Audubon hopes to ease water chestnut worries

While invasive species add to the list of problems for water bodies in Chautauqua County, the water chestnut is creeping its way up to the top.

On Saturday, volunteers will gather at the James-town Audubon Center & Sanctuary for the second summer in a row to help remove the plants from Big Pond, a 45-acre body of water on the premises.

Katie Finch, teacher/-naturalist for the Audubon, said the invasive species does not fit into the natural ecosystems of lakes and ponds in Chautauqua County because it’s not native to the land.

“They’re not a food source for animals, and they don’t have a benefit to the ecosystem,” Finch said. “Water chestnuts take away resources from other plants and animals in the pond, and they can spread incredibly quickly.”

The plant has multiple leaves, and sits on the surface of the water much like a lily pad.

“A water chestnut is defined as a basal rosette the leaves radiate out from the center and it has really gnarly-looking seeds, which can produce a safety hazard too,” Finch said.

The plant’s sharp points with barbs on the tips make it easy for the water chestnut to spread quickly after attaching to bird feathers, shoe soles and tire treads.

“It’s not a pretty plant, and it’s in the rest of the bodies of water in Chautauqua County,” Finch added. “There are people scouting out other bodies of water in the watershed to stop infestation earlier than we are able to here at the Audubon.”

Water chestnuts have yet to be seen as a major issue in Chautauqua Lake, according to David Spann, district field manager for the county Soil and Water Conservation District.

However, mass searches have been held for the invasive species, which can help prevent its establishment in the ecosystem.

In 2012, volunteers conducted several searches of the 42 miles of shoreline along the lake, successfully removing 17 plants.

The Audubon will host a series of “chestnut pulling” days, which will require many volunteers to pull the plants before seeds disperse in August.

With the help of volunteer crews using kayaks and canoes, successful pulls were held during June and July last year.

Pulls will be scheduled for one to two times per week through June and July, including major pulls on weekends.

The first event will be held from 1-4 p.m. on Saturday with an orientation on the best ways to pull water chestnuts, and will end with refreshments.

Volunteers should wear long pants and sturdy, closed-toe shoes, boots or waders. Reservations are required, and can be made by emailing or calling 569-2345. The Audubon Center & Sanctuary is located at 1600 Riverside Road.

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