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Kristen Rohne, an educator with the Lake George Association, sieves for Asian clams during a lakewide survey completed in September 2012. Photo: Emily DeBolt, Lake George Association
Kristen Rohne, an educator with the Lake George Association, sieves for Asian clams during a lakewide survey completed in September 2012. Photo: Emily DeBolt, Lake George Association

Battle broadens against invasives in Lake George

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Lake George is a battleground once again as the fight against invasive Asian clams broadens. And that fight has implications for the rest of the Adirondack Park. Lake George is known for its crystal clear water, and the invasive clams can cause algae blooms and lower water quality significantly.

$1.5 million has been spent over the last two years to eradicate the fast-breeding mollusks. But Asian clams have now been found in eight different areas on the 32-mile-long lake. A broad coalition is seeking more money, and more help.

Lake George officials are now considering a bold step to prevent further infestations - making the lake the first water body in the state where boat inspections and decontamination are mandatory.

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Reported by

Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

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Asian clam. Photo: Emily DeBolt, Lake George Association via adirondackdailyenterprise.com
Asian clam. Photo: Emily DeBolt, Lake George Association via adirondackdailyenterprise.com
Asian clams were first discovered in August 2010 just offshore of Lake George village.

The following year, the thumbnail size clams were found in three more areas north of the village, in the town of Bolton.

Then last month, a survey of the Lake George shoreline turned up four new Asian clam infestations, according to Adirondack Park Agency Deputy Director Rick Weber, who delivered one of two presentations on Asian clams at this month’s APA meeting.

 “This species reproduces very quickly and spreads very easily, and it’s a difficult invasive to deal with,” Weber said.

The Lake George Park Commission is the state agency responsible for protecting the lake. Its director, Dave Wick, told the APA that the plan is to eradicate the four new sites and contain the four existing sites by placing large plastic mats on the bottom of the lake that smother the clams, starving them of oxygen.

Wick said the effort has been successful so far, but the problem isn’t going away.

 “Can we do it? The answer is yes, we can control Asian clams in Lake George. Is it beyond our ability to manage right now? No. Will it be beyond our ability to manage next year? Yes it will be.”

Wick said continued treatment of all eight locations in Lake George will cost another $1.1 million. So far, the commission has raised about $430,000, including $270,000 from the Warren County Board of Supervisors.

"The supervisors are extremely concerned," said Fred Monroe, town of Chester supervisor and executive director of the Adirondack Park Local Government Review Board. "They know that Lake George is the most important environmental asset we have in that region of the Adirondacks, and they also know it is the most important economic asset."

Long term, large scale effects

What exactly are people worried about? What can Asian clams do to a lake?

Wick points to Lake Tahoe, where Asian clams were first detected in 2002. In the last five years, the water quality in the lake’s southeast basin has declined by 30 percent.

Is it beyond our ability to manage right now? No. Will it be beyond our ability to manage next year? Yes.
“Asian clams come in, they reproduce prolifically,” he said. “Ultimately what you end up with is complete covered shorelines 2 to 3 inches thick in dead and dying clams and shells. When those clams die, they excrete nutrients, and those nutrients cause algae blooms and all of a sudden we have an algae problem. This is what we’re trying to avoid.”

If Asian clams become established in Lake George, Weber says the impacts could be long term and large scale.

"It's a severe concern and threat to the long-term health of the lake, both from an ecological perspective and a social and economic one.”

Tackling the problem—and preventing the spread of Asian clams

So what is Lake George doing about it?

Wick said deploying lake stewards to inspect boats for invasives and educate boaters about preventing their spread isn’t enough. It's a voluntary program and doesn't cover all of the roughly 100 boat launches on Lake George.

Asian clam locations. Image courtesy Lake George Association
Asian clam locations. Image courtesy Lake George Association
That's why the Park Commission is now considering making boat inspection and decontamination mandatory before boats can go into the lake.

 “It is the highest level of protection that’s out there,” Wick said. “It’s the best chance to protect Lake George for the future. Other programs have shown themselves to be effective. Lake Tahoe is probably the most notable model. They implemented their programs three years ago and they’ve had zero new infections of any invasive species even though they have a larger boater count than we do here.”

The biggest challenge, not surprisingly, would be paying for it. Setting a $30 boat inspection fee or creating a special tax assessment district are some of the ideas being considered.

But this is not only an issue for Lake George. The prospect of Asian clams spreading to other lakes in the Adirondacks has many people throughout the Park concerned.

Hilary Smith directs the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program.

"We only know of Asian clam in Lake George right now, but that doesn't mean it isn't elsewhere and we just haven't been looking for it," she said.

Smith said her organization is taking several steps to keep Asian clams at bay, including training its volunteers how to identify them when they're surveying lakes and ponds for other invasives."We can't afford to continue to have new invaders enter our systems. We need to shift that paradigm to being more proactive with prevention than reactive with management."

Others say the state should take a larger role in the funding, management and prevention of invasive species in the Park and throughout the state.

 

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