By Gwendolyn Craig
The state Comptroller issued an audit on Thursday showing the Department of Environmental Conservation needs to do more to combat the spread of invasive species.
“The agency has undertaken important steps to address this problem, but my auditors found several areas where DEC could strengthen its practices to identify non-native plants and animals and stop them from spreading,” said Thomas DiNapoli, in a news release.
In response, a DEC spokesperson said Thursday that the agency “has welcomed the opportunity for an independent review,” adding that the “findings of the audit highlight areas for continued enhancement of our comprehensive efforts which will build upon the success of DEC’s invasive species programs and ensure New York remains a leader” in the field.
The state’s boat steward program was of particular focus in the report.
Auditors found that some boat stewards were not inspecting all water crafts and some inspections stations were not in view of launch and exit sites. Stewards did not always inspect boats leaving a water body, and educational signs were not always visible, the report added.
While the audit did not suggest a statewide law requiring boat inspections, the comptroller’s office news release did make a nod to the Adirondack Council’s push for one. Willie Janeway, the Adirondack Council’s executive director, was quoted in the release.
“We applaud the progress over the last 10 years funding an Adirondack Park wide system of staffed boat inspection and decontamination stations,” Janeway said. “As Comptroller DiNapoli’s audit points out, unfortunately this infrastructure and programs meant to preserve Adirondack waters continue to go underutilized. In New York, there is no law requiring boaters to use inspection stations, and each year Adirondack waters and communities pay the price. Every year we find additional costly and sometimes permanent aquatic invasive species infestations, all of which could have been prevented. We thank Comptroller DiNapoli and his team for this work, and all they do to safeguard New York finances and preserve clean water, clean air and the environment.”
The comptroller’s office also found issues with DEC’s environmental permit system. Between April 2017 and October 2019, 27,349 environmental permits were issued across the state for projects that the comptroller’s office found could spread invasive species.
“DEC’s system does not track whether environmental permits contain conditions for preventing the spread of invasive species and as a result officials could not provide a complete population of all permits that contain these requirements,” according to the report’s findings. “In some cases, DEC did not monitor any provisions of the permits.”
DiNapoli issued the following recommendations to DEC:
- “Develop a process to: regularly communicate duties and responsibilities to registered boat owners and stewards; monitor steward performance; and coordinate with other oversight entities to improve preventive efforts at public boat launches throughout the state.
- Develop and implement policies, procedures, or guidance on: issuing permits and monitoring compliance relating to invasive species; circumstances that warrant adding specific invasive species management mitigation provisions to permits; identifying non-native species and conditions that should trigger assessments for non-native species; and periodic complete testing of trap samples for potentially invasive species.”
In a letter responding to the comptroller’s audit, DEC said “we generally agree” to the comptroller’s recommendations.
In its emailed statement to Adirondack Explorer, DEC highlighted its efforts to curb the threat of invasive species, from its firewood regulations, to its “Clean, Drain, Dry,” programs for keeping boats from carrying unwanted hitchhikers.
“All New Yorkers and visitors to our state have an important role to play in addressing the spread of invasive species and we will continue to work with all partners as we advance new programs to ensure we prevent new introductions and manage species already established,” a DEC spokesperson added.