By: Sam Beck-Andersen, AIS Project Manager, Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Aquatic invasive species (AIS) pose significant threats to waterbodies in the Finger Lakes Region. To mitigate these, the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges (FLI) and the Finger Lakes Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) host several programs that focus on preventing the introduction and spread of AIS. One example is the FLI Watercraft Steward Program (WSP) where trained seasonal employees are positioned at lake access sites to conduct voluntary inspections and to educate recreationists regarding the harm and impact of AIS. Watercraft Stewards model steps to take to avoid spreading AIS such as as hydrilla, starry stonewort, and round goby. Stewards communicate the importance of cleaning, draining, and drying their watercraft and to know, observe, and report AIS to key contacts in the region.
Watercraft steward placement is strategic and considers factors such as: which launches have the highest traffic on a lake; are there high priority AIS present; among others. Because of these, Cayuga County contains launches where watercraft steward coverage is crucial. Long Point State Park, for example, is just a few miles south of the managed Hydrilla infestation near Wells College, and north of the more recently discovered and managed Hydrilla infestations in King Ferry and Lansing. Additionally, Frontenac Park is a short drive north from Long Point State Park, and Emerson Park provides one of only two access sites on Owasco Lake. These factors contribute to giving all three Cayuga County launches high-priority for coverage. The Finger Lakes Institute has received funding from the US Environmental Protection Agency to help target the launches in close proximity to Hydrilla infestations. And with good reason! In 2019, the FLI WSP inspected over 7,000 watercraft and interacted with almost 15,000 people across the three launches (Table 1). For total inspections, Frontenac Park and Emerson Park and Long Point State Park rank 3rd, 4th, and 6th respectively across all FLI-covered sites.
|Boat Launch||Waterbody||Watercraft Inspected||People Reached||FLI Steward Hours|
|Long Point State Park||Cayuga Lake||1,722||4,042||873.75|
|Frontenac Park||Cayuga Lake||2,394||5,344||843.25|
|Emerson Park||Owasco Lake||2,902||6,532||810.25|
Table 1 provides an overview of FLI WSP coverage in Cayuga County where coverage occurred on a near daily basis. However, between early season employee turnover, and the more predictable late-season turnover with those leaving for college, unavoidable gaps in daily coverage did occur.
Since 2011, the FLI WSP data analyses has led to a deeper understanding of traffic and user information across multiple launches and lakes. Cayuga Lake, in comparison with the other Finger Lakes, sees a high proportion of anglers, versus recreation or commercial users, resulting in our managers focusing coverage at fishing derbies and tournaments occurring at the lake, and targeting anglers when developing messaging for stewards covering Cayuga Lake sites. Within Cayuga County, Emerson Park is consistently one of the busiest launches and coverage occurred almost daily.
The busiest days at Cayuga County access sites occurred on June 8th with over 150 boater interactions combined among the three launches, June 23rd with 200 interactions, and July 4th with around 150 interactions. The inspection dropoff that occurs on August 19th is due to lack of coverage by seasonal workers who have returned to colleges around the country. This decrease in workforce creates the increased need to prioritize the busiest times of the week per launch to schedule the remaining stewards.
Because of the high proportion of angler usage (Figure 1) the FLI watercraft stewards are able to customize and focus our messaging on angling. The FLI encourages stewards to have their fishing poles on hand and talk to boaters about their daily catch while providing promotional fishing bobbers, or angling-specific outreach materials. These are all strategies shown to reach anglers more effectively.
One way we can measure public perception of the WSP, is by looking at the number of people who commit to voluntary inspection of their watercraft. Across the Finger Lakes, acceptance rates are high, with few exceptions. The same is true in Cayuga County where the acceptance rate of inspections is over 90%.
The FLI WSP works continuously with lake association, the Finger Lakes Regional Watershed Alliance, and others to strategize and increase effectives of the WSP. These collaborations help determine priorities related to AIS, and strengthen the role of inspections in a boating experience. The FLI WSP will continue its presence in Cayuga County in future years. As trends in boating change and new AIS threaten Cayuga County and the Finger Lakes Region, we will adapt and improve to provide the most effective and efficient steward coverage possible.