By: Sam Beck-Andersen, Watercraft Steward Program Manager
Over the course of a Watercraft Steward’s summer position with the Finger Lakes Institute, they are exposed to several aspects of invasive species management. Of course, the budding professionals that make up our seasonal staff of stewards are on the front lines of AIS management at boat launches around the Finger Lakes, but what else do stewards experience during their summers?
One aspect of our steward program that continues to be beneficial to stewards and management alike are the bi-weekly staff meetings held in the Finger Lakes Institute classroom. These meetings serve multiple purposes: timesheet collection, providing administrative and scheduling updates, continuing education, and keeping our stewards well-versed in invasive species identification and ecology. A new way we‘ve been keeping our stewards sharp involves our Education Steward Alex Parry developing a series of quizzes that test the AIS identification skills of our stewards. Each meeting, our stewards were presented with a series of either live samples and/or photographs of an invasive species that they should be able to identify. These quizzes give stewards the opportunity to practice identification of species “out of context”, which happens daily at the boat launch. Out of context identifications occur when a steward is faced with a species at a launch, away from text books or the internet. A plant specimen can be a tiny fragment, or it can be a giant mass of six different species that have been twisted and contorted by a propeller. The important part here is giving stewards the opportunity to practice thinking on their feet, with no clues. These quizzes are meant to be low stress, and are supposed to be fun for stewards while exercising some important skills. These quizzes also allow for the Program Coordinators and the Program Manager to gauge the group’s familiarity with certain species. If there is a question that is commonly answered incorrectly, we give special attention to that species during in-person meetings, and later staff meetings. Overall, this addition to our team meetings has been well received by stewards and management, and will likely be continued in future WSP seasons.
Bi-weekly staff meetings also give stewards the opportunity to meet and interact with staff members here at the FLI. Whether we are talking about other invasive species programs, or water quality research going on at the FLI, these presentations give stewards a deeper look at the FLI, our mission, and what we offer the Finger Lakes Region. Patty Wakefield-Brown, our Invasives Species Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator, gave a great presentation about the dreaded spotted lanternfly, their populations in Pennsylvania, and info about what we are doing here in the Finger Lakes to avoid their introduction. Kate des Jardin, the lead for FLI’s Hydrilla monitoring and control project gave an in depth look at past, current, and future work focused on managing Hydrilla in Cayuga Lake. Our lab technicians Evan Helming and Kely Amejecor gave tours of both labs on site at the FLI, and described a number of tools being used to research water samples from around the Finger Lakes. At an opportune time of the summer when many of our stewards began to hear frequent questions about the enigmatic Harmful Algal Blooms in the Finger Lakes, FLI’s very own director Dr. Lisa Cleckner delivered a detailed presentation about HAB ecology, identification, and current efforts to examine and manage HABs in the Finger Lakes.
During the interview process for watercraft stewards, we commonly refer to the educational role of the steward as one of the most important aspects of the position, and of the program overall. Yes, stewards are constantly engaging boaters in educational conversations during inspections and other interactions with launch users, which is extremely important. However, stewards also have the opportunity to apply their developing educational skills to the public outside of the boat launch as well. Each year we offer chances for stewards to deliver outreach and education at tabling events, festivals, and other venues around the Finger Lakes Region. In addition to their typical boat launch gear, stewards are given a broader selection of outreach and promo materials, a FLI-branded tablecloth, a canopy, and away they go! Stewards share general AIS information to those who have little background knowledge, and more pointed information about AIS and Clean, Drain, Dry procedures to others. This year our stewards have provided outreach at the ADK Expo in Mendon Ponds Park, the 4-H Expo in Ontario Beach Park, and Nature at the Market at the Rochester Public Market. Stewards are also tapped to provide outreach to attendees of a number of lake association annual meetings. These meetings typically draw a good number of association members and donors who are interested in learning more about the happenings around their lake, and stewards are knowledgeable, familiar faces to deliver this information. In July, stewards attended annual meetings held by the Otisco Lake Preservation Association and the Honeoye Valley Association, and on August 14th our stewards were present at the Canandaigua Lake Watershed Associations annual meeting. In addition to achieving our program goals of education as many people as possible about AIS, these opportunities allow stewards to further develop their communication skills, and provide valuable networking opportunities.
Another mainstay of our program that has persisted for a number of years, and continues to be a part of our seasonal routine is the WSP Staff’s participation in a Water Chestnut pull event in the Finger Lakes Region. In the past, these events have been organized in cooperation with the WSP and the Finger Lakes Institute’s Water Chestnut Strike Team that operated from 2016 to 2018. This year, however, the WSP partnered with Wayne County Soil and Water Conservation District to pull almost 2000 pounds of Water chestnut from Maxwell’s Bay in Sodus, NY on Lake Ontario’s Southern Shore. Exposing our stewards to this type of event offers them a great experience to learn about and take part in other aspects of AIS management, and allows them to interact with and socialize with their coworkers. To read more about our steward’s past water chestnut pull events and what we get out of these events, take a look at these posts from our archives about past pull events: 2017, 2013, and 2012.
With such an emphasis on interacting with the public, a watercraft steward needs to be a knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly presence at their respective boat launch. A steward may need to identify a small fragment of an obscure species, give fishing advice, and share information about Harmful Algal Blooms, all in the same breath, with a smile on. Between quizzes, interacting with the public at outreach events, and hearing presentations on a number of AIS- and water-related topics, our WSP team stay up-to-date, well-versed, and well-informed on a number of topics, ultimately making them the best stewards they can be.