You may have noticed something new in the water at Rockland Lake State Park. These are floating treatment wetlands! Read our post below to find out more about these water treatment platforms.
Why are they here?
In recent years, harmful algal blooms have become common in Rockland Lake. These algae blooms are largely caused by an unhealthy increase in nutrients such as phosphorous in the lake. The nutrients come from many sources nearby, including excess lawn/garden fertilizers that wash into storm ditches after a rainfall, then drain into Rockland Lake. One culvert (inlet) with consistently high nutrient levels is located near Parking Field 5 and it was chosen as the location for a new floating treatment wetland. The goal of adding a floating wetland to the lake is to reduce the amount of nutrients – and by extension, harmful algal blooms – in the lake.
What are they?
Floating treatment wetlands (a.k.a. floating wetlands/islands) help to bring the benefits of natural wetlands to polluted water. They filter water to improve water quality and they provide important habitat for a variety of plants and animals. Floating wetlands can come in different shapes and sizes, but in general, wetland plants are supported atop a buoyant platform, with roots exposed in the lake water below.
What do they do?
Floating treatment wetlands help to create the right balance of submerged and non-submerged wetland habitat based on each individual site’s needs. As the plants grow, they use-up excess nutrients in the water. In addition, communities of beneficial bacteria form a film around the roots, further helping to filter nutrients and pollutants. Higher/lower elevations create areas with varying oxygen levels, promoting these different biological filtering methods. The floating platform blocks sunlight, preventing the growth of algae. Lastly, fish and wildlife enjoy the new addition to their habitat.
Floating wetland materials arrive by truck in late July 2017, photo by State Parks
More floating wetland materials. Plants from a local nursery include: tussock sedge (Carex stricta), swamp rosemallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), Blueflag iris (Iris versicolor), and soft rush (Juncus effuses), photo by State Parks
Floating wetland materials. These special polyester supports will help hold the plants in-place for years to come., photo by State Parks
Constructing the floating wetland! Some of the plants are submerged, while others are elevated on an island., photo by State Parks
One of several floating wetland units., photo by State Parks
Constructing the floating wetland! Units are assembled near the shore, to be later brought to the target location., photo by State Parks.
Another close-up, with thin netting around the edge to protect the young plants from birds., photo by State Parks.
Close-up of a floating wetland unit. Brick weights help keep the plants evenly balanced, with roots below water, photo by State Parks.
Floating wetland at Parking Field 5 culvert, September 2017, photo by State Parks.
Finished floating wetland, installed at Parking Field 5 culvert. The green “spilled paint” look on the water is a harmful algal bloom. Photo from early August 2017, photo by State Parks.
This is the first time that floating treatment wetlands have been used in New York State Parks. Environmental staff will determine the effectiveness of this project by monitoring water quality changes over time (e.g. harmful nutrient levels and algal blooms by the inlet as well as lake-wide). If successful, then floating wetlands may be used to help treat stormwater pollution and improve other aquatic habitats in New York.
Post by April Brun, Gabriella Cebada Mora, and Erin Lennon.
Rockland photos by Gabriella Cebada Mora, Aissa Feldmann, Matt Brincka, and Erin Lennon.
Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is an invasive plant from Europe and Asia that can overcrowd native wetland plants. It is easily recognized by its tall and showy purple spike of flowers in the summer, lance-shaped leaves and square stems. As an invasive species, it lacks its natural predators and can spread quickly, producing as many as 2.7 million seeds a year.
Wetlands are rich habitats that support a diversity of plant, insect and animal species, such as marsh marigold (Caltha palustris,) twelve-spotted skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella,) painted turtle (Chrysemys picta,) green heron (Butorides virescens.) The introduction and spread of purple loosestrife has resulted in the loss of native plant and animals that depend on wetland habitats. In addition, purple loosestrife limits the growth of rare plants and can clog drainage ways and ditches, negatively affecting adjacent land and crops.
Since purple loosestrife grows in wetlands, methods to control this plant and promote native biodiversity aren’t always easy. Small young infestations can be removed using hand tools, but care must be taken to dig out all of the root portions to avoid regrowth. This may not be feasible for larger, more established infestations. The flower heads cut be cut, bagged and disposed of to prevent seed production and the spread of this plant. Chemical herbicides can be utilized by licensed applicators that follow strict protocols to avoid contaminating water bodies and non-target native species. However, there is an easier way to fight this invasive: biological control or biocontrol. Biocontrol is the control of an invasive species by introducing a natural predator of that species following very specific federal and state regulations and testing to make sure there will be no other negative impacts on the ecosystem. In this case, the biocontrol is the small purple loosestrife beetle, a beetle of the genus Galerucella. These are native to Europe and Asia and feed on purple loosestrife in its native range, keeping the plant in check.
Scientists must thoroughly test any biocontrol species to make sure they only affect the target invasive species and don’t negatively impact native species. In the U.S., studies have shown the beetles to be very host-specific, feeding and reproducing predominately on purple loosestrife. The beetles do not completely eradicate purple loosestrife, but they suppress the plants’ growth and ability to reproduce by feeding on its stems, buds and leaves. Thus, they reduce the plants’ dominance and impact within the ecosystem. Since 1992, biologists working under state and federal permits have released millions of these beetles at numerous sites across the northeast, including at several New York State Parks, such as Silver Lake State Park in western NY. In NY, the Department of Environmental Conservation continues to monitor the numbers and effectiveness of the beetles and to ensure there are no unforeseen problems.
The beetles are released in the summer when loosestrife is actively growing. They overwinter in the soil near the host plants and emerge in the spring to reproduce, with females laying eggs from May to June. When they hatch, the larvae feed on the loosestrife’s young growth and work their way down the plant where they eventually enter the soil to pupate. They emerge as adults in the summer and the cycle continues. Though they are not strong fliers, occasionally the beetles have been found 10-12 miles away from the initial release site.
Release sites for the beetles are determined by the dominance of purple loosestrife. These sites usually have a high percentage of loosestrife plants where hand removal of them is difficult. Biologists must submit an application to the Department of Environmental Conservation to justify the need for the beetles and receive a permit. The number of beetles depends on the size of the purple loosestrife infestation. Silver Lake State Park is one location where the beetles have been used as a biocontrol for this invasive plant. Silver Lake has an approximate 40 acre wetland with a purple loosestrife population of about 15%. In 2010, 800 Galerucella beetles were released in an effort to control the loosestrife. One meter by one meter plots were established in order to monitor the survivorship of the beetles and the defoliation, or the loss of leaves, stems and flowers, of the plants where the beetles have fed on them. Each summer after the beetles have emerged, the plots are assessed to determine the effectiveness of the beetles and if any more should be released. This is done by looking at the number of loosestrife plants that are defoliated (eaten, not flowering) vs. the number that are flowering, as well as the number of beetles that are seen. More beetles have been released at Silver Lake State Park since the initial 800 in 2010; the purple loosestrife plants have remained contained to that area and their growth has been restricted. In 2016, State Parks biologists expanded the program to Letchworth State Park.
Galerucella beetles fed on these loosestrife leaves at Silver Lake State Park, photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks
Several Galerucella beetles on a loosestrife plant at Silver Lake State Park, photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks
The extent of purple loosestrife has declined dramatically in areas with this biocontrol. It is unlikely that the beetles will eliminate purple loosestrife populations entirely. The hope is that as more Galerucella beetles are released across the state, the invasive loosestrife will be diminished, making room once again for the native flora and fauna at these sites.
Post by Amy McGinnis, State Parks
Featured image, Galerucella calmariensis beetle on a purple loosestrife, by Amy McGinnis, State Parks
July 9th -15th, 2017 marks the fourth annual New York Invasive Species Awareness Week! Each year, New York designates one week to highlight the environmental impacts of invasive species and what we can do to help. This year’s theme, “Invasive Species Reality Check: Where We Are & Where We Need to Go,” focuses on past successes and goals for the future. Invasive species affect all of us, and we could use your help to detect and prevent the further spread of invasive species in New York.
What are invasives? Invasive species are plants, animals (don’t forget about insects!), or other organisms that are accidentally or intentionally introduced from a different region or country (meaning they are non-native), and that cause harm to the environment and the economy. In general, invasive species tend to be adaptable to a variety of environmental conditions. They grow and spread quickly, and because they are non-native, they do not have natural controls like predators or diseases that would normally reduce their numbers. Therefore, invasives are able to displace native plant and animal species and the organisms that depend on those native species.
Keep in mind that not all non-native species become invasive – it is the species that are very successful and have the potential to negatively impact large areas that become a problem. In New York, several especially problematic invasives include: giant hogweed, a huge plant that can cause severe burns and blisters on skin; water chestnut, an aquatic plant that forms dense, impenetrable mats on the water’s surface; and the emerald ash borer, a beetle that has already killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America.
Giant hogweed can grow more than 14 feet tall. If you see it, do not touch it! Photo by DEC
Water chestnut is frequently pulled out by hand from kayaks and canoes, seen here at Rockland Lake State Park. Photo by State Parks
Have you ever seen a purple triangular prism hanging in the trees? It’s actually a trap for the emerald ash borer. Photo by State Parks
One high priority invasive species that we could use your help detecting is called oak wilt, a fungal disease that affects oak trees. It can kill trees in the red oak group (oaks with pointed leaf tips) in as little as 2-6 weeks! Trees in the white oak group (oaks with rounded leaf tips) are less susceptible to the disease, but can still be killed in a matter of years. This July and August, look for oak leaves that are turning brown, starting at the outer edge and progressing into the middle of the leaf. The leaves may fall off of the tree in the spring and summer, often when parts of the leaf are still green. The oak tree’s branches may begin to die off from the top of the tree downward. If you see any of these symptoms, it is crucial that you contact DEC Forest Health via email at email@example.com or call 1-866-640-0652. Read more from the Department of Environmental Conservation about this destructive invasive. Last year, there were only 15 cases of oak wilt reported in New York. Your eyes on the ground could assist in the rapid identification of any new cases and help prevent the spread of this disease.
Oak tree infected with oak wilt. Photo by NYS DEC
The discolored leaf from a tree in the red oak group. Photo by NYS DEC
If you are ready to take action and learn more about invasive species, you’re in luck! This week there will be interpretive hikes and paddling events, presentations, webinars, invasive species removal projects, and more, all across New York State. Check out the Invasive Species Awareness Week (ISAW) calendar or see if your local State Park or nature center is hosting an event. Last year, New York State hosted over 120 ISAW events and had more than 2,000 participants. So whether you just learned about invasive species from reading this blog post or you’re already able to spot the difference between the highly invasive aquatic Hydrilla plant and the common native look-alike Elodea canadensis (learn more about that here!), we need your help. Learn, act, tell your friends. Public awareness and action plays an essential role in halting the spread of invasive species and preventing new introductions.
There was fun for all at an ISAW event last year at Allegany State Park, where kids made emerald ash borer masks. Photo by State Parks
Cleaning your boots after a hike helps to stop the spread of invasives. Photo by Credit: Gary Peeples/USFWS
Here are five easy tips that can make a big difference:
Use local firewood – buy it or gather it where you will be burning it so you don’t transport forest pests.
Plant only non-invasive plants in your garden, or even better, plant native plants. You can use the New York Flora Atlas to check which plants are native to New York.
Clean your boots or your bike tires at the trailhead after hitting the trail – seeds of invasive plants can get stuck on your boots, clothes, or tires. You don’t want invasives in your yard or your other favorite hiking spots.
Get involved – volunteer to help protect your local natural areas, join your local PRISM (Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management) to stay informed, or become a citizen scientist by using iMapInvasives to report infestations of invasive species right from your smartphone.
New York Invasive Species Awareness Week is coordinated by The New York State Invasive Species Council (ISC), Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC) and Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISMS) in partnership with numerous other agencies, organizations, and groups.
Post by Kelsey Ruffino, Student Conservation Association & State Park
Across New York, State Parks staff is working hard to help support the diverse populations of pollinators from bees to butterflies, beetles, wasps, and more. Here’s a sample of the pollinator protection projects going on this year in State Parks.
Working from their photographs from both Rockefeller State Park Preserve and Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, photographers Paula Sharp and Ross Eatman created the website “Guide to Wild Bees of New York.” This stunning website features extensive photographic documentation, scientific classification, identification guides, and behavior and habitat information on over 80 species of bees in the Hudson Valley. In addition, Sharp and Eatman curated the Wild Bees exhibit which is on display on the concourse at the Empire State Plaza in Albany, NY now until June 25, the end of Pollinator Week 2017. One visitor noted that the photos “…helped me to see bees in a new light.”
Staff is developing educational materials about the native pollinators who live in the recently restored sedge meadow. This wet meadow (with grass-like sedges) is habitat for several uncommon butterflies, including northern pearly eye (Enodia anthedon), Appalachian brown (Satyrodes appalachia), mulberry wing (Poanes massasoit) and black dash (Euphyes vestris). However, the size of the habitat at the John Jay State Historic site has declined because woody plants and non-native invasives such as multiflora rose and Oriental bittersweet started growing in the meadow. Woody shrubs have been removed to set back succession and restore the sedge meadow habitat. The outreach materials will explain the restoration and highlight some of the flora and pollinators that visitors may see at the park.
Long Island State Parks
Bring Back the Pollinators Project
State Parks biologists and environmental educators are establishing and enhancing native plantings and habitat in seven state parks throughout Long Island. Look for these pollinator projects in Orient Beach State Park, Heckscher State Park, Bethpage State Park, Robert Moses State Park, Caleb Smith State Park, Connetquot State Park Preserve, and Belmont Lake State Park. The Bring Back the Pollinators project is focused on gardens in order to give visitors a close-up view and to learn about the native plants and pollinators. This work goes hand-in-hand with efforts by NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) scientists to identify and protect the natural areas in parks which are key to supporting native fauna, including pollinators. Parks staff have also installed tall fencing around several gardens at Robert Moses State Park, Caleb Smith State Park, Heckscher State Park, and Orient Beach State Park to keep the deer from eating the showcase of flora and pollinator fauna.
At Ganondagan State Historic Site, three projects will enhance habitat for native pollinators and other fauna. Staff has worked with NYNHP to identify plant species that are native to the area and that reflect similar natural communities known in the vicinity. Just as important is that the projects restore the cultural landscape of the Seneca town that was on the site over 330 years ago.
The Oak Opening Habitat project is restoring a 60-acre old field to native grasslands to provide habitat for grassland birds, mammals, and pollinators as well as opportunities for historical interpretation. This spring, the grass seeds were sown and invasive species control efforts will continue through 2018. The restoration is based on the NYNHP rare Oak Opening community, which is known from a few places in nearby Monroe County.
The Green Plants Trail is the second project. It includes removing invasive species and replanting native plants to improve pollinator habitat and to feature a variety of plants that had and have cultural value to the Seneca people.
The third project at Ganondagan, Pollinator Grassland, transformed a weedy 13-acre grassland into a tallgrass prairie by planting native grasses (such as big bluestem and Indian grass) and wildflowers (including common milkweed). These plants benefit pollinators and other native fauna.
State Parks Partnership Educational Banners and Posters on Native Pollinators and Habitats in State Parks
NYNHP staff is developing high quality banners and signage to promote the importance of native plants and habitats in State Parks and their role in supporting native pollinators. These materials will feature the partnership between NY Natural Heritage Program and State Parks and will be available for use at events, education centers, and other venues. In 2016, NYNHP displayed some draft posters to accompany activities at the New York State Fair, which stimulated many questions and compliments. Messaging, photo selection and design of banners and signage is under way using other funding sources and the professional fabrication of signage will be completed in 2017.
This photo of a clearwing moth was posted at the 2016 NY State Fair to accompany activities on pollinators. Photo credit: Matt Schlesinger, NYNHP.
Pollinators use a variety of plants and habitats from field to forest. Photo credit: Greg Edinger, NYNHP.
The banners will describe how NY Natural Heritage Program is partnering with State Parks to protect habitat and learn more about what pollinators are present in NY – like this rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis). Photo credit: LW Macior.
The Council of Park Friends and a local garden club teamed up to plant a native pollinator garden along the side of the nature center at Clark Reservation. The project includes interpretive signs about the native plants, invasive species control, and how State Parks is helping to support native pollinators.
Staff and volunteers at this park are creating a Sensory Awareness Trail. Along the trail, staff added NY native plants to attract native pollinators and to interpret the role these plants and pollinators play in our environment. The accessible trail includes tactile elements such as sculptures of insects/animals that rely on our native plant species.
Local school students planted native plants at Saratoga Spa State Park to help provide food for both the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly (Plebejus melissa samuelis) and the state threatened frosted elfin butterfly (Callophrys irus). And at the Creekside Classroom, a new environmental learning center at Saratoga Spa State Park, a diverse mix of native plantings for landscaping and raingardens were installed.
Lupines in flower, Saratoga Spa State Park Spring 2017, photo by Casey Holzworth
Waldorf School students spreading wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) seed in a cleared field in 2016 , photo by John Rozell, State Parks
The underside of the Karner blue seen perched on the host plant, wild lupine (Lupinus perennis). Photo by Paul Labus, The Nature Conservancy, Indiana.
Male Karner blue butterfly. Photo by Paul Labus, The Nature Conservancy, Indiana.
Creekside Classroom entrance garden, photo by Casey Holzworth, State Parks
Creekside Classroom raingarden will attract native pollinators and serve as a teaching tool for State Parks staff, photo by Casey Holzworth, State Parks.
This summer, staff will convert four small lawns to wildflower meadows at Grafton Lakes State Park. The restoration will include planting native plants to attract native pollinators. Look for the work near the main entrance and near the new visitor’s center.
State Parks’ staff worked with Renssalaer County Soil and Water Conservation District, National Resources Conservation Service, and Cornell Cooperative Extension to convert two cornfields at Bennington Battlefield to grazing pasture and a wildflower meadow. Work on this 26-acre project included tilling and seeding the area with non-invasive grasses and planting native pollinator meadows along the edges of the field and nearby wetlands. The pollinator meadows will be fenced off to keep grazing livestock out of those areas.
A group of tiny bacteria has been making a splash in New York State waters, and not in a good way. Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs, also known as cyanobacteria, Blue-green algae, BGA) are actually a type of bacteria rather than algae. If the right conditions are met, the bacteria can form what are called “blooms”, or massive amounts of floating material on the surface of a lake or pond. These blooms can look like brightly colored paint, oil, or scum, on the surface and at the shoreline of lakes and ponds. The blooms can move around a lake with wind action, or currents, and can appear, and even disappear, in a matter of hours. Harmful algal blooms have been spotted at an increasing rate around the US in the last several years, including within some New York State Parks’ waterbodies.
The worst part about these colorful phenomena are that some species of HABs are known to produce toxins that are harmful to both humans and animals. Humans can be affected through swallowing water while swimming, touching blooms, and wading in blooms. If the HABs are producing toxins, some swimmers can experience a range of symptoms, from simple rashes, to stomach issues, and even to muscular paralysis. New York State Park bathing beaches are closed when a HAB is present. NYS Parks follows NYS Department of Health criteria when reopening the beach, which requires that the HAB bloom be visibly absent from the swim area for 24 hours.
Dogs are also particularly susceptible to these toxins and should not be allowed, under any circumstance, to drink or swim in a bloom. Dog owners are encouraged to educate themselves on identifying HABs, to protect their fur-kids from harm. Dogs exposed to HAB toxins can experience severe illness and in some cases, fatal effects.
NYS Parks posts HAB alert signs near waterbodies where HABs have been seen.
One of the best ways to recognize HABs on a lake surface is to be aware of changes to the surface of the lake. Take a look at the pictures below of HAB blooms that have been seen in NYS Parks.
Be on the lookout for HABS in stagnant or still, nutrient-rich waters, when the temperatures start to rise. HABs are influenced by time of year, climate and nutrient loads. The best way to prevent HAB growth is through watershed management. Reduce your own runoff by following NYS fertilizer guides, and help to report any evidence of HABs to the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation HAB hotline.
There are some HAB look-a-likes out there. Duckweed, other algae such as Cladophora (a form of clumpy, stringy algae), and pollen can easily be mistaken for HABs, especially in the spring.