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The scientific value of private lands in the Park

June 18, 2012
By MIKE LYNCH - Outdoors Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Quite often the scientific work that takes place on the backcountry ponds and thick spruce forests of private lands of the Adirondacks goes unnoticed by the public.

In mid-May I was invited to the Adirondack Landowners Association meeting at Minnowbrook in Blue Mountain Lake to hear about some of the work happening on these lands.

The meeting of a few dozen people included various landowners and several guests including state Sen. Betty Little, state Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5 Director Robert Stegemann, state Adirondack Park Agency Chairwoman Lani Ulrich and Adirondack Museum Executive Director David Kahn, among others.

During the Saturday morning portion of the meeting, which I attended, there were presentations on scientific projects taking place on private lands throughout the Park, including at the Adirondack League Club, Miller Park Association and Shingle Shanty Preserve.

Of the presentations I heard, one by Cliff Kraft, an association professor of natural resources at Cornell University, stuck out, in part because I had recently read his study about climate change and brook trout at the privately owned Rock Lake in the southwestern Adirondacks.

The study, performed between 1998 and 2010, found that when the water temperature rose an average of one degree celsius (or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) in the summer, between June 15 and Aug. 15, brook trout spawning was delayed by about one week. The fish also made fewer spawning beds.

In Blue Mountain Lake, Kraft talked generally about some of the work that has taken place at the Adirondack League Club property and about Adirondack fish species.

I was familiar with some of the backcountry info he presented and enjoyed hearing about it, but what stuck out in my mind was the value he found in private lands in this Park that is better known for vast tracts of state-owned Forest Preserve.

"When we want to find big brook trout, when we want to understand the things that cause them to grow, that cause them to survive, that cause them to reproduce ... the best laboratories that we have to do our work are on the private lands," he said.

Many private ponds and other waters that are often good "laboratories" because they are more controlled environments that those on public lands. They are less prone to invasive species, overfishing and other types of degradation that can occur on public lakes. One of the major problems for trout is when species such as pike and bass are introduced to the waters where they live. Pike and bass will out-compete native trout for food and can prey on them, as well.

Obviously, these problems can take place on private lands, too, but private property owners can often have better control over them than land managers on public lands.

Trout population changes

Kraft also noted that "back in the 1800s, brook trout were so common in waters of New York state that it was more notable when brook trout weren't found in a given body of water than when they were."

In a survey conducted in the 1980s, trout were found in 318 lakes on public lands and 206 on private lands.

There hasn't been a survey done since, Kraft said, but there have been changes.

"It's safe to say that the brook trout population of the public lakes are probably fewer now because of some of the changes ... but the private lakes are still sound," he said. "It's in these private lands that we can find brook trout that aren't subject to the kinds of exploitation, introduction of invasive species, some types of habitat changes (and) other activities that have interfered with the success of these fish."

Kraft also emphasized that the work on private lands is beneficial to management of public lands.

"The kind of work that we do here has implications way beyond the private properties," Kraft said. "We're constantly having to explain that relationship to people that we don't just work on private properties because we're trying to improve fisheries on those properties, it provides an opportunity to learn about management activities and efforts that we can take to improve fisheries in waters throughout North America and throughout the world."



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