State increases effort against invasive species
ROUND LAKE The emerald ash borer chewing its way through ash trees of the Hudson Valley. The Asian long-horn beetle in the hardwoods of Long Island. The Asian clam and zebra mussel spreading through the waters of Lake George.
There’s even Eurasian milfoil and water chestnut right here in Round Lake.
The list of invasive species found in New York state could go on and on — and they are interfering with human activities from boating to farming.
State officials say they’re making invasive species prevention and eradication a higher priority as their number grows.
“They cause lots and lots of damage, both environmental and economic,” state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said Thursday.
Since 2011, New York state has spent $30 million fighting various invasive species, from removing trees killed by the emerald ash borer to pulling water chestnuts from clogged waterways.
State officials are looking for more help from the public in the battle, saying preventing spread by means like cleaning boats is much less expensive than eradicating a species once it’s present.
“Seventy percent of the battle is education,” Martens said during a news conference to mark the state’s first Invasive Species Awareness Week at the new DEC boat launch on Round Lake.
Under DEC rules that went into effect last month, all members of the boating public are to make sure their vessels are “cleaned, drained and dry,” to prevent invasive species collected in one body of water from being transported to any other body of water.
Currently, lakes and rivers just a few miles apart may have different kinds of invasive species, and boats are a primary way that invasives reach new habitats.
“We want to prevent them reaching uninvaded waters,” said Hilary Smith, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Adirondack Invasive Plants Program.
The boat inspection rules currently apply at 350 DEC boat launches. The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is reviewing similar regulations for its boat launches, and a bill that passed the Legislature this year would apply them to all launches on public bodies of water. That bill is currently under review by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.
“The effort is building step by step,” Martens said. “We have taken aggressive steps, and there are more to come.”
But, he said, the kind of aggressive enforcement being initiated this year at Lake George, with mandatory washing of suspect boats under a program that is costing $700,000 annually and has more than 50 seasonal employees, “may not be possible” statewide.
Instead, the DEC’s emphasis will be on teaching boaters how to inspect their own vessels for visible plant or animal life both before entering a body of water and as they leave.
“Just a few simple steps can make a big difference in protecting New York’s waterways,” said Smith, who is also chairwoman of the state Invasive Species Council.
Environmental conservation officers will focus for now on educating boaters, but have the power to issue tickets that could lead to fines for those who don’t comply.
Martens credited Smith with originating the idea of having a statewide awareness week, an idea that quickly caught on.
The number of invasives in the United States has grown in recent decades with the increase in international commerce, with invasives inadvertently transported by ships and plane travel.
Farmers are also concerned about the problem, given the presence in some parts of the state of such damaging invaders as the plum pox virus, which attacks peaches and other stone fruit, and golden nematode, which attacks potato crops.
“For farmers across the state, the land is their livelihood and invasive species are a threat to their land,” said James Bay, first deputy commissioner of the state Department of Agriculture and Markets.
The state also has rules in place to prevent the long-distance transportation of firewood to prevent the spread of the emerald ash borer and other wood-borne insects.