Invasive mitigation efforts continue as groups await permanent boat inspection law
By Zachary Matson
Hydrilla, a hulking aquatic invasive plant that has been found in other parts of the state and broader east coast region, continued to visit the Adirondacks this summer.
The invasive plant, which the state Department of Environmental Conservation calls “one of the most difficult aquatic invasive species to control and eradicate,” was identified in New York state waters as early as 2008, but it has yet to establish itself in the Adirondacks.
Boat stewards with the Adirondack Watershed Institute stationed across the park, though, intercepted the plant this summer on at least one boat that came from the Delaware or Potomac River, according to AWI. Stewards also detected the plant on at least one boat in summer 2020. Hydrilla has not been spotted in the lower Hudson area for the past four years, according to DEC. It was first identified in Cayuga Lake in 2016 and has not yet spread to other Finger Lakes.
If it establishes itself in Adirondack waterways, the plant could grow to outcompete native species and interfere with boaters and lake quality.
“It’s certainly a concern, because we know it’s out there, we know it’s in the Finger Lakes, we know it’s in the lower Hudson, and we know boaters come from those places and launch in Adirondack lakes,” AWI Executive Director Dan Kelting said. “It’s both a demonstration of the need to have boat inspectors out there, but also that people will actually stop and utilize the service.”
AWI stewards inspected over 84,000 boats in the Adirondacks this past summer, compared to more than 120,000 in 2020, when visitors flocked to the Adirondacks during the first summer of the pandemic. (Other Adirondack organizations saw similar declines in visitors they interacted with this summer.) Stewards identified aquatic invasive species on about 2.6 percent of inspected boats, the same level as the past two years and an improvement over the years before that.
AWI leaders see the lowered rate of boats with detected invasive species as a sign that boaters are picking up on educational messages about the importance that they clean, drain and dry their boats when shuttling between waterways. They also said boaters are growing more compliant with requests to check their crafts and more interested in opportunities to get their boats decontaminated by the stewards.
While invasive plants are common on some of the region’s largest and most-trafficked lakes, about 75 percent of Adirondack lakes monitored by various groups have yet to be impacted by invasive species.
“It’s rare to be able to travel and boat and enjoy so many lakes that don’t have invasive species. People in the Adirondacks love their Adirondack lakes and want to make sure they remain free of invasive species.”– Tammara Van Ryn, project manager of the Adirondack Plant Invasive Plant Program, a partnership of state and non-governmental organizations focused on combating invasive species in the park.
Hydrilla wasn’t the only invader that tried to establish a new foothold in the Adirondacks this summer. A Bolton Landing homeowner reported an infestation of Japanese stiltgrass, and crews from APIPP were able to remove the grass; they will return to monitor the site over the next couple of years, Van Ryn said.
Japanese stiltgrass has established itself throughout much of the eastern United States; it can form dense stands and crowd out native species, according to the federal National Invasive Species Information Center.
“In other parts of the country where this grass takes hold, it will take over an entire forested area,” Van Ryn said. “We hope that it’s gone, but because we are around year in and year out, we can go back there next year and the year after.”
Tree of heaven and spotted lanternfly
Van Ryn and over 40 representatives at a virtual partners meeting earlier this month also discussed growing concern with tree of heaven plants, an Asian invasive that has been identified in locations in the southeastern region of the park. While the plant itself is ecologically harmful, it’s all the more concerning because of an insect it plays host to: the spotted lanternfly, an invasive planthopper also native to Asia.
The lanternfly has already infested Ulster, Orange, Rockland, Westchester and other downstate counties after infesting large portions of Pennsylvania and nearly all of New Jersey in less than a decade, according to the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program. Individual specimens have been spotted in Albany, Owego and Herkimer counties, edging toward the park boundaries. The pest species can wreak damage on cultivated and wild grapes, fruit trees, hops and maple trees. It also creates a sappy mess that can become a nuisance in residential areas.
“If we help homeowners get rid of tree of heaven, it’s one less reason for spotted lanternfly. Spotted lanternfly is a really destructive insect, said Van Ryn.
Waiting on a signature
Van Ryn, Kelting and others who work to combat invasives in the park are looking forward to the expansion of a law governing boaters’ responsibility to prevent the spread of invasive species.
The bill, which passed the Legislature unanimously this summer, has not yet been sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The measure would require that boaters take reasonable precautions to clean, drain and dry their watercraft before launching in New York waters and it would give DEC authority to inspect for invasive species and decontaminate boats within the Adirondack Park or 10 miles of the park boundary. Previous versions of the law were scheduled to sunset, so advocates pushed for permanent status.
“It’s really important to have that law in place in New York state to help educate boaters about our responsibilities, it’s all of us, anyone who is out there on the water,” Van Ryn said.
Kelting said he hopes state officials ramp up education and communication efforts to spread word about the boating requirements and conduct high-profile checks – suggesting they issue warnings not tickets – as another way to spread awareness.
“One thing that I’ve emphasized over the years with respect to the law that was on the books is that it would be really wonderful to have some real educational outreach and promotion of the law to the boating public,” Kelting said. “In our experience, boaters want to do the right thing. They are there to enjoy the resource, and they don’t want it impacted negatively by invasives.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated to correct the point of origin of a boat containing hydrilla that visited the Adirondacks.
Sign up for the “Water Line” newsletter, with weekly updates about pollution, climate change and development’s impacts on the Adirondacks’ lakes, rivers and streams.