ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation Tuesday that aims to help stop the spread of invasive species in New York.
"This new law will give the (state) Department of Environmental Conservation and the Department of Agriculture and Markets the tools they need to protect our state's ecology from the harm that invasive species can cause," Cuomo said in a press release.
The legislation would require the DEC, 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.
Invasive species threaten New York's environment by out-competing native species, diminishing biological diversity, and changing whole ecosystems. Invasive species are widely available in commerce for landscaping and aquaria, and include species such as Hydrilla, an aggressive aquatic invader that chokes out native plants, clogs water intakes and impedes recreation. Other invasive species, such as the emerald ash borer and the Asian long-horned beetle, can devastate New York's timber and forest products industry. Millions of dollars are spent annually in the United States to control such species.
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.
Sen. Betty Little, who sponsored the bill while it was in the state senate, said in a press release the new law will educate the public, hold people who spread invasive species accountable, and save the state's taxpayers money while protecting the environment for future generations.
"As we've seen in the Adirondacks and across New York, once an invasive takes hold eradicating it is almost always impossible," Little said in a press release. "This new comprehensive and proactive approach to educate the public, as well as hold those who are negligent accountable, will save taxpayers millions of dollars and protect the environment for future generations. I am grateful for Governor Andrew Cuomo's support on this important measure."
Groups in support of the invasive s pecies law 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.
"We have seen the economic and environmental impacts that invasive species can have," said Michael Carr, Executive Director of the Conservancy's Adirondack Chapter, in a press release. "Whether it's Eurasian watermilfoil choking one of our lakes, Japanese knotweed degrading river corridors, or emerald ash-borer threatening our forests, we must reduce or eliminate the spread of invasive species. We have a collective obligation to conserve our natural resources and the value they provide to New York's economy."