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SLU professor joins Army Corps of Engineer study of Black Lake

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MORRISTOWN - The Army Corps of Engineers has enlisted St. Lawrence University biology professor Brad Baldwin to spearhead its study of the invasive Eurasian watermilfoil weeds in Black Lake.

Mr. Baldwin joins the efforts started by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2008 to assess the condition of the lake. This week marks Mr. Baldwin’s first expeditions on the lake with the Corps of Engineers, but he has been a regular at Black Lake since 1995.

The goal of the study is to make “people more aware of the stewardship of the lake,” said Army Corps of Engineers Project Manager Sophie Fitek Baj.

“These measurements will provide important contextual information for fisheries and environmental management of the Black Lake ecosystem,” said Mr. Baldwin in an emailed message.

With a report due by the end of September, Mr. Baldwin said he study “the physical and chemical conditions of several lake habitats, the biological conditions of lower trophic levels (bacteria, phytoplankton, zooplankton, aquatic vegetation), and the distribution of exotic species.”

The study has been allotted $100,000 by the state and will likely not include more than information gathering about the invasive species, said Ms. Fitek Baj. She said the goal is to help the community deal with the weeds on its own.

The lake, a destination for bass fishing, has seen other invasive species like round gobies and zebra mussels in the last decade, the most recent of which is Eurasian watermilfoil.

“Unfortunately, once it’s there, it is very hard to eradicate,” said Meghan Johnstone, the aquatic invasive species project coordinator with the Adirondack Nature Conservancy.

As with other invasive species, the problem with Eurasian watermilfoil is that there are no natural predators or parasites to keep the weed numbers in check. Ms. Johnstone also said the weed reproduces much more quickly than native plants.

This combination has led to weed mats that grow to the surface of the lake that “outcompete native organisms and crowd them out, possibly altering the function of the original ecosystem,” said Mr. Baldwin.

Part of the problem contributing to the growth of the weeds may be nutrient runoff from septic tanks located along the shores of the lake.

Ms. Fitek Baj said the project will be specifically “focusing on septic systems that are failing and agricultural runoffs.”

Martin Petrie, a resident of Macomb who was fishing on the Black Lake on Wednesday, said the recent low water has made the weeds even easier to see.

“This is the first year I’ve seen it [this low],” he said of lake.

That aside, Mr. Petrie said he hasn’t really noticed a change in the 10 years he has fished the lake in terms of the quality of fishing.

Dave Roll, owner of Black Lake Marine’s Cottages, said the weeds are problematic for boat motors, which can burn up if they get tangled in propellers.

Mr. Roll said the weeds grow in cycles; some years the weeds - both native and invasive species - will form causeways across the lake while other years they hardly grow at all.

“My own experience with exotics is that, once they arrive, they are here forever,” said Mr. Baldwin. “But we might slow them down or limit their geographic spread.”

The study will also include developing a map of the lake to show its weed coverage. Both Army Corps of Engineers officials and Mr. Baldwin have said chemical eradication of the watermilfoil weed is not being discussed.

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