Dozens turned out for the Caddo Lake Institute’s “State of the Lake,” which kicked off Tuesday, providing information on all things pertinent to the preservation as well as recreation of the natural body of water.

“The Caddo Lake Institute used to do meetings in Marshall, Jefferson and Shreveport, but in recent years we’ve kind of just gotten accustomed to doing these meetings in Karnack,” said Laura Ashley Overdyke, executive director.

“We really felt like the people in Marshall and the people of Jefferson care a lot about Caddo and we wanted to make sure that we were sharing information with them, too,” she said.

The first of three meetings kicked off at noon Tuesday at Marshall Convention Center. A second meeting was held that evening at 5:30 at Karnack Community Center.

The last of the three sessions will be hosted from noon to 1 p.m. today at the Jefferson Convention and Tourism Center Transportation Building, at 305 E. Austin St., in Jefferson.

“We hope that anybody who’s interested will come out to Jefferson,” Overdyke said, inviting the public.

Tuesday’s one-hour session spilled into overtime as experts and representatives from nonprofit interest groups gave updates and entertained questions on how their respective groups help maintain the welfare of the lake.

“There’s not really anybody in charge of the lake,” Overdyke explained, noting that it’s not managed by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who has authority over Lake O’ the Pines. “So it’s a matter of Texas Parks and Wildlife, game wardens and then the local people (working together for the preservation of the lake).”

The nonprofit Caddo Lake Institute has been involved since 1992, providing scientific information that would help the community make good decisions when it comes to protecting the unique treasure.

The Institute addresses issues such as the need to return healthy flows of water to the lake, restore water quality in the watershed, control invasive species and conserve significant lands.

“We know a lot more about Caddo,” Overdyke said. “That lake is perfectly divided in two by the state line; and the major tributary is Big Cypress Bayou that runs through Jefferson and goes into Caddo Lake.”

John Findeisen, an invasive species biologist with Texas Parks and Wildlife, spoke on TPWD’s management of giant salvinia on the lake with the use of herbicides as well as giant salvinia weevils.

Findeisen said that TPWD’s number of weevil releases into Caddo has tremendously decreased, starting with a total of 35,900 weevils in 2014; 130,000 in 2015; 257,200 in 2017; 36,300 in 2017; to only 5,000 in 2018.

“You can see that number began to increase and all of a sudden it decreased in 2017 and 2018,” he said.

He said the outcome is a reflection of Caddo Biocontrol Alliance, who owns and operates a climate-controlled weevil greenhouse to also rear and release weevils to fight giant salvinia.

“They’re able to provide enough weevils into Caddo Lake that we can take our weevils and distribute elsewhere,” Findeisen said, noting TPWD has 17 other reservoirs impacted by giant salvinia.

One of the greatest success stories since the lake’s invasion of giant salvinia has been the success of eradication efforts at Pine Island Pond, Findeisen noted.

“In 2015, Pine Island Pond was completely covered with salvinia,” he said. “We went in; we did not treat any of this with herbicides. The contractors didn’t treat it. It was just weevil release.

“By October of 2016, we were starting to see open water,” said Findeisen.

He said they did have to put a floating boom across the water, however, because of the salvinia that still appeared on the outer edges, but by April 2018, the waterway was completely open.

“To this day, that remains open. We do have the contractors come in and do some herbicide treatments. I think they come in four or five times a year and that’s it,” he said.

He said that a floating boom is another method of containing giant salvinia, allowing for concentrated treatment efforts whether it’s with herbicides or weevil releases. Floating booms also prevent large-scale spreads.

Speaking on current and future weevil strategies, Findeisen said herbicide continues to be TPWD’s main means of controlling the plant while CBA is now the main releaser of the weevils at the lake.

He noted that repairs to TPWD’s Karnack greenhouses are currently completed and both CBA and TPWD are waiting for approval of the more cold-tolerant weevils to release in 2020 and beyond.

As far as herbicide treatments, Findeisen said treating large mats is a priority.

“We’re looking at testing some new herbicides just recently approved by EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) for aquatic use,” he said.

Daren Horton with CBA noted the strides Caddo Biocontrol Alliance has made in the fight against giant salvinia.

“In 2013, giant salvinia was so bad in Caddo Lake that you couldn’t get a boat at Johnson’s Ranch, which is the only place on the Texas side where you can get gasoline and people were hysterical and just didn’t know what they were going to do,” said Horton. “Giant salvinia was literally about to take over the lake.”

He said a group of interested parties and concerned citizens came up with a plan to build the world’s first climate control mass production weevil facility after seeing the success of Texas A&M’s research project on giant salvinia weevils, conducted at the wildlife refuge.

“When Texas A&M started their research facility at the wildlife refuge, we saw the results of the limited areas that they treated and saw that it was controlling the giant salvinia,” said Horton. “We came up with a plan after that to raise funds and get money to build and we have built the world’s first climate control mass production weevil facility and it is in a climate-controlled greenhouse that’s called the Morley-Hudson Greenhouse at Caddo Lake and at Uncertain that’s in operation today.”

Caddo Biocontrol Alliance operates the greenhouse and Greater Caddo Lake Association is the fundraising arm. The greenhouse has been in production for five years now and CBA just broke ground on a second greenhouse to double its efforts.

“We’ve had excellent results,” said Horton.

“We had a lot of support from the area,” he added. “That’s how important Caddo Lake is to this area — ecologically and economically. Tourists come to Caddo Lake all the time and it’s just a natural treasure.”

Horton said for CBA, biological control on the lake is going to be a long-term solution.

“Because of the construction of Caddo Lake, giant salvinia will never go away,” he explained. “There are areas you can’t get to to spray it; you can’t get to it to manually remove it. So what we’re hoping for, in the long-term, is to have a weevil that will create a natural balance between the salvinia and the plant.”

He said the cold-tolerant weevils they’re interested in are currently in quarantine at LSU.

“We hope that maybe with the second greenhouse that we’re opening and the greenhouse that TPWD is putting together at the wildlife refuge, that we can get some of those cold-tolerant weevils and develop a weevil that will last over the winter,” said Horton.

Vanessa Neace, area biologist at the Caddo Lake Wildlife Management Area, enlightened the audience on another invasive species — the emerald ash borer.

“Emerald ash borer is a non-native invasive beetle,” she said, noting it kills all species of ash trees.

The bug is native to Asia and arrived to the United States via shipping crates and materials.

“The Texas Forest Service has been monitoring this beetle since 2012,” she said, noting it was first identified in Michigan in 2002, and ironically first detected in Texas in Harrison County, in 2016.

In July 2018, the bug was found on traps in Marion and Cass Counties.

“This past June they found this bug on two traps in the wildlife management area, not only on our east side but also on our west side,” said Neace.

She said more evidence of the beetle was found just this Monday as they scraped the bark off of one of the trees.

“One of the biggest ways that it moves around the area is that it moves with firewood,” said Neace. “This little big is responsible for the death of over 900 million trees. It started in Michigan; it’s gone all over the northeast coast, Texas, one location in Colorado. So it has killed millions and millions of trees.”

Other speakers for the day included Erik Duerkop, refuge manager at Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which offers hiking, biking, horseback riding and hunting.

The audience also heard from Tim Bister, a fishing biologist at Parks and Wildlife, whose job is to improve the quality of fishing.

“We do population surveys. We also do different netting surveys — trap netting, field netting. Another thing we do is we talk to anglers, see what fish they’re fishing for, how long they’re fishing so we can estimate the total hours fished by anglers throughout the year, and calculate how long it takes them to catch a fish they’re trying to catch,” Bister shared.

Survey results from 2017-2018 shows bass as the premier species for the lake, he noted.

“This year Bassmaster Magazine named Caddo Lake one of the top 100 Best Bass Lakes in the country,” Bister said.