‘What’s Good For The Goose…’

The significant negative impacts, environmental and otherwise, of weed cutting/harvesting, openly acknowledged in studies conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the New York State Department of Conservation (NYSDEC), Chautauqua County (County) and many others, have long been overlooked in Chautauqua Lake. This contrasts with the intense scrutiny afforded herbicides which have not been shown to have had negative impacts after targeted NYSDEC-permitted Chautauqua Lake applications in 2017 and 2018.

Propagation and spreading of the lake’s invasive non-native weeds as a result of the weed cutting operation, due primarily to unrecovered cut weed fragments and non-selective cutting of native and more competitive invasives, has been of great concern to the Chautauqua Lake Partnership (Partnership). Such an operation, as conducted in Chautauqua Lake, is inconsistent with the 100 percent recovery of fragments required by the County’s 2017 Macrophyte Management Strategy and, in our opinion, is in clear violation of New York State Law prohibiting propagation of invasive plant species.

Additionally, most are unaware that very substantial killing of fish, mostly small fingerlings, along with various invertebrates, are a result of the weed cutting/harvesting operation. These fish kills, estimated to be in the millions each season, are acknowledged and quantified in the studies and have been documented in the Lake. This fish kill is an annual occurrence as a result of the weed cutting operation and independent of periodic issues caused by the proliferation of invasive weeds, such as the significant fish mortality seen in Burtis Bay in October and November of this year. Note that the all-volunteer Partnership played a major role in bringing that tragic and unnecessary situation to public, NYSDEC and County attention.

The partnership communicated concerns regarding weed cutting/harvesting beginning in late 2016 and has highlighted the negative EPA, NYSEDEC and County-documented environmental impacts with the public in partnership rallies beginning in Fall 2017 and in this publication in early 2018. Unfortunately, there has been no acknowledgement or discernible improvements in Chautauqua Lake weed cutting operations to date.

In a letter dated November 2, 2018, the partnership asked the NYSDEC to (1) enforce the existing law prohibiting invasive weed propagation, (2) conduct a formal review of all environmental impacts of weed cutting/harvesting in Chautauqua Lake and (3) consider regulation of weed cutting in Chautauqua Lake as is required in New York State’s Adirondack Park and by many other states.

In response, the Chautauqua Lake Association advocated for a cessation of herbicide use. However, herbicide use in the lake is governed by a combination of the 1981 Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, the 1990 and 2018 Chautauqua Lake-specific Supplemental Environmental Impact Statements (2018 SEIS) and can occur only after an annual regulatory environmental review conducted by the NYSDEC. Over the past two years, it has proven a safe and effective method for addressing the invasive weed issue in selected locations in the lake. By contrast, although significant negative impacts have been documented, no such detailed environmental review or regulatory/permitting process has been applied to weed cutting in Chautauqua Lake and the invasive plants continue to thrive.

The partnership is not asking NYSDEC to order an immediate cessation to all weed cutting in Chautauqua Lake. The partnership is asking for assurance from the NYSDEC that such cutting occurs in an environmentally safe manner and consistent with protections required by state law and regulation. The partnership also continues to advocate for a combination of herbicides and weed cutting/harvesting which has proven to be effective for weed management in large New York State lakes and in lakes in several other states. With completion of the 2018 SEIS followed by NYSDEC permitting of successful herbicide applications last summer, there’s an opportunity to develop and conduct such a combination program in our lake in 2019. We believe that such a weed management approach would prevent issues from arising in the Lake such as occurred in Burtis Bay this fall.

With knowledge gained through support for development of the SEIS and two seasons of successful herbicide permitting and treatments, supportive relationships with lakeside communities and municipalities and several years (latest August 2018) of detailed weed type and density surveys, the partnership is well-positioned to develop and coordinate a combination Chautauqua Lake weed management program for 2019. Program development could be funded through the Sheldon Foundation’s $20,000 grant to the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance (Alliance) which was designated for a joint Chautauqua Lake Partnership/Chautauqua Lake Association project.

With state and county government political and financial support and cooperation of the Chautauqua Lake Association, effective and safe Chautauqua Lake weed management programs for Chautauqua Lake are now attainable for 2019 and beyond. We’ve asked our New York State and Chautauqua County representatives to support the partnership in this endeavor. We hope the CLA will agree to participate.

Dr. Jim Cirbus is president of the Chautauqua Lake Partnership; Jim Wehrfritz is the CLP’s vice president; Dr. Tom Erlandson is the CLP’s biology adviser. and Dr. Doug Neckers is the CLP’s chemistry adviser.