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Adirondack invasive control improving, according to AWI

Adirondack waters were included in a state comptroller’s office audit that found gaps in Department of Environmental Conservation’s invasive species monitoring and prevention program.

However, Adirondack Watershed Institute Executive Director Dan Kelting says, despite the comptroller’s call for the DEC to ramp up prevention efforts, invasive maintenance and containment is improving greatly here, and that some of the gaps the audit found may not be as serious as they appear.

Auditors said they visited boat launches and found instances of stewards not approaching all boaters they saw leaving the waterbody to ensure their vessels had been cleaned.

Kelting said other information may account for this, saying that a study the ADI took of boaters at its launches found that around a third of boaters there were just launching in the one waterbody over and over. He said the stewards sometimes build relationships with the consistent boaters and know they can trust them to only boat on that water, or tell them otherwise.

Kelting said this is not an excuse — the stewards are trained to approach them anyway — but it is an explanation for why some of these may happen.

This inspection is voluntary, too, and a boater can refuse it, but Kelting said this is rare.

Kelting said this ADI survey was conducted through questions stewards ask boaters. One question is where their boat has been in the past two weeks. He said 50% say the vessel had not been in the water in the past two weeks, which he said gives it an opportunity to dry out and lowers the likelihood of transporting invasive species.

He said 33% go back to the same waterbody over and over, which means they do not spread to other waters.

He said 18% say they’ve come from other lakes, and that’s where the risk is.

“Certainly, there is a risk,” Kelting said. “But it is perhaps lower than what people would suspect.”

Of the 837 boat launches the auditors visited, 242 were located in Adirondack counties.

Comptroller’s office spokesperson Matthew Sweeney said of the 194 launches auditors visited, they found stewards at 71 in Adirondack counties. Of the 42 launches with high-risk areas — where milfoil or zebra mussels are found on around a quarter of the craft leaving the waters — 13 were in Adirondack counties. Ten of these were visited in the audit.

He said 27 Adirondack launches had no stewards assigned to them — of 100 statewide.

Invasive improvements

The AWI is one of the organizations contracted by the DEC to provide stewards at boat launches. Kelting said it has 55 stewards it deploys in areas where they can do the most good, based on infection rates and popularity. He said the AWI evaluates its own stewards internally, too.

According to Kelting, of the 24,000 boats inspected by the AWI in 2019, 172 carried invasive species, or 0.72% of all boats.

“That’s good,” Kelting said. “That’s a small number.”

Kelting said there have not been many new infestations of milfoil — the main aquatic invasive species in the Adirondacks — recently. He also said there have been no new species of aquatic invasive plants or animals found recently.

A spread of spiny water flea has been slowed through prevention efforts, he said.

“I think that we’re doing quite well, compared to other parts of the country,” Kelting said. “I think that we have, in the Adirondacks, the most robust spread prevention program east of the Mississippi River.”

He said this is because the state is invested in preventing invasive species.

It’s the law

Kelting said the state should fund some information campaigns to increase awareness that taking “reasonable precautions” against invasive species spread is a law.

Part 576 of the Aquatic Invasive Species Spread Prevention law, passed in 2016, states that no person may launch a boat unless they have cleaned, drained and treated their vessel first.

First-time violators of this law are given a written warning and educational materials. Second-time offenders may be fined $150, which rises to $250 for third-timers and $1,000 for four-time offenders.

In a “yes” or “no” question in the AWI’ survey, 90% of boaters said they were aware of this law. Kelting said AWI found that when boaters are aware of the law, only 14% say they do not take preventative measures, compared to a 42% of those who are unaware of the law.

Kelting said this information, while well known in the Adirondacks, may not be as prevalent knowledge elsewhere in the state or neighboring states, and he suggested funding campaigns in other regions.

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