Only 10 percent-that's approximately the amount of natural shoreline remaining on Chautauqua Lake at present.What does that mean for the lake's ecosystem and its fish and wildlife communities? What does it mean for us, the people who use the lake, live on the lake, and depend on lake communities for tax revenues to run our public services and health care costs?
To quote Cottage Life's "The Shore Primer" publication, "The waterfront is described as the lake's lungs, doormat, cafeteria and daycare, a living retaining wall for the shore. It's a sophisticated ecosystem that serves as the glue holding a shoreline together, through roots and foliage. It's also a zone where contaminants from land can be filtered, where fish can lay their eggs and where small critters hang out."
We know from research at many lakes, including Chautauqua Lake, that converting wooded natural shorelands from natural wild emergent and overhanging vegetation to a shoreline of lawns and concrete or steel-armored shorelines results in a direct loss of fish and wildlife habitat, reduced diversity and an abundance of the insects, worms, crustaceans and other food that feed panfish, gamefish, amphibians, waterfowl and mammal species.
Natural lake shorelines, top, provide nesting habitat for a much more diverse fish community than shorelines that are developed, bottom.
Photo by Jeffrey Reed, Minnesota DNR, Div. of Fisheries
We know that several species of panfish and gamefish lose nesting habitat. We know that the twigs, sticks, branches and trees which are found lying on the bottom of the lake adjacent to natural shorelines provide essential habitats for reproduction, shelter and feeding of many fish and other animals. (For more information see The Water's Edge: clean-water.uwex.edu/pubs/pdf/watersedge.pdf ). Minnesota research indicates removing a tree from lake waters can have a negative effect on fish populations for more than 100 years. Research by Robert Johnson of the Cornell University Research Ponds shows that insects which eat and help control the abundance of Eurasian water milfoil plants rely on natural shoreline vegetation and shallow water emergent vegetation to lay their eggs and for shelter against predators, during the short non-aquatic part of their life cycles. Wisconsin research has shown that shoreline development reduces populations of woodland nesting birds such as warblers, thrushes and vireos, while common suburban birds such as chickadees, blue jays, grackles and goldfinches increase in numbers.
So what have we wrought on Chautauqua Lake? Our famed muskellunge, which needs natural shorelines with natural shore vegetation and well-oxygenated bottom conditions for its eggs to survive, now has with an adult population that is 75 percent hatchery-reared. What about habitat for mink, beaver, muskrat, turtles, water snakes, frogs, waterfowl and other water-related birds? They have been relegated to islands of habitat at the Chautauqua Lake Outlet, Prendergast Creek wetlands, Tom's Point, Stow Farm, Whitney Bay and Cheney Farm. But those sites and Long Point State Park's forested shoreline make up only about 6 percent of the lake's shoreline.
Because of the essential nature of natural shorelands to the ecological health and water quality of lakes, conserving this lake's most important shorelands has been a primary objective and activity of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy since it began. Much habitat has been saved, but much has been lost. The CWC has facilitated the conservation of 2 miles of lake and outlet shoreline to date. With only about 1.5 miles of the lake's 42-mile shoreline in a natural condition, held in private ownership, available to be conserved and threatened by development, the CWC continues to focus its resources on saving as much of this as possible.
The CWC has conserved over one-half mile of wetland shoreline (80 acres) along the Outlet-Chadakoin River in Ellicott, conserved 700 feet of shoreline wetlands (7 acres) at the mouth of Prendergast Creek and Whitney Point, and Goose Creek Wetland (30 acres) and partnered with the NYSDEC to conserve the Cheney Farm Lakeshore (0.6 mile of natural shoreline) and Stow Farm Lakeshore (1,180 feet of natural shoreline). Currently, as part of its Whitney Bay and Point Conservation Campaign, the CWC is raising funds to conserve the 12-acre Whitney Bay Lakeshore Forest Wetland site, with 400 feet of lakeshore and nine acres of wetland and other sites. You can help in this effort by joining the CWC and/or contributing directly for this project. Conservation can't wait!
The mission of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. Join CWC for its Snow, Mud and Suds Tour of the Loomis Goose Creek Wetland Preserve Saturday, Jan. 25, at 2 p.m. To support these conservation programs, schedule a presentation, register for the tour or for more information, call the CWC at 664-2166. To donate, call the CWC or go to our website at www.chautauquawatershed.org.