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Adirondack Park Agency commissioners were given a status report yesterday on what's considered to be the biggest threat to the ecology of the Adirondacks.
Invasive species like milfoil and phragmities are spreading fast throughout the Park, clogging waterways and taking over wetlands.
Hillary Smith is director of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program. "This threat of invasive species is worsening," she said. "I saw a real window of opportunity in the Adirondacks and even in my short time here that window is closing. There still are lots of opportunities for us. But the reality is the situation is very much an urgent one and it's a growing problem."
Within the last two weeks, an invasive called spiny water flea, which can ruin fisheries, was found in Great Sacandaga Lake and Peck's Lake, both in the southern Adirondacks. A record number of yellow iris, which invades wetlands, were also found in the Park this year. And milfoil infestations spread to more Adirondack lakes, including Lake Placid.
Smith said their ability to fight back and eradicate invasives is being put to the test. "With every new invasive that makes it through the borders," she said, "we have an increasing demand for management, increasing demand for spread prevention measures and increasing demand for resources that we all know are very tight at this time."
Last year the state created an Office of Invasive Species Coordination within the Department of Environmental Conservation.
But the program's director, Steve Sanford, told agency commissioners that funding for the effort was less than promised. And he said the money was tied up in a battle over the state's Environmental Protection Fund. "We had planned to be able to spend $5 million, the trouble is there's only $3 million we can use," he said. "We had to make some decisions yesterday about what we're going to go forward with. It's not where we hoped to be, but at least the faucet's back on again it was shut off for 11 months."
Thursday's meeting also included discussion of the emerald Ash borer and the Asian longhorn beetle, which threaten Adirondack forests. DEC Lands and Forests Director Rob Davies says so far the insects haven't been found in the Park.
But he said their impact on the region's ecosystem and economy could be devastating, "As you can imagine, the longer the pest is around, the greater the risk it is going to get out, it is going to impact our maple sugar industry and get into maple sugar stands."
Removing infected trees could be difficult in the forest preserve if an outbreak occurs, because of environmental rules. Davies said the DEC is working to come up with new rules and guidelines for fighting invasives in the Park.