Our nation is being invaded, and most of us are completely unaware.
The invading foreign armies do not use bombs or machine guns. Instead, these foot soldiers are disguised as plants, animals, insects, even microorganisms. They enter our land and water and take over, evicting our native inhabitants and causing great havoc. Because we've been unable to keep them from crossing our borders and they've already taken root in our country, we must do whatever we can to keep them from spreading into our Adirondack forests and waterways. The best, most cost-effective solution is to stop them before they arrive.
These invaders are non-native species that cause harm - also known as invasive species. There are more than 40 plant species invading our woods, wetlands and waters. They can be as small as a seed or a piece of microscopic algae.
How do they cause harm? Invasive species actively overwhelm native species, threatening biodiversity in natural native habitats. They often compete with native species for food or space. Because their native predators were left behind in the place they originated, they spread unchecked, pushing out the native wildlife, out-competing them for food, and eventually altering the entire ecosystem.
Eurasian watermilfoil, an exotic plant introduced to the U.S. by the aquarium industry, is invading our waters. Because it can grow from broken-off stems, it spreads quickly, crowding out native plants and forming dense mats that choke lakes and interfere with recreational activity. Water chestnut, another invader, floats on the surface of the water, forming dense clusters with sharp barbs that make swimming and boating difficult. Spiny water flea, rock snot and curly leaf pond weed are other plants invading our waters.
On land, some examples of recent invaders are giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed, garlic mustard, common reed and purple loosestrife. The newest invading insects include the emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle, which came from China as a stowaway in wooden packaging material in 1996. It feeds on many hardwoods, including sugar maple, and poses a serious threat to our forests and maple syrup industry. West Nile virus, which appeared in the U.S. in 1999, infects both birds and people and is an example of an invading microorganism.
How do they get here? Some come by boat, or on boats. They stick to the sides of the craft and paddles, or hide in the rudder. Microscopic organisms can be absorbed into wet outdoor gear. Some, like the Asian longhorned beetle and the emerald ash borer, come in wood and other products when humans transport them long distances. Seeds can be transported by hikers on boots or clothes. Invasive ornamental plants like yellow iris, purple loosestrife, Asian bittersweet and Japanese barberry are sometimes sold by greenhouses and plant nurseries that are unaware of the danger.
Invasive species affect our land, water, woods and farms. They impact outdoor activities like swimming, boating and hiking. Everyone needs to be part of the fight against invasive species.
What you can do:
Spread the word. Educate other boaters, campers, hikers and gardeners.
When buying garden ornamentals, be aware of invasive species and don't plant them!
Buy local firewood.
When camping, boating or hiking, clean and dry your gear thoroughly before moving to another site or water body. Keeping gear (including shoes and clothes) clean and dry is important because many invasive plants reproduce from tiny pieces of the original plant or have seeds that disperse via wind. Removing these particles ensures the plant won't travel with you to the next site.
On the water, check your boats, paddles, rudder and gear before and after putting them in the water. Remove any plant matter, sediments or other clinging particles. Dry your boat thoroughly before moving to another body of water. Foot apparel (like water shoes and sandals) should be cleaned and dried before moving to another body of water.
Avoid boating through aquatic plant beds. Many invasive plants can reproduce via fragmentation, or by small pieces of the plant. By disturbing the plants, you could be creating more invasives.
When hiking, brush your boots clean and shake off any particles from your clothes and gear before leaving a trail. This ensures that all seeds and plant particles have been removed and won't be carried with you to the next trail.
New York is trying to keep our native plants and wildlife safe from invaders. In 2003, the state created the Invasive Species Task Force. In 2007, it formed the Invasive Species Council and Advisory Committee. In 2008, the Department of Environmental Conservation established the Office of Invasive Species Coordination.
We need to constantly work and monitor to protect our park, waters, forests and land from invaders. In an effort to increase the public's awareness, the annual Invasive Species Awareness Week was established in 2008. This year, it is July 8 to 14. For more information, contact the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, www.adkinvasives.com.
Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear.