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The fight against water chestnut: It takes a village
Northeast Region, October 11, 2017
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Refuge interns, volunteers, and staff all help with water chestnut removal efforts.
Refuge interns, volunteers, and staff all help with water chestnut removal efforts. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Water chestnut located in a body of water
Water chestnut located in a body of water - Photo Credit: USFWS

As the summer days pass swiftly, so does the opportunity to combat the highly invasive and aquatic invader, the water chestnut. The Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge staff and partners have been out in full force to identify and work on high priority areas for water chestnut removal. Water chestnut has the potential to fully cover still and slow-moving waters up to 16 feet in depth, not only degrading wildlife habitat but also making paddling and boating nearly impossible. Water chestnut is an annual plant that mainly spreads from seeds, however it is feasible to control if the plant is removed before setting viable seeds.

 

Since its discovery in the Connecticut River Watershed in 1998, the Conte Refuge has led an effort to stop the plant from spreading further within the watershed. Many organizations have stepped up to foster removal activities in individual lakes, ponds and coves throughout the watershed. Thanks to hundreds of citizen volunteer hours from these partners, we are successfully controlling water chestnut from dropping additional seeds into these sites as we exhaust the existing (12-year) seedbank. It is truly an “It Takes A Village” effort to sustain this important conservation program.

Last winter, the Conte Refuge arranged a meeting of all the organizations to learn from one another and begin planning a more effective and sustainable strategy. Many partners were employing an “early and often” technique, removing plants as they first surface and continuing throughout the summer season for more complete control.

The infestation at Log Pond Cove in Holyoke, the oldest and most entrenched infestation within the watershed, has been difficult to bring under control despite many years of herbicide treatment. Partners fostering this site decided to pilot a hand-pulling effort augmented by a small aquatic weed harvester, the Weedoo. The Weedoo was purchased by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and is operated at the cove by Conte Refuge staff. Resembling an aquatic version of a front-end loader, it lifts the water chestnut out of the water onto support boats. The Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC) is coordinating efforts at this site with financial assistance from Holyoke Gas and Electric and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and with support from the Holyoke Conservation Commission. A rotating team of volunteer interns from local colleges offload these Weedoo-scooped plants and wheel it to a nearby disposal site above the immediate floodplain. The interns and other volunteers also include hand-pulling from the extensive shallow areas of the cove. The Conte Refuge also provided its Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) for three days of “hand pulling” and co-sponsored another summer volunteer event. To date there has been much progress, but much still remains to be done at this 20-acre cove!

Many thanks go out to every volunteer and organization that has contributed their time to the success of this program. Budget constraints and reduced refuge capacity will require continued volunteer efforts to sustain the progress we’ve made through the years. We are always looking for groups and individuals to identify sites, foster a site, or join us on one of our many outings. The Conte Refuge is also willing to provide removal training and canoe safety training for those without experience.

For more information on the water chestnut program and how to become involved, contact invasive species coordinator Cynthia Boettner at Cynthia_boettner @fws.gov or 413-325-5564.


Contact Info: Jennifer Lapis, 413-253-8303, Jennifer_Lapis@fws.gov
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