Fight Against Invasive Species

Boaters across New York have been met with a variety of new regulations in recent years in the important effort to control non-native, invasive species in the Empire State’s waterways. A recent editorial in the Capital District’s Albany Times Union addressed the issue with an interesting perspective:

THE ISSUE: Facing federal cuts, New York is pressing ahead to fight spread of invasive species.

THE STAKES: Prevention programs have been successful and need to be expanded now.

The spiny waterflea, zebra mussels and the Emerald Ash Borer are among the scores of menacing, invasive animals and plants that have potential to wreck natural habitats and destroy some of our region’s most popular tourist and recreation destinations. The war against them must be fought and won.

Yet as New York starting Monday marks the fourth annual “Invasive Species Awareness Week,” the Trump administration is poised to significantly set back this effort, proposing to cut $9 billion from a key federal program.

This war has many fronts, including more than 3,000 vulnerable bodies of water in upstate New York. Unfortunately, in some cases invasives have already gotten a foothold. Five aquatic invaders have been found in Lake George, including Eurasian watermilfoil, which clogs shore areas and blocks sunlight, and zebra mussels that gum up boat propellers and engines. In Lake Champlain, 37 different invasives have been identified; in the Hudson River, 100.

Great Sacandaga Lake is so far free of zebra mussels, thanks to an expanded boat inspection program initiated in Lake George in 2015. While costly to sustain and sometimes annoying to impatient boaters, the diligence has paid off. Just last month a volunteer inspector at the state’s Sacandaga boat launch discovered a vessel with live zebra mussels clinging to water plants on it. Unnoticed, it would have introduced the nasty nuisance into the 41-square-mile lake, and once in, they proliferate uncontrollably.

Invasives are more than an annoyance; they can also impede navigation, an issue of national consequence on a river like the Mississippi, which winds through 10 states. Recognizing the scope of the problem, Congress has long funded prevention.

President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget, however, includes a $9 billion cut to Army Corps of Engineers’ Aquatic Plant Control Research Program and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. It would also cut more than half the money for the U.S. Forest Service’s invasives program. Non-native plants can quickly cover the ground in woodlands, smothering saplings and fostering the buildup of dry, combustible plant material - the fuel of forest fires.

Some officials, fortunately, get it. In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pledging nearly $1.7 million in grants from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund for 35 municipalities and others to help control invasive species.

And in Congress, even U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, who has supported other Trump initiatives, recognizes the impact of invasives in her North Country district and vows to oppose these budget cuts.

It’s worth noting that Mr. Trump wants these and other cuts to help pay for a huge increase in military spending. Perhaps those like Ms. Stefanik can educate him that not all wars are fought with guns and bullets, but that victory is no less imperative.