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Volunteers take on cattails

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CHIPPEWA BAY — Volunteers got their feet wet and hands dirty Wednesday morning, digging up "islands" of beautiful but invasive cattails that have been choking off the wetlands of Chippewa Bay and Blind Bay for decades.

"I can't tell you how exciting this is, to see the work begin before I die," said Del C. Hamilton, a Chippewa Bay resident who, with other area residents, started advocating the removal of the plants some 18 years ago.

Digging under the muck to uproot the plants Wednesday were some 15 people from various groups — including area landowners, faculty and students from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, and Save the River — and an aquatic excavator operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which will be clearing a roughly 3,000-foot stretch of the river covered by cattails over the next two weeks.

"These cattails are actually a hybrid of the native and the exotic, called typha x glauca, and it's sort of like a super-breed that is more invasive than its parent. It forms these monocultures where it outcompetes the other species and it's not an ideal habitat for native fish in the area," said Brandy L. Brown, a senior research support specialist and field coordinator with the SUNY-ESF Thousand Islands Biological Station.

John M. Farrell, director of the biological station who is leading the effort, said removing the hybrid cattails — which have been clogging up the water flow from Chippewa Bay to Blind Bay because of their dense growth — is expected to improve Blind Bay's low dissolved-oxygen levels, increase the biodiversity of the area and restore habitats of native fish, such as northern pike and muskellunge.

Mr. Farrell said these invasive plants were able to take over the area partly because the species can tolerate the unnatural fluctuation of water levels created by the construction of the hydroelectric dams.

Once the channel is cleared of cattails, the biological station will start monitoring the northern pike and muskellunge population in the following years, he said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation and Ducks Unlimited also are partners in the restoration project.

The project is funded by a New York Power Authority Fisheries Enhancement, Mitigation and Research Fund grant, which is administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

NYPA established the grant program as part of its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing procedure for the St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project in Massena.

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