A bill designed to stop the spread of invasive species was passed by the state Assembly and Senate Tuesday.
The legislation would require the state Department of Environmental Conservation, in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture and Markets, to restrict the sale, purchase, possession, introduction, importation and transport of invasive species.
Working with the Invasive Species Council, the state agencies would develop regulations for dealing with the disposal and control of invasives, including a list of prohibited species that would be illegal to knowingly possess with the intent to sell, import, purchase or transport.
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, in the Senate and by Assemblyman Bob Sweeney, D-Lindenhurst, and Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward, R-Willsboro.
"Invasive species are much more than a nuisance, but a threat to ecosystems," Little said. "As we've seen across the state, once invasives are introduced and take hold, dealing with them is time consuming and costly and they are almost always impossible to eradicate. The point of the legislation is to strengthen our first line of defense."
Penalties would range from a warning for a first violation to fines of no less than $250 for subsequent violations. Financial penalties would be greater for nursery growers, operators of public vessels and commercial fishing vessels.
As part of the regulatory process, the legislation directs the agencies and council to consider establishing grace periods for prohibited and regulated species, so businesses can plan the management of existing stock.
Public hearings are also required as the regulations are developed, which Little said will help raise awareness and educate about the harmful impacts of invasive species.
"It's becoming such a big issue," Little said. "We're seeing it not only in our lakes but on land and parks, as well as on roadsides. It's getting way out of control. These are plants that grow rapidly and overtake the natural plants that are natural to the area."
Some invasive plants that have made headlines in recent years include Eurasian milfoil, zebra mussels, Asian clams and didymo, also known as rock snot. The cost of eradicating invasive species is often expensive and they are often very difficult to stop once they are introduced into new places.
Groups in support of the invasive bill include the New York State Farm Bureau, Nature Conservancy, Adirondack Landowners Association, Adirondack Council, Environmental Advocates of New York, New York State Association of Counties and Lake George Association.