The Next Invasive SpeciesThreat to Lake Champlain

This report from the Albany Times-Union looks at the asian clam, an invasive species that has established itself in Lake George. Officials there fear they are losing the battle to the asian clam and discuss the impact that this will have on Lake George.

Since Lake George empties into Lake Champlain via the Lachute River in Ticonderoga, the asian clam seems destined to be the next invasive threat to Lake Champlain.

Invasive clams appear to be winning in Lake George

Lake George is now infested by a species that could reduce tourism, business activity and property values

By Brian Nearing     Updated 7:18 a.m., Monday, September 24, 2012

A map showing where on the lake Asian clams have been found is seen on a screen during a meeting of the Asian Clam task force on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 at The Lake George Association headquarters in Lake George, NY.  (Paul Buckowski / Times Union) Photo: Paul Buckowski

A map showing where on the lake Asian clams have been found is seen on a screen during a meeting of the Asian Clam task force on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 at The Lake George Association headquarters in Lake George, NY. (Paul Buckowski / Times Union)

LAKE GEORGE — Two years and $1.5 million later, efforts to rid the Queen of American Lakes of a harmful invasive clam seem to have failed. With fast-breeding Asian clams now spreading, the best hope is to keep their numbers in check — a costly fight that could last for years — and wait for a breakthrough eradication technique.

That was the grim assessment last week by the lake’s Asian Clam Rapid Response Task Force, a group of state, municipal, civic and environmental groups that has spearheaded work to eradicate clam beds by smothering them under weighted underwater mats.

The setback in the battle against the clams comes as the Lake George Park Commission, the state agency in charge of protecting the lake, also is racing to create a plan to reduce the risk of future aquatic invaders being brought in by recreational boaters, who likely transported the Asian clam from other infested water bodies in bilge water or bait wells. Widespread clam infestation in the lake could mean diminished tourism, business and property values. Clams have already caused some of those problems in Lake Tahoe, on the California-Nevada border, where beds now cover several hundred acres.

Thriving in sunlit, shallow, sandy lake bottoms, the tiny mollusks pose a major threat to the lake’s legendary gin-clear waters, which drive vibrant tourism, boating and recreational fishing industries.

Large clam colonies can foul beach waters because their excretions fuel massive algae blooms. Fast-breeding hermaphrodites, clams can quickly multiply into the millions and, when dead, wash up on beaches, where their razor-sharp shells make walking dangerous.

In Lake George, two years’ use of underwater mats — as well as underwater suctioning — in four places totaling 15 acres along the lake’s southwest side from the village of Lake George near Million Dollar Beach to the town of Bolton has not wiped out the clams, which remain entrenched and in some cases are even more numerous, according to surveys done this month.

A view of some Asian clams in a container at the Lake George Association headquarters seen here on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 in Lake George, NY. (Paul Buckowski / Times Union)

Just this month, Asian clams were found in four new spots, including for the first time on the lake’s eastern and northern shores in Shelving Rock Bay in Fort Ann and Lake Forest in Hague, respectively. The other new clam colonies were found near the Golden Sands resort near Diamond Point and Route 9L near Paulist Fathers Road. Those combined spots total at least two acres.

“We have had disappointing results with some of our mats. Eradication of the clams now seems clearly out of the question.

It is technologically beyond our ability to eliminate it,” said Dave Wick, executive director of the park commission and a task force member, on Thursday. Lake George is the only lake in the state with its own state agency.

“We have to shift from a strategy of eradication to one of long-term management of the clam,” said Walter Lender, director of the Lake George Association, a not-for-profit group that has helped fund the work so far.

Over concerns about future invasives, the commission is considering a mandatory inspection system for the thousands of boats that are launched on the lake each summer. A plan will likely be decided upon this fall.

Wick said it would likely cost $1 million to put down mats this fall on all eight known infested locations — but the task force now has only about $140,000 available.

That will be devoted to putting mats at the four new locations, which are relatively small.

“What is at risk is the economy and the ecology of the lake, upon which the economy is based,” said Alexander Gabriels, a task force member and former Bolton town supervisor.

The town-owned Norowal Marina on Route 9N is one of the lake’s busiest public boat launches, as well as one of the original infested areas. Clams remain there in high numbers despite two years of using mats and are just 200 yards south of the town’s Veterans Beach. Norowal Marina also is directly across the lake from Shelving Rock Bay, a popular site that each summer draws hundreds of boaters for Log Bay Day.

A view looking north from the south end of Lake George on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 in Lake George, NY. (Paul Buckowski / Times Union)

“We have paid for this all so far with public dollars,” said Wick. “We will have to start looking at the million-dollar businesses along the lake.”

Eric Siy, director of the Fund for Lake George, another lake advocacy group, said, “We are in an all-hands-on deck, all-checkbooks-on-the-table situation.”

At the Georgian Resort in the village of Lake George, clam-smothering mats have been used for the last two years without success. The venerable 159-room resort needs a healthy lake, marketing manager Dick Carlson said.”What you don’t want in this business is negative publicity that might encourage people to stay away.”

Carlson said he understands the need to pay for invasive species control, and suggested that Warren County could set aside part of its 4 percent hotel bed tax. “We would have to look into it, but I am sure that we would be able to contribute something toward it,” he said.

Wick said the commission was rebuffed when it sought financial support from the state and the Department of Environmental Conservation. “The state does not have any money for us, at least in the next six months,” he said.

The DEC press office referred questions to Ed Woltman, head of its Bureau of Fisheries, who said he could not speak to state funding issues.

Woltman said the state favors “outreach and education” of recreational boaters on the importance of keeping boats cleaned, drained and dry.

A sign is posted on an information board near a boat launch on the south end of Lake George informs boaters to help prevent the spread of invasive species seen here on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012 in Lake George, NY. (Paul Buckowski / Times Union)

DEC maintains four public boat launches on the lake – at Mossy Point in Ticonderoga, Million Dollar Beach in Lake George, Rogers Rock in Hague and Northwest Bay in Bolton. Woltman said creating a network of boat-cleaning stations, which use high-pressure hot water to blast away invasives, would be logistically difficult.

In 2009, Lake Tahoe set up a mandatory boat cleaning system, partially supported by federal funds and partially by registration stickers required for boaters.Woltman said the state is concerned about future invasives and wants to see what kind of prevention plan the park commission creates.

Since 2008, volunteers from the Lake George Association have checked more than 24,000 boats being put in or being taken out of the lake, said Emily DeBolt, education director. Of those, 378 boats carried an invasive species.

“Invasive species are on the march. The state needs to pay attention to this,” said Gabriels. • 518-454-5094 • @Bnearing10

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