Despite their ecological significance, the wetlands of the St. Lawrence watershed have received relatively little formal study. The earliest reference to the watershed that was relevant to our literature survey appeared in Picturesque America; or, The Land We Live In, The Adirondack Region, by William Cullen Bryant (1872-74). Bryant opines,
The chief river of Adirondack, however--its greatest highway and artery-is the Racket [sic], which rises in Racket Lake in the western part of Hamilton County, and, after a devious course of about one hundred and twenty miles, flows into the St. Lawrence. It is the most beautiful river of the wilderness. Its shores are generally low and extend back some distance in fertile meadow upon which grow the soft maple, the aspen, alder, linden, and other deciduous trees, inter-spersed with the hemlock and pine. These fringe its borders and standing in clumps upon the meadows in the midst of rank grass give them the appearance of beautiful deer-parks; and it is there, indeed that the deer chiefly pasture.
Another early reference to the wetlands of the region is found in William Bray's, The Development of the Vegetation of New York State (1930). In the section of the publication on bogs, Bray comments on the "Grasses [sic] River Bog," which he describes as "a low, flat sandplain of several thousands of acres lying adjacent to Grasse River some twelve miles east of Cranberry Lake Village." By process of elimination, this is likely what we refer to as Massawepie Mire in this report. Bray describes the Bog as containing distinct regions of "marsh meadow" and "marshshrub (willows and alder)," as well as "pure Sphagnum sedge meadow," and "the early transition stage to balsam swamp forest." He describes the bog as being at about the average yearly level of the water table and includes historical pictures of the peatland. This brief reference serves primarily to illustrate the successional behavior of bogs. He also describes Bean Pond, a bog near Wanakena.
The wetlands of the St. Lawrence watershed received further attention in a 1931 report by the New York State Conservation Department, A biological survey of the St. Lawrence watershed, and the subsequent 1934 report, A biological survey of the Raquette watershed. The reports were two in a series of watershed surveys conducted around the State by the Conservation Department in the late 1920's and early 30's. The reports' primary functions were to discuss fish species' distribution in the lakes of the region, habitat requirements and stocking recommendation. The reports include maps of "weed beds" in some lakes, including Massawepie Lake, Osgood Pond, and Meacham Lake, and discussion of emergent aquatic vegetation in lakes, streams, rivers and riparian areas. In reference to the watershed's lakes, the 1931 report says,
The lakes, occurring mostly in the Adirondack mountains, present less variety of habitats, but even here some are surrounded for the most part by sandy or stony shores while others have muddy or boggy shores. Most of the lakes are at least partly fed by streams which pass through bogs and marshes. The water in these is usually brown in color and has a low transparency.
The report goes on to provide a classification breakdown for eleven types of lakes and ponds, three of which are related to peatland systems.
The Raquette watershed survey (1933) includes the results of an effort to survey aquatic vegetation "of the larger 'weed areas' in the Raquette River as well as in some of the Basin's larger lakes." Notable areas surveyed and overlapping with the St. Lawrence Part II project include: Piercefield Flow, Joe Indian Lake, Follensby Pond, Raquette Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, and Tupper Lake. The report documents the extent and the frequency of over a hundred aquatic species. Notably absent from their species lists are invasives common today, including Phragmites communis and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). Other invasive species on the report's lists, curly pondweed (Potamogeton crispus) and broad-leaved pondweed (P. amplifolius) are described as being locally common in limited areas in 1933. The extent of these species is far broader today.
More recent study of the areas wetlands includes a report for the Adirondack Conservancy, entitled The Natural Significance and Protection Priority of New York's Largest Open Peatlands (Worley 1982), which describes the four largest open peatlands in NY: Massawepie Mire (900 ac), Spring Pond Bog (500 ac), Bloomingdale Bog (370 ac) and Bay Pond Bog (300 ac). Three of these are in the St. Lawrence watershed. Massawepie Mire is in the Raquette watershed, Spring Pond Bog straddles the Raquette and St. Regis watersheds, and Bay Pond Bog is in the St. Regis watershed. The report notes that these peatlands are unusually large for the northeastern United States outside of northern Maine. Worley describes the rare features of these peatlands; Spring Pond Bog and Bay Pond Bog are string-patterned fens, and these bogs along with Massawepie Mire are all nutrient-poor fens with large expanses of sedge and Sphagnum. In addition, Spring Pond Bog contains distinctive secondary ponds. Rare plants documented in the fen at Spring Pond Bog include dwarf birch (Betula glandulosa), intermediate-leaved sundew (Drosera intermedia), and a liverwort species, Cladopodiella fluitans. Worley concluded that Spring Pond Bog and Massawepie Mire were the highest priorities for protection.
Three SUNY-ESF masters thesis focused on a multidisciplinary ecological study on the significant wetlands in the Park that was funded by the Adirondack Park Agency in 1975 (Karlin 1975, Hardin 1975, Westfall 1975).
Westfall (1975) studied several water quality parameters at different wetland types and compared his results against rainfall and hydrological records to determine relationships between wetland types, water quality measures, precipitation and hydrological patterns. The Massawepie area was his only study site within the St. Lawrence watershed, but he did some additional testing at Simon Pond, in the Raquette watershed, and Jones Pond, in the St. Regis watershed.
Hardin (1975) studied the animal communities of the same wetlands studied by Westfall analyzing the structure of bird, small mammal, large mammal, reptile and amphibian, and invertebrate communities in terms of species diversity, trophic diversity and dominance, and he related these measures to wetland type and wetland characteristics.
Karlin (1975) performed the plant community component of the multidisciplinary study, assessing the plant community composition and environmental characteristics of the wetland communities of the same areas as Hardin and Westfall. Karlin grouped the wetlands of the region into three major categories based on his ordination analysis: aquatic and emergent systems, riparian systems and mire systems. He evaluated the hydrological and physical characteristics of these systems and drew conclusions about the successional relationships of the systems.
A group of botanists went on a bryological foray to Sevey Bog and their findings are detailed in a Bryologist article (Slack and Zander 1977), and include several species of liverworts, as well as many Musci species.
At the 1989 Ecological Society of America Meeting, researchers, Weiher and Charles, from Renssalear Polytechnic Institute reported on experiments that they had conducted in two lakes of the St. Lawrence River Basin involving reciprocal transplants of four species between the two lakes. In the meeting abstracts, the researchers report that one acidic lake (Silver Lake, pH 4.8) and one neutral lake (Deer Pond, pH 6.9) were involved in the reciprocal transplant experiment. The authors found that Sphagnum pylaesii did not survive in the high pH lake, and Vallisneria americana did not survive in the acidic lake. The other species involved in the experiment survived in both environments.
The most recent study we found referencing the St. Lawrence II project area studied historical mercury deposition in eight lakes throughout the Park through analysis of sediment cores (Lorey and Driscoll 1999). Two of the lakes, Little Echo Pond and Bear Pond, are in the St. Lawrence River Basin. Little Echo Pond, an internally draining bog seepage pond, has a watershed area approximately equal to the lake surface area, and was therefore an interesting comparison to lakes with larger watershed areas for study of atmospheric mercury deposition. The authors found that mercury deposition increased markedly in the sediment cores in all of the study lakes between 1850 and 1900, earliest in Little Echo Pond and latest in lakes with low lake surface area to watershed surface area ratios. Total mercury concentrations for pre-industrial periods ranged from levels of 0.08 µg/g to 0.20 µg/g, and increased in post-industrial periods to levels ranging from 0.18 µg/g to 0.5 µg/g. The authors also reported pre- and post-industrial lake flux values and flux ratios, as well as the impact of watershed size on deposition levels. They report that 78% of atmospheric mercury deposition was retained in the watershed for the modern period, compared to 95% under pre-industrial conditions. One factor affecting retention levels is wetland area; a watershed with high wetland area will retain less mercury than one with few wetlands.
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