A bill introduced in the state Senate last week aims to make the possession and sale of invasive species illegal.
The legislation is sponsored by state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury. Its goal is to strengthen current regulations and prevent the spread of invasive species, which Little said pose a major threat to water bodies throughout New York state.
"Many of our lake associations and small towns are trying to deal with it," Little said. "Milfoil is one of the big things, but there's pond weed, there's zebra mussels, there's Asian clams, and there's also invasive species on land that are difficult to deal with.
"I think the most important thing about dealing with invasive species is through education to prevent them from entering our waters and from getting out of hand on land."
The bill would bar the sale of invasive plants, but Little admitted it does need some work. She said lawmakers are working with the state departments of Environmental Conservation and Agriculture and Markets to fine-tune the legislation.
Spokespeople for the DEC and the agriculture department said they don't comment on pending legislation.
In its current form, the bill provides businesses with a grace period to manage existing stock. It also establishes a list of prohibited species and allows for permits to dispose of them.
The proposed bill includes a $250 fine for people caught with prohibited invasive species more than once. Sellers or growers could face a $600 fine if the legislation becomes law.
Those fines have been opposed by groups like the New York Farm Bureau.
Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro, has co-sponsored a companion bill in the Assembly. She said many groups - from nonprofits to local governments - have pushed lawmakers to do more to fight invasive species on land and water.
Water stewards are becoming more prominent across the North Country. They are often volunteers - although some are paid a modest wage - who set up at boat launches to keep an eye out for invasive hitchhikers on motorboats and canoes.
Sayward said stewardship programs work, but they'd be more effective if the state outlawed the transportation of plants like milfoil.
"When they can't point to something saying, 'It's against the law in New York state to transport; you need to wash your boat off,' people just blow right by them and just put (their boats) in," she said.
Sayward said the legislation is a start, although there may be a need to do more down the road.
"But we're hoping that this at least will start raising the awareness and getting people at these boat launches so that we can actually be confronting people individually so they understand what's going on," she said.
Groups like the Lake George Association support the bill. It also has support from the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, whose director, Hilary Smith, said she's happy the Legislature is looking to toughen up regulations.
"Many communities and partners in the region, for decades now, have been working on invasive species issues," she said. "And the legislation, if passed, will be a tremendous milestone for preventing the future introduction and spread of invasives into New York state."
Smith said there's no silver bullet for invasive species and that combating their spread will take creativity on behalf of lake associations, local government and policymakers.
"I think that you really do need to need to attack this issue on all angles, thinking about prevention and early detection and rapid response, education and outreach, regulatory improvements and so forth," she said.
Smith said forming a regional stewardship program to put water stewards at all publicly owned boat launches would go a long way toward cutting down on the movement of invasive species.
Andrew Lewis co-owns Aquatic Invasive Management LLC, a Saranac Lake-based business that specializes in eradicating aquatic invasive species from lakes and ponds across the North Country. AIM has worked to remove milfoil and Asian clams from Lake George, Schroon Lake, Upper Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.
Lewis said the proposed bill is excellent, but he thinks the state is behind in addressing the invasive species problem.
"This needed to be in place 15 years ago or more as a deterrent," he said. "But as of right now, when you've got things like Asian clams and zebra mussels that can spread microscopically, what is really vital is an infrastructure that promotes the adequate washing of every boat the leaves a lake and goes to another lake or enters a lake from another lake, and some sort of way of enforcing it."