also summons efforts to rid the lake of a noxious invasive aquatic weed, known as water chestnut. For more than a decade The Nature Conservancy, an organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters of the Vermont, has been quietly at work improving the lake by helping rid its waters of this species in southern parts of the lake.
Native to Europe, Asia and Africa, this fast growing weed arrived in our ponds and lakes without the native insects and pests that keep it in check in its native waters. For years in the 1970’s and early 80-s, it was left unchecked in Lake Champlain, and formed dense mats of plants that created issues for boaters and swimmers, and life in the lake as well. The plant produces seeds with four sharp spines, and can result in puncture injuries for unwary shore walkers. For fish, dense mats of plants reduces light and native plant growth, leading to reduced oxygen availability in the water, and small fish are driven to cluster at the edges of dense mats where they fall prey to larger game fish.
The Nature Conservancy received a $20,000 contract from the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VT DEC) this year, to continue its successful program to search for and remove this troublesome weed from bays and estuaries in 2013.
Staying power is critical for this work. Every year since 1998, the Conservancy has been a large part of the effort to control water chestnut in the lake which once threatened nearly 3,000 acres of ecologically valuable wetlands throughout the Southern Lake Champlain Valley. Now in its 15th consecutive year, this long-standing partnership with VT DEC, New York Department of Environmental Conservation, and Lake Champlain Basin Program has pushed the leading edge of water chestnut back from Addison to Benson, and successfully eliminated the impacts of water chestnut on most places in the lake where it was formerly abundant.
In the early years the Conservancy mobilized a flotilla of volunteers who have, over the years, collected 48 tons of water chestnut – not to mention spent many fun hours paddling the bays and estuaries in the southern reaches of the lake.
“We have prevented this invasive plant from overrunning a large number of valuable wetland habitat in the South Lake Champlain Area and made significant improvements to critical habitat for fish, plants, and other wildlife in the southern portion of the lake, ‘ said Paul Marangelo, Conservation Ecologist for The Nature Conservancy’s Vermont chapter. “There are now very few water chestnut plants left at most of our sites, and we are seeing the benefits as the diversity of plant and fish life returns”
Thanks to the support of VT DEC, the Conservancy will organize a series of staff and volunteer workdays this summer at 22 sites throughout the Southern Lake Champlain Valley. Eagle eyed volunteers willing to hunt for the last few plants are invited to join the Conservancy on the water this summer. To find a date and place that fits your schedule this summer.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.