Opinion: CT's lakes need winter guardians

Candlewood Lake on a snowy day.

Candlewood Lake on a snowy day.

Contributed photo / Dana Zohar

Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS), including milfoil and zebra mussels, present risks of entry to our waterbodies throughout the year and across a range of transmission vectors. While hitchhiking rides on transient powerboats and trailers is the dominant means of AIS entry into lakes such as Candlewood, this is by no means the only access route and summer is not the only season when transmission occurs. Realize, too, that human-powered craft such as kayaks and canoes are likewise subject to carrying AIS hitchhikers and require adherence to clean-drain-dry protocols similar to their powerboat counterparts.

During the traditional boating and fishing seasons from late spring into fall, boaters and anglers need to be particularly alert when transiting between waters known or thought to be harboring these harmful invasive species. Indeed, now many of the lakes and waterways in Connecticut and abutting states are infected with a range of AIS, and the variety, numbers, aggressiveness, and impact of such plant and animal species are continuing to mount, warranting our increased attention and preemptive action. For preventive guidance on minimizing AIS risks, check out candlewoodlakeauthority.org.

The risk of AIS transmittal spans the seasons and a broad range of entry vectors, underscoring the importance of all water sportsmen being on guard against inadvertently allowing these multiplying species to spread and overtake our waters. During the winter months as ice fishing, waterfowl and duck hunting draw sportsmen to our waterways, AIS remain present below the surface and likewise can attach to gear and be spread unless cautions are observed. Ice fishing equipment and hunting gear need to be inspected and aquatic plants and animals removed before being transported elsewhere. Unwanted bait should be disposed of in the trash and never released from one waterbody into another. If bait is to be retained, the bait container should be refilled with bottled or tap water. Hunting decoys, boots, boats and gear should likewise be inspected and foreign species removed before transport elsewhere.

Sportsmen year-round should be diligent to the dangers of AIS transmission and to the resulting, irreversible damage that can be inflicted on our priceless water resources. Winter is no time to let our defenses down — one negligent action or failure to practice proven protocols can cause untold harm.

Unquestionably, prevention of AIS entry into Candlewood Lake, Squantz and Ball Ponds is essential; attempted remedial action once a waterbody is infested cannot reverse the damage and comes at unacceptable cost. So special caution by water sportsmen and recreational enthusiasts is urged to preserve and protect this magnificent “CT Crown Jewel” in our midst.

Jim McAlister of New Fairfield is a founder of the Candlewood Watershed Initiative.