Invasive Species Disrupt Domestic Habitats

By Assemblyman Will Barclay
Invasive species have been around since people began to travel. Some species have been around for over a hundred years and we’ve largely learned to live with them. Others pose a more serious threat and have eradicated crops or species of domestic trees or pose health risks. In some cases, however, we’ve had success containing or eliminating them.

The state plays a part in educating the public and limiting damage caused by these invasive species by way of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Thankfully, land stewards also volunteer and play a vital part in limiting their impact and raising awareness about these species. Other organizations such as county soil and water conservation groups play a role with these unwelcome invaders.

I wanted to take some time this week to make you aware of some in our area and what to do if you suspect you have any on your property, as well as how prevent their spread. This list is by no means comprehensive but gives the reader an idea of more dangerous or prevalent invaders. For a comprehensive list, visit

Emerald Ash Borer

The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is making its way around the state and devastating ash trees in its path. It invades both healthy and stressed ash trees and, rather quickly, damages and kills them. It was first spotted in Michigan in 2002. Since then, it has spread to many other states and Canada. Scientists are still trying to understand how best to manage these pests, as the loss of ash tree seeds will affect many birds and mammals.

Some ash trees contain purple tent traps. These are installed by scientists or volunteers who are trying to study EAB to, hopefully, contain their numbers. In some cases, the purple tent traps do not mean that EAB is present but each trap contains a bait and if EAB is present, scientists will know when they check the traps.

The best thing to do to help stop the spread of the ash borer is not to move firewood. There is a national effort which quarantines areas of forest where EAB is confirmed; trees and wood in these quarantined areas are not to be removed so EAB does not spread. Pesticides are an option for landowners but are expensive and have their own side effects. The DEC recommends researching these options thoroughly to see what is right for you and your property.

Zebra mussels and Asian Clam

Both are changing the aquatic environment for domestic fish and plants. Zebra mussels filter plant plankton from the water, which then makes the water clearer but not cleaner. According to scientists, less plankton forces light-sensitive fish to seek deeper waters and encourages the growth of more aquatic plants. The plants provide more places for small fish to hide, which makes it harder for predators to feed. This results in stunted fish populations and can also pose a risk to boaters, according to researchers.

Asian Clams multiply at a high rate and cause more algae to bloom and disrupt the environment as well. The best thing to do to prevent the spread of aquatic invaders is, if boating, make sure to properly drain water from the motor, boat bilge, live wells and bait wells. Also, the clean weeds from the boat, motor and trailer before leaving the ramp.

Eurasian milfoil and water chestnuts

Water chestnuts form dense floating mats that limit light and oxygen for native plants and fish. Large colonies of water chestnuts also negatively affect boating, fishing, and other water recreation. Eurasian milfoil grows quickly and spreads easily. It forces other native plants out of the environment, making it difficult for fish who rely on native plants to survive.

They also pose a nuisance to boaters and recreation. Organized hand pulls have become a good way to mitigate both plants. This takes coordination among agencies, landowners, and interested volunteers, but has proven to have some impact on the amount of plants.

Giant Hogweed

The DEC site contains strong warnings about this plant which has been seen throughout Central and Northern New York. The state has even established a giant hogweed hotline for property owners to call if they suspect this is present because, if touched or cut, can cause severe burns and even blindness. The plant can grow between 7-14 feet tall and contains a flower at the top similar to a cow parsnip. Once skin comes in contact with the plant’s sap and combines with the sun, the skin becomes inflamed. Blindness can occur if the sap gets in the eye.

Giant hogweed is removed free of charge by the DEC. The hotline phone number is 845-256-3111. For more information on giant hogweed, visit

In the 2012 legislative year, I was pleased to support a bill which became law which increased penalties for those who knowingly transported or introduced invasive species. This law also required the Department of Environmental Conservation to develop a list of prohibited species which would be unlawful to possess. Increasing penalties, however in this case, will only deter a small part of the population.

The impact that education, awareness, and coordinated efforts will help limit growth and keep our domestic habitats safer than any law on the books.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office.

My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by email at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.

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