It's a bird. It's a plane. It's the Adirondack Regional Response Teams.
Well, they don't fly, and they don't have capes, but they do move swiftly across the region to keep invasive plants under control. For the first time in New York, the Adirondack Park is home to two invasive species response teams: an Aquatic Response Team and a Terrestrial Response Team. The response team approach is critical to protect the Adirondacks from the damage from invasive species in the long term. Here's how.
Think about a wildfire. Responders must mobilize immediately to quench a new fire, snuffing out any satellite fires first and then targeting its epicenter. Delays can waste precious time to efficiently and effectively put the fire out and minimize impacts.
The Aquatic Response Team searches for new aquatic invasive plants.
(Photo — Ken Aaron, Paul Smith’s College)
The same need for quick response exists with invasive species. A new infestation left untended will continue to spread, become unmanageable and have devastating impacts; however, if a new infestation is identified early and quickly controlled, the chance of eradication is much higher. This is particularly true in the case of invasive plants since the tools are largely available to manage them using physical, mechanical or chemical methods.
For more than a decade, volunteers, organizations and agencies have been tracking invasive plants in the region through the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, but for years the program lacked one of the most important pillars - the ability to respond and adequately treat infestations when new detections are made. They had the expertise and some capacity but not the full capacity required to really make a dent in invasive plant removal.
Three out of four waters surveyed by volunteers are free of invasive plants, as are countless miles of roadsides and acres of Forest Preserve. This presents a real opportunity - and an exciting prospect that few other areas can claim - to protect an entire six-million-acre landscape from widespread degradation from invasive plants.
Regional response teams have been on APIPP's wish list for many years. They are necessary because they provide the dedicated attention and extra sweat equity to stamp out new infestations. The funding finally came through earlier this year to get these teams up and running this field season.
Each response team is made up of four seasonal staff members. The aquatic team members are trained in aquatic plant identification, aquatic plant management techniques and SCUBA. They are supervised by the Adirondack Watershed Institute of Paul Smith's College and funded by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant. Because the funding is for the Lake Ontario watershed, the team focuses its work in the western Adirondacks.
Divers conduct thorough underwater surveys for aquatic invasive plants in select lakes and ponds. If no invasives are detected, they move on to the next waterway. But if new infestations are discovered, such as when they found small populations of Eurasian watermilfoil in Second and Fourth lakes of the Fulton Chain, the divers pluck the plants, preventing a few plants from becoming a few thousand. The team is also quick to investigate sites when citizens report suspect sightings of other potential invaders, like zebra mussels.
The terrestrial response team members come from Invasive Plant Control Inc., a company based in Tennessee that employs staff trained in terrestrial invasive plant identification and management. IPC supplies teams throughout the eastern U.S. The Adirondack crew started in June and will finish in early October. Funding for this team was generously provided by a private foundation to APIPP, whose terrestrial invasive species project coordinator supervises the crew, advising them on the highest priority species and areas in the region to focus control efforts. Perhaps you've seen the team methodically managing phragmites, one of the world's worst wetland invaders, along the Route 3 corridor, one of the Park's most wetland-rich routes.
As with any control program, management must be sustained from year to year to be successful. Even when infestations are detected early and are small, a minimum of three years of annual treatment and monitoring is likely required to ensure that the infestation is knocked down and eventually eradicated. Though the region benefitted from funding this year, APIPP and partners are seeking funds to continue this important and ground breaking work into the future. If you would like 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. The Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program is 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.