Some invasive species are already here. Many more are not, but they will arrive if we fail to take part in helping to stop their spread.
Next time you cross the Blue Line into more populated and developed areas, take note of the thick monocultures of plants you see along many roads or warnings you may see about infested waterways. It is different out there. Invasive species have spread so fast and so extensively that people are in perpetual reaction mode, spending precious financial resources along the way to deal with problematic infestations. The opportunity that lies before us in the Park puts us in a more advantageous offensive position than few others, if any, in the country can claim for invasive species prevention and management. At least for now.
The Adirondacks have fewer numbers of invasives, and those infestations that are here are still smaller than in other places. We have a fighting chance. But we need to get serious about invasive species if we want to take advantage of this window of opportunity, which narrows each year. We know what we have to do to make a difference; it is time to do it.
If you flash back to the early 1990s, not much was happening in the Adirondacks, or elsewhere in the state, to address invasive species. Localized efforts were underway but they did not really resonate beyond their boundaries. In the late 1990s that changed. People started talking. They noticed that invasive species were making inroads into the Park's lands and waters. They shared their concerns with one another. They organized. They took action.
Now, just over a decade later, solutions are materializing at meaningful scales. Lake associations, landowners, municipalities and garden clubs, among others, are increasingly involved in education, prevention and control activities. Some of these include a native plant community garden in North Creek, a town-wide Japanese knotweed eradication project in Inlet, aquatic invasive plant management in the Fulton Chain, boat launch stewards at Raquette Lake, river stewards along the Ausable and local transport laws in the Village of Lake Placid, among others. The leaders of these efforts are to be commended, and their efforts need to be extended to other localities across the region.
At the regional level, the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program serves as the coordinating body, organizing an army of more than 30 partners and hundreds of volunteers to collectively combat invasives at the landscape scale. The partnership annually maps occurrences of terrestrial and aquatic plants. These distribution maps are the roadmap for prevention and management activities and have been essential in telling the compelling story of the need for action in the region. APIPP also reaches nearly 2,000 citizens each year through educational programs and distributes guides for identification and management of top invaders. Ramping up prevention programs, leading eradication initiatives, bridging jurisdictional boundaries, formalizing response teams, and pursuing funding opportunities are all part of APIPP's plan to better protect our region from this killer threat.
The state is making progress too. The Invasive Species Council and the Invasive Species Advisory Council armor New York against invasive species through statewide coordination, funding, rapid response and policies. In 2005, state funding was made available for invasive species for the first time, and, though modest, funding continues to grow. In 2007, the state Department of Environmental Conservation established the Office of Invasive Species Coordination, a four member team to help the state navigate the solutions to the invasives threat. And seven other regional partnerships, modeled after APIPP, now cover the entire state.
The state also established the Invasive Species Clearinghouse, one stop shopping for current invasive species information (nyis.info); the Invasive Species Research Institute, which is becoming a national leader in coordinating invasive species research (nyisri.com); and iMap invasives, one of the first statewide invasive species mapping databases in the country (imapinvasives.com). These are all important programs necessary for success that were not in place five years ago.
A major key to long-term success, though is breaking the pathway of invasive species transport and spread. These pathways include firewood, baitfish, ballast water, recreational watercraft and commercial introductions. Regulations are either already enacted or currently under consideration to reduce the risk of introductions via these pathways. A commitment to education and enforcement must follow.
A combination of programs and policies at various levels is essential, but it will require each of us taking responsibility for our own actions to truly slow the spread of invasive species. We must clean recreational gear, landscape with only non-invasive plants, use firewood local to the destination and never release unwanted bait into waterways. These low investments in time have high returns for generations to come.
So, what is the recipe for success? It includes not just one ingredient but many: prevention, an early detection and rapid response network, smart and sustained management, targeted education and outreach programs, ongoing coordination, policy work at the local, state, and federal levels, enforcement and sustained funding. We do have the informational tools to do this right. The time of the "wait and see" approach has passed.
If we are successful at combating invasive species, does that mean that no new invasive plants or animals or pests or pathogens will ever enter the Park again? Unfortunately, no. If that was our goal we would surely be setting ourselves up for failure. Success must be measured by the goals set forth in the plan of attack: protect cultural legacies, maintain recreational pastimes, safeguard local economies, and preserve lands, waters, species and services.
Know that we will be working from snow-fall to ice-out to be even better prepared next year to protect this unique and beautiful place. To get involved, contact the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program at 518-576-2082.
Eye on Invasives is a biweekly column that spotlights a top invader when it is easiest to identify. Hilary Smith directs the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, a partnership program housed at the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy in Keene Valley. Find out more about this award-winning program online at www.adkinvasives.com.