Volunteers Join the Battle Against Invasive Species

volunteers-water chestnut

This story originally aired on WRVO Oswego.

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Water chestnut script

The state department of environmental conservation has designated this week as invasive species awareness week. The goal is to encourage the public to help stop and reverse the spread of invasives. For a group of volunteers central NY, that battle has been joined.

Our story comes from David Chanatry with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College.

Natsot:

Off for an adventure. What are we going to find today…you never know!

 Ambiance boats going in

On a July morning, nine volunteers put their canoes in the Seneca River. They’re paddling in the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge west of Syracuse. Battling a strong current and stronger wind, they head to a section of river called the Swift-water channel.

 Lets whip around….pull on your left side there.

ambiance Wind and water

 Their objective: to remove as many invasive water chestnut plants as they can find. Their leader is Chris Lajeski, from the Audubon center at Montezuma. Balancing in a kayak, he reaches into the water and pulls out a plant by its roots.

THIS IS JUST STARTING TO GROW, IT’S A SMALL PLANT GOING TO GET A LOT LARGER AS THE SUMMER GOES ON. IT’LL BE ABOUT A FOOT AND A HALF IN DIAMETER BY THE END OF THE SUMMER.

Water chestnut was introduced to North America in the late 1870’s, and by the 1950’s had spread to the Finger Lakes. The plant’s triangular leaves float on the surface, blocking the sun and making it difficult for native plants to thrive. It can quickly grow so thick it chokes off rivers. streams and lakes.

 There’s more, on the left…yeah this is the thickest we’ve seen it today I think.

Upstream, two volunteers are trying to maneuver their canoe in a dense matt of the stuff, just off the main channel.

OK lets back up.

Gretchen: now you get to see how bad it can be

Dave: There are some places where you could use snow shoes instead of a canoe.

Plant by plant, they have been clearing this section of river.

IT MIGHT SEEM LIKE A SMALL THING, AND I THINK IT IS, BUT YOU DO THIS TWICE A WEEK, ALL SUMMER LONG EVERYTHING ADDS UP.

Adds up to 1 to 3 –tons- of aquatic plants pulled a season, since the project started -7- years ago.

The volunteers are from a group called MARSH that’s working to restore the Montezuma wetlands….50 thousand acres of public and private land that provide a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl. For those birds, the invasives are like junk food with little nutritional value. Montezuma’s Kent Kowalski says the birds eat better now many invasives are gone.

SO NOW WE HAVE SUBMERGED AQUATIC VEGETATION THAT WE LIKE COMING UP IN PLACE OF THE WATER CHESTNUT. AND THAT PROVIDES FOOD FOR A LOT OF THE WATERFOWL, A LOT OF THE BIRDS IN THIS AREA THAT MIGRATE THROUGH

There are people perks too. Bird watchers Steve and Linda Benedict started pulling water chestnuts so they could get access to places the public can’t go. This was a good day on both fronts.

SO WE SAW AN ADULT AND BABY PILEATED WOODPECKER, AND WE SAW A FAMILY OF WOOD DUCKS, AND WE’RE HEARING MARSH WRENS, COMMON YELLOW THROAT AND SWAMP SPARROWS, SO WE JUST LOVE BEING OUT HERE.

ambiance pulling it out…dripping sounds

Natsot: they got a lot, should we go in there?

While this channel has been significantly cleared, a big infestation remains upstream. That may require a mechanical harvester or even herbicides to root out. In the meantime, this group is ever vigilant as it aims to halt the invasion.

OH THERE’S A WATER CHESNUTT…SPLASH…I GOT IT!

ANOTHER INFESTATION SQUASHED.

For WRVO, I’m David Chanatry with the New York Reporting Project at Utica College.