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Black Lake fight against invasive Eurasian milfoil aided by $100,000 state grant

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EDWARDSVILLE — A decadeslong fight to eradicate an invasive weed species known as Eurasian milfoil at St. Lawrence County’s Black Lake will be aided by a $100,000 grant secured by state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton.

Eurasian milfoil, originally native to parts of Eurasia and North Africa, is now found in waterways across New York, including Black Lake, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The weed’s stems can grow up to 10 feet in length, and its green feathery leaves routinely gum up shorelines, can choke out the habitat of native plants and fish and are blamed by some for ruining overall water quality.

Mrs. Ritchie announced Friday that she has secured $100,000 to help fight the weed’s spread through parts of Black Lake, a popular fishing destination that draws anglers from throughout the Northeast. Black Lake, the largest lake in St. Lawrence County, encompasses some 11,000 acres and stretches 20 miles from the Indian River to the St. Lawrence River.

While Eurasian milfoil can be found across much of Black Lake, the weed grows most heavily in bays, near cottages and in other areas where the water is warm and shallow, according to Randy R. Yager, a state champion bass fisherman who now owns Guided Bass Trips, a fishing guide service with branches at Black Lake and in central Florida.

Mr. Yager said the northern side of the Edwardsville bridge is a notorious trouble spot for the weed, and spending money to thin out the milfoil in that section of Black Lake likely will be welcomed by business owners renting cottages and boats along the shoreline.

“I think it will help in the high-traffic areas, along the cottage areas,” Mr. Yager said. “They can at least thin it out.”

But Mr. Yager, who has been fishing Black Lake each summer since he was a child, said he is skeptical over whether $100,000 will do much to eradicate the species. He said over the last 20 years Eurasian milfoil has gained such a foothold that it now appears to the untrained eye to be simply part of the waterway’s natural flora and fauna. As a result, he said, opinions on how destructive the weed is to the lake’s ecosystem have become as varied as the men and women who fish there.

For example, he said, a bass fisherman might rave over a prize lunker found lurking near a milfoil bed, while a walleye fisherman might disdain the weeds for covering rocks that once served as spawning grounds.

“Everybody’s got an opinion,” Mr. Yager said. “This year the weeds didn’t get that bad. It was cool and the water was higher, and maybe not as much sun. I don’t see it any thicker now than it was 20 years ago.”

Mrs. Ritchie said making sure Eurasian milfoil is kept in check is essential to ensuring that Black Lake continues to serve as a vital north country resource.

“For generations, Black Lake has provided countless opportunities for outdoor recreation to both tourists and local residents,” she said in a news release. “I’m thrilled to be able to provide this funding which will improve the quality of and access to Black Lake — two things that are critical not only to boosting tourism but also for enjoyment by those who call Northern New York home.”

Over the last several years, Sen. Ritchie said, she has worked closely with sportsmen’s groups, the St. Lawrence County Soil and Water District and local officials to reduce the problems plaguing the body of water. Including this year’s funding, she has secured a total of $175,000 to help Black Lake fight back against the milfoil invasion.

Philip J. Trivilino, a member of the Black Lake Fish and Game Association, said the $100,000 grant will be welcome news for those whose businesses are directly affected by the milfoil invasion. However, he said, the Fish and Game Association as a whole has a more moderate view regarding Eurasian milfoil.

“We are a little on the neutral side,” Mr. Trivilino said. “I’m not against weed control, but the weed’s been there a long time, about 20 years at least. This year they weren’t so bad.”

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