"The groundhog says six more weeks of winter?" My daughter broke into huge tears. "Only six more weeks? I want MORE! Winter should last forever." While many may disagree with her, she has a good point. Winter is an incredibly important season for our area.
The cold is a killer this year, perhaps cold enough to kill off some plants and animals that are looming threats to the watershed. The hemlock wooly adelgid is a white insect that kills hemlock trees and has been slowly approaching the area. With luck, the cold snap may hold it back from the region for a little bit longer to preserve the shady, damp hemlock groves that love the tributaries around the lake. There is some hope that the cold will kill water chestnut seeds. This invasive plant is being fought locally to keep it out of the lake and other waterways.
The cold is helpful in killing invasives, but the snow is more important. Those piles and piles of frigid white fluff will melt off in the coming spring and do a few important jobs. Some of the melted snow will sink into the ground and recharge the groundwater where many rural homes and towns sink their wells to get drinking water.
While many dread the snow and cold of winter, it’s important for the region to get it.
Photo by Jeff Tome
Some melted snow will sit collect in pools, puddles and ponds called vernal pools. These pools of snow melt water have no fish, making them perfect breeding grounds for local salamanders and frogs. Some, like the Spotted Salamander, may walk a mile to get to a breeding pool.
Cold water, like cold air, sinks. As the cold water melts out of the hills and down to the lake, it sinks. This causes the water in the lake to mix. The water at the bottom of the lake rises while the new water sinks. This mixes up the nutrients and oxygen in the water. The first algae, usually brown, bloom near the surface and nutrients from the hills sink to the bottom to help plants grow. The new plants in the shallow water create hiding places and enrich the oxygen in the water. This allows the fish to move into shallower water.
Without the cold and the snow, our forests could lose some of their salamanders and frogs. The Hemlock forests could disappear as they have farther south. The wells could go dry for people who live on the hills. The lake could fail to mix properly. There are even trees that won't get leaves if they don't freeze enough.
Snow and cold are vital to the area, in more ways than just that. Snowmobiling brings in an estimated $19 million to the county each year. More money is brought in through ice fishing, skiing and other forms of outdoor recreation. Cold and snow are good business, and not everyone is lucky enough to get it.
Let's hear it for more snow and cold! Six more weeks of winter! Six more weeks! Six more weeks! It's good for the watershed and good for the local economy. What more can you ask for? Don't you wish it could last forever too?
Jeff Tome is a senior naturalist for programs and exhibits at the Jamestown Audubon Society and a longtime CWC volunteer and former board director. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local, private nonprofit organization with a mission to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty, and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. To sign up for e-news updates, find more information on watershed care or to support CWC's conservation activities, visit us at chautauquawatershed.org or facebook.com/chautauquawatershed or call 664-2166.