Season of vigilance begins

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Tuesday May 17, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- Although the cool air and drizzle at Lake Onota Monday morning didn't portend it, May marks the beginning of boating season -- better known by zebra mussel fighters as the season of vigilance.

Local advocates and state officials from the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) gathered at the Onota boat ramp to outline what had been and will be done to contain the spread of the zebra mussel, a thumbnail-sized invasive species known for its destructive power.

"These little critters, they don't look like much, but they've brought us all together," said DCR commissioner Edward M. Lambert, holding up a small jar filled with the brown-shelled mollusks.

Lambert described Berkshire County as the "front lines" in fighting further invasion because Lee's Laurel Lake and the connected Housatonic River are the only bodies of water in the state to be contaminated.

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Federal and state grants, including $71,000 from the DCR, are funding boat ramp monitors to work at peak boating times this summer on lakes around the Berkshires and for a portable wash station at Laurel Lake.

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Because there is no known way to fight the scourge -- the mollusks can clog water supplies and smother the natural aquatic habitat -- the only way to contain zebra mussels is public education, officials said.

The most basic fact is that anyone who enjoys the lake can unintentionally spread invasive species --not only zebra mussels but milfoil, fanwort or "anything weird," as the DCR parlance goes, according to water supply protection director Jonathan Yeo.

"There are simple ways to clean off your boat," Yeo said.

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Hot-water wash stations at Laurel Lake and Stockbridge Bowl will be available for boaters to clean off all possible offending parts -- from hulls to life vests and bilge water. There is also a boat-washing port at V's Car Wash on West Housatonic Street.

Jim Straub of DCR's lakes and ponds program said he felt it was important to avoid pointing the finger at any one group of people for the proliferation of invasive species -- that it is, instead, a collective problem.

"It's all of us," Straub said. "Anything with two legs and pays taxes is to blame for this."

To reach Amanda Korman:,
or (413) 496-6243


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