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The DEC Should Make Sure Native Species Are Safe

A recent study paid for by the Chautauqua Lake Association came with no real surprising conclusions.

Frankly, it’s just the latest step in the decades-long dance of the dueling scientists.

The Racine-Johnson report’s conclusion of a lake littoral ecosystem in peril in the aftermath of herbicide treatments last May should have largely been expected, in part because Racine-Johnson continues to discuss invasive species Eurasian milfoil and curly leaf pondweed as if they are native species. Page 9 of the Racine-Johnson report states the two non-native species are an integral component of the weed species community in Chautauqua Lake while stating, “Even weaker is the misguided drive to eliminate plants that are an integral part of, and provide vital ecosystem functions just because they are termed non-native. Watermilfoil and curly-leaf pondweed are long-term residents of Chautauqua Lake and maintain this healthy lake ecosystem as naturalized species.”

The CLA’s logic allows the organization’s leadership to speak out of one side of their mouth that they support the use of herbicides where necessary while, out of the other side of their mouth, blaming herbicide use for creating a littoral zone in peril because the herbicides did their job in eliminating the invasive species they targeted.

There is a problem with that logic, though.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has long termed both species as invasive species because of their proclivity to overrun native species. Under the CLA and Racine-Johnson logic, if the water chestnut or hydrilla were to establish themselves on Chautauqua Lake for decades, then they should eventually just be accepted as part of the natural ecosystem even though they, too, are invasive species.

Town supervisors and village mayors around the lake want to see a coordinated Chautauqua Lake maintenance plan in accordance with the Memorandum of Agreement for the Chautauqua Lake Weed Management Consensus Strategy that incorporates herbicides where necessary to control invasive species and weed harvesting in others. The supervisors are right, as former County Executive George Borrello was in pushing for the memorandum.

Local organizations need to have their say, but ultimately the state Department of Environmental Conservation will have the final say on whether or not herbicides are used on Chautauqua Lake in 2020. Both the Racine-Johnson report and the third-party Princeton Hydro report paid for by the county as part of the Memorandum of Agreement found there were some impacts on native plant species from the herbicide treatment. Princeton Hydro termed those impact minimal while Racine-Johnson paints a different picture.

The thought that Eurasian milfoil and curly leaf pondweed should be treated as native species on Chautauqua Lake because they’ve been in the lake for generations is a view we hope the DEC rejects. At the same time, if the DEC approves herbicide treatments on Chautauqua Lake this summer, the agency should ensure that as little damage as possible is done to native plant species.

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