Report details threat from invasive
By Corydon Ireland
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Published August 3, 2005
(August 3, 2005) — In the environment, there are no Hell's
Angels. But there are outlaws more dangerous than their
mild names suggest.
They're called invasive species — non-native plants,
animals, bugs and microbes that hitchhike into new ecosystems
and flourish like bandits.
In New York, an Albany-appointed task force of experts
has just completed a study of the invaders, which cause
environmental and economic harm.
Damage in the state can run into billions of dollars
a year from invaders with names that were born to be mild:
Japanese knotweed, water chestnut, mile-a-minute vine
and mute swans.
A draft 100-page report by the New York State Invasive
Species Task Force was introduced in a series of six public
meetings statewide Tuesday evening. One was in Rochester,
where 20 people made a big room at the Cornell Cooperative
Extension of Monroe County look empty.
"The clock is ticking" on the invasion of these
species, said Kyle Williams, a state Department of Transportation
official who traveled from Albany to outline the plan,
which will be finalized and delivered to Gov. George E.
Pataki by November.
In the 15 months it took to research and write the draft
report, at least six new species have invaded New York,
The ones already in New York are out-competing native
species for habitat.
Eurasian milfoil, the most widespread aquatic plant invader
in New York and nationwide, is turning regional lake shorelines
into a tangle of weeds as tough as phone line. Up to 300
stems can grow in just a square meter of water.
Aggressive mute swans, imported as natural decoration
for big estates, have spread out to overtake shoreline
Zebra mussels — "the poster child of invasive species,"
said Williams — clog water intakes and have cost U.S.
municipalities at least $1.5 billion since invading the
Great Lakes in 1988.
The study, produced by experts from 17 state agencies,
research centers and non-profit groups, lays out ways
to prevent, detect and respond to invasive species.
"We really do need a battle plan," said Bob
King, who tracks Rochester-area agricultural issues for
the Cornell extension. He called the draft report "a
giant leap forward" for New York — and the only sure
way to attract federal expertise and funding to the state.
The report lays out the wide harm of invasive species,
including effects on recreation, aesthetics, commerce,
industry and the food supply.
On farms, said King, plant invaders can turn profits
into losses. Giant hogweed, a noxious invasive weed with
leaves five feet across, can crowd out crops, change the
chemistry of soil and alter critical drainage patterns.
Not all the invaders are well-established in New York.
A snakehead fish species was just spotted last month
in New York Harbor. And the Swede midge, a killer to cabbage-family
crops, has just a toehold in four farms in Niagara County,
an hour west of Rochester.
Other invasive species, Williams said, are "barbarians
at the gate" that could show up in New York anytime.
Plum pox virus, a hazard to any stone fruits, is already
in Pennsylvania. It could rip through the fruit farms
that make shoreline orchards east of Rochester the most
productive in New York.
Chinese mitten crabs, already for sale in live-food markets
in New York City, were found last year along the St. Lawrence
River near Quebec.
"We know it has the ability to survive" even
that far north, said Charles "Chuck" O'Neill,
an invasive species expert with New York Sea Grant, who
works out of the State University College at Brockport.
And the emerald ash borer "has people scared stiff"
in New York, said Williams. The insect is a threat to
as many as 30 other tree and shrub species, he said —
and it's on the ecological march in Illinois and Michigan.
Among the study's 14 recommendations: create a permanent
task force, write a management plan, get dedicated funding
and establish an invasive species research center.