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Around The Grange
Guilford scientist's lab is on the water
 

By Robert C. Pollack, Shoreline Times (9/17/10)

  SEPTEMBER 27, 2010 --

Scientist Greg Bugbee sat at the helm of the 18 feet aluminum boat owned by the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station as it roared down Candlewood Lake, his brownish hair and moustache flaring in a brisk wind.

Scientists are often portrayed as ivory tower people. But if you had been with him as he jockeyed the craft, replete with sophisticated sonar and Geographic Positioning Satellite equipment, up and down the state’s largest lake, that image would have been shattered.

Bugbee, 55, has been in charge of the Station’s invasive aquatic plant program since 2003 – a program made possible by an annual grant of about $240,000 from the U.S. Agriculture Department and numerous other smaller grants.

It is in existence, Bugbee made clear, largely due to the efforts of U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, who was concerned about the impact invasive plants and algae are having on the state’s 3,000 lakes.

Now, on a clear, hot, sunny August day, Bugbee was doing what he and 12 other Station researchers do every summer – mapping the invasive plants and algae which make swimming difficult and can bring outboard motors to a grinding halt. But it did not impede the station boat – one of four it owns – driven by a 40 horsepower motor.

There are as many as 18 species of the plants and as the craft veered toward one of dozens of coves in the 5,500-acre lake, it became clear that Eurasian watermilfoil was chief among them here. “It comprises 99 percent of the problem,” Bugbee said.

The plants were clearly visible in 12 feet of water, looking like clusters of green tentacles as the craft whizzed over them.

Aquatic vegetation surveys are conducted with the aid of a computer and Trimble global positioning system, which clearly maps the width and depth of the plants.

A digital depth finder keeps track of the exact depth and samples of the plants were obtained in shallow water with a rake; a grapple was used for deeper spots.

But as the mapping proceeded and the boat sped through the huge lake – which according to Peter Porrazzo, boating education assistant for the state Department of Environmental Protection juts into two forks., 11½ and 10½ miles long respectively– the blend of water and sky and the surrounding shoreline painted a vivid panorama.

Porrazzo said the lake, which generates electricity (via water power) and is about three miles wide at its widest point, has 62 miles of shoreline.

And as Bugbee steers the craft through and around its many nooks and crannies, lakeside houses of all descriptions, many built into the sides of the hills and mountains that shroud the lake in a canopy of green, dominate the view.

Bugbee said five methods are being tried to control the invasive plants and algae – which turns another big state waterway, Lake Zoar, into a sheet of ugly green in hot weather. One is the use of herbicides, which can be effective for short term control.

Another is by “drawing down” state lakes by about three feet – which has shown limited success in killing the plants in freezing winters. A second sees lowering them by 10 feet, which has proven more successful and shows great promise.

Then there is the mechanical method which is accomplished by pulling out the plant by hand or using machines to harvest them, much like a farmer harvests hay.

There is also a biological control method now being tried, which includes using grass carp to literally eat the weeds or the introduction of insects such as the watermilfoil weevil, which does the same and is now being tried at Candlewood.

Accurate reports on the mapping and control methods that are being tested are fed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the state’s biggest lakes – some 167 of them – and Bugbee, an experienced boater who lives on Clear Lake off Route 80 with Judy, his wife of 27 years, spends a good part of the summer on the water. The couple has two grown children.

Mrs. Bugbee said of her husband: “He is really dedicated to his work and sees science as a way to help everyday people.”

“I met Greg while he was still a tech at the station, I was a secretary. We are clearly best friends and his passion for the station and what they do there is self evident.”

“I love what I do,” said Bugbee, a former member of the Conservation Commission and who was a Little League coach in Guilford for five years while his sons were growing up.

“The invasive plants – which come here from abroad, sometimes by people dumping their aquariums into various lakes and through other means we are not certain of – can cause havoc during the summer.

“And this summer has been especially bad because of the intense heat.”

Now he stared into the computer screen, mapping more of the Eurasian watermilfoil and measuring the depth of the water he was skimming through.

He talked about the many roles the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station plays in everyday lives ranging from finding out how to best control insects that threaten state trees and crops, to making sure Connecticut water and food are safe.

“It’s a great life,” he said. “It gives me a chance to contribute something to the quality of life here and to use what I earned at UConn and in my many years at the station to maximum effect.

When told of the ivory tower image many people have of scientists, he laughed and said: “We bleed the same blood and face the same problems as everyone else.

“I just want to do all I can to help see to it that the Station continues to address important agricultural and scientific issues that affect everyday life.

 
 
 

 
     
     
       
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