Keeping threats at bay

Megan Pistolese, left, of the St. Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management, shows Indian River High School student Victoria Inks the weeds pulled up from the bottom of Millsite Lake in July. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

PULASKI — A regional group can double down on its fight against invasive animals and plants after receiving twice as much financial support from a new state contract.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation recently awarded a four-and-a-half-year contract that will provide $3.7 million to an extension of the Nature Conservancy, the St. Lawrence–Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership For Regional Invasive Species Management, or SLELO PRISM, to curtail the spread of nonnative species in forests, lakes and rivers. Funds from the new contract exceed the $1.5 million from the previous deal said Jim Howe, the Central and Western New York director for the Nature Conservancy.

The state doubling its allocation, which equates to 95 percent of the group’s funding, helps bolster its efforts to remove invasive plants from the Tug Hill Plateau, curtail the spread of aquatic foreign species from boats, protect trees from the emerald ash borer and climate change and other projects said Rob Williams, coordinator or the group. The contract will also help pay for more employees to add to the groups four-person staff.

“This is a significant increase in funding for us,” Mr. Howe said. “It recognizes that SLELO PRISM has done a great job.”

The local partnership for regional invasive species management, one of eight in the state, mitigates the spread of aquatic and terrestrial invasive species and related threats across Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Oswego and St. Lawrence counties. Its primary goals include prevention, early detection, control, restoration information collection, collaboration with other groups, particularly by sharing resources, and education and outreach.

With the growing presence of emerald ash borer, which has been recently sited in Watertown and Ogdensburg, and other invasive pests that threaten tree populations, SLELO PRISM devised a program to help urban communities protect their green spaces.

The new contract will support the group’s effort to advise metropolitan areas like Watertown, Oswego, Rome and Utica on how to protect their parks and street trees against nonnative pests and pathogens, like the emerald ash borer, through an urban forest health initiative.

Mr. Williams, also invasive species program coordinator for the conservancy, said in order to protect trees against emerald ash borer in particular, city workers should remove frail ash trees in poor health to prevent the insect from spreading and replace them with trees like oaks and maples, which are more resilient to invasive pests and climate change.

The group plans to kick off its urban forest health in Watertown, Oswego, Rome and Utica, with Mr. Williams adding that staff may bring it to Ogdensburg, then it may possibly expand offer direct aid to other municipalities.

“We want urban areas to be aware of potential invasive forest pests and pathogens that can destroy street trees,” he said.

The group has also been restoring areas in the core forest of the Tug Hill by cutting out invasive plants and planting new trees.

Mr. Williams said while removing invasive buckthorn and Japanese Honeysuckle from the Tug Hill, the group last year planted 35,000 new trees with a greater defense against nonnative creatures and climate change. With more funding in hand, Mr. Williams said the group can plant another 7,000 to 8,000 trees next year and an overall 42,000 to 48,000 by the end of the contract period.

“As you reduce invasive species, you want to create a more healthy, resilient and climate adaptable forest,” he said.

The new contract and funds will also allow the group to expand a program that helps curtail the spread of aquatic invasive species by having stewards examine boats at launches as they enter and exit the water.

Mr. Williams said the organization offers the Watercraft Inspection and Stewardship Program at the Oswego Harbor, Henderson Harbor, Sackets Harbor and Cape Vincent, but with more funds at its disposal, it plans to add stewards to 16 more locations over the next few years. Stewards will inspect boats and educate boaters on proper cleaning procedures at the Salmon River reservoir, Redfield, Butterfield Lake, Redwood, Millsite Lake, Theresa, the Massena Intake boat launch and other locations from the Erie Canal in Oneida County to Massena.

Contract funding will also support the organization’s ability to use environmental DNA collected through water samples to discover aquatic invasive species in water bodies, Mr. Williams said.

“Early detection is really important for invasive species, especially aquatic invasive species,” he said.

Invasive species have not only threatened native flora and fauna and the ecosystems they inhabit, but also the national economy, costing the U.S. more than $100 billion each year.

Mr. Howe said in order to stop nonnative plants and animals from spreading, environmentalists must continue taking a wholistic approach to stop them. The DEC has created a blueprint with guidance that the eight partnerships for regional invasive species management groups use to mitigate the spread of foreign flora and fauna. Partnerships with between the groups and local organizations have also aided in their efforts.

“The collaborative approach has really been key,” to the work, Mr. Howe said.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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