A group of tiny bacteria has been making a splash in New York State waters, and not in a good way. Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs, also known as cyanobacteria, Blue-green algae, BGA) are actually a type of bacteria rather than algae. If the right conditions are met, the bacteria can form what are called “blooms”, or massive amounts of floating material on the surface of a lake or pond. These blooms can look like brightly colored paint, oil, or scum, on the surface and at the shoreline of lakes and ponds. The blooms can move around a lake with wind action, or currents, and can appear, and even disappear, in a matter of hours. Harmful algal blooms have been spotted at an increasing rate around the US in the last several years, including within some New York State Parks’ waterbodies.
The worst part about these colorful phenomena are that some species of HABs are known to produce toxins that are harmful to both humans and animals. Humans can be affected through swallowing water while swimming, touching blooms, and wading in blooms. If the HABs are producing toxins, some swimmers can experience a range of symptoms, from simple rashes, to stomach issues, and even to muscular paralysis. New York State Park bathing beaches are closed when a HAB is present. NYS Parks follows NYS Department of Health criteria when reopening the beach, which requires that the HAB bloom be visibly absent from the swim area for 24 hours.
Dogs are also particularly susceptible to these toxins and should not be allowed, under any circumstance, to drink or swim in a bloom. Dog owners are encouraged to educate themselves on identifying HABs, to protect their fur-kids from harm. Dogs exposed to HAB toxins can experience severe illness and in some cases, fatal effects.
NYS Parks posts HAB alert signs near waterbodies where HABs have been seen.
One of the best ways to recognize HABs on a lake surface is to be aware of changes to the surface of the lake. Take a look at the pictures below of HAB blooms that have been seen in NYS Parks.
Be on the lookout for HABS in stagnant or still, nutrient-rich waters, when the temperatures start to rise. HABs are influenced by time of year, climate and nutrient loads. The best way to prevent HAB growth is through watershed management. Reduce your own runoff by following NYS fertilizer guides, and help to report any evidence of HABs to the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation HAB hotline.
There are some HAB look-a-likes out there. Duckweed, other algae such as Cladophora (a form of clumpy, stringy algae), and pollen can easily be mistaken for HABs, especially in the spring.
Warblers, sometimes called “wood-warblers”, are a group of tiny, highly vocal and often brightly colored songbirds. Every year in May, they arrive in New York from Central and South America where they overwinter. Some continue north to Canada, but many stay here to raise their young, and then return south again in the fall. Most warblers are insectivorous, at least in spring and into summer. That means they eat mainly insects. So it is no coincidence that their spring migration follows the return of the buggy season. As leaves first appear in the spring and the bees and butterflies and other insects start moving about, keep your eyes and ears open for returning warblers.
Some warblers are pretty uncommon, so you will have to look extra hard to find them. One of these is the Golden-winged Warbler, once plentiful across New York and large areas of the eastern United States, but now quietly disappearing. Intense studies over the past few decades by wildlife scientists have helped to determine the causes of the dramatic declines and what could be done to prevent the loss of this brilliantly colored bird.
Changes in land use are one of the causes for decline. Peak numbers of golden-wings coincided with the rise of agriculture and timber harvest that created an abundance of young forest and shrublands that the birds preferred. As dairy farms dwindled, shifting to extensive croplands or reverting back to forests which continued to mature over the past century, the early successional habitats became less abundant and with it the decline of the golden-wings. More recently, studies also found that competition and hybridization with the closely related Blue-winged Warbler has taken a big toll on the golden-wing populations.
Although Golden-winged Warblers often nest and forage in shrublands, they also utilize forests for a portion of their time to forage, and provide cover for their young. There are many types of forests, but all of them change as they grow older. Mature forests have trees in all shapes and sizes, many of them stretch up high and crowd out the sun from reaching lower levels of the forest. Younger forests have many bushes and smaller trees, all competing to become the big, mature trees someday. Scientists have known for a long time that some forest birds prefer shrubland and young forest while others prefer more mature forest, and some prefer a mix of both. Golden-wings prefer shrubland and young forest with mature forest nearby. Young forests and shrublands, which were once created by natural wildfires, beaver flooding, as well as careful logging, were all growing into old forest habitat in the era of fire prevention, removal of beavers, and a decline of logging. Much of the golden-wing’s habitat was disappearing, and without it the golden-wings had no place to raise their young.
The good news is that habitat loss is something New Yorkers can do something about, giving this brightly colored songbird and other shrubland and young forest species a fighting chance at a future.
To ensure this future, Audubon New York is working with forest owners in certain areas of New York to identify existing areas of young forest and early successional habitats and, where appropriate, to create small patches of young forest, while preserving the older forests nearby. In New York State Parks, biologists are working with Audubon New York and NY Natural Heritage Program biologists in places like Harriman and Sterling Forest State Parks, to restore habitats that naturally support the open structure and mosaic of forest types that Golden-winged Warblers prefer. By surveying where the birds were and identifying the right places to create and maintain habitat for the Golden-winged Warbler, park biologists hope to increase the number of stable populations in the region.
In the future, the partnership hopes to learn more about the interaction and distribution of Golden-winged Warblers and the more abundant and competing Blue-winged Warbler in order to guide conservation needs. In 2016, the Palisades Interstate Parks Commission and Audubon New York partnered to fit individual golden-wings and Blue-winged Warblers with geolocators. These are small devices that measure day length and allow for specific locations of each bird to be calculated when in migration and while on wintering grounds in South America. This will help scientists identify additional conservation actions to save the Golden-winged Warbler.
Golden-winged Warbler ready for geolocator tag, photo by Eric Lind, one time use only
Blue-winged Warbler with a geolocator, photo by Eric Lind, one time use only
To learn more about the Golden-winged Warbler, and ongoing conservation efforts visit the Golden- winged Warbler working group website at www.GWWA.org. For more information on what you can do to help conserve the Golden-winged Warbler in New York, visit Audubon New York at http://ny.audubon.org/.
Post by Andy Hinickle, Audubon NY and Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program
As we celebrate Earth Day we’d like to tell you a little bit about some of the projects our Energy & Sustainability Office is working on that benefit the environment. Particularly we’d like to tell you how they are developing renewable energy projects all across the state. State Parks has developed several solar arrays over the last few years. Solar arrays use panels to catch sunlight. You’ve probably seen them on the roofs of houses in your neighborhood or maybe even your own house. The panels catch the light from the sun and turn that into electricity for use in the house or building.
NYS Parks has completed 13 solar installation projects to date. Our goals is use the sun to power part or all of our Parks. As a result of their work State Parks is recognized as the leading renewable energy agency in the state. Most installations were completed by trained in-house State Parks employees after they went through a solar power training course at HVCC. By training employees to install solar arrays, Parks is able to save money and give employees the opportunity to learn valuable skills that give them a better understanding of the project. State Parks currently has about 50 staff members with this training and continues to train more each year.
Beginning in 2012 with the construction of the rooftop array on the Niagara Falls Discovery Center State Parks renewable energy projects have grown in number and size. State Parks Staff have installed arrays in several parks across the state including, Niagara Falls, Letchworth, Robert Moses, and Grafton Lakes.
The 13th solar installation was at Robert Moses State Park in Long Island, and will become the first energy neutral State Park in the United States. The nearly 700 kilowatt solar array will save more than $100,000 each year. Built with 2,432 panels, this pole-mounted array is located in the back of parking field 4 of Robert Moses State Park. The solar panels are made in the United States by SolarWorld and supplied by National Solar Technology in Buffalo. This is the largest solar installation by State employees in the State’s history.
Currently Parks is installing a new solar system with a 144 kW capacity at the headquarters of the Historic Preservation Office, Peebles Island State Park in Cohoes. The array will account for more than 20% of the electricity used by the complex. Parks is also constructing a solar array on the roof of the Bathhouse at Lake Taghkanic State Park. This 40kW solar array will provide more than 25% of the buildings electric need.
Since 2010, State Parks has hired seasonal Invasive Species Strike Teams to perform removals of terrestrial invasive plants in New York State Parks and Historic Sites. The work of the Strike Teams allows Parks staff to identify and protect areas of ecological significance that are vulnerable to the growing threat that invasive species pose.
In 2016, two crews were hired, an Eastern Strike Team and a Western Strike Team. Each crew worked a 25-week field season (May 30 – November 18), camping out for much of the time and carrying heavy packs and gear to work sites.
The Eastern Strike Team covered Parks and Historic Sites in the Saratoga-Capital, Taconic, Palisades and Long Island regions.
Over the course of the field season, the crew visited 29 parks in 12 counties.
They worked on 38 different projects, targeting 32 invasive plant species.
The top three focal species were: Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus – 18 acres removed), Phragmites (Phragmites australis – 12 acres removed) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii – 10 acres removed).
Surveys and invasives removals were done on a total of 98 acres.
Much of the work focused on protecting rare elements including:
Karner Blue Butterfly and Sandplain Gerardia – federally endangered
Slender Blue Flag Iris and the rare Pink Tickseed – state threatened
Cerulean Warbler and Golden Winged Warbler – state listed species of special concern
A globally rare maritime grassland habitat
The Eastern Strike Team also spent a portion of their time surveying for the Southern Pine Beetle, an insect native to the southeast U.S., which has spread to the northeast, causing large-scale pine die-off on Long Island. The beetle has been detected in traps in State Parks in the Hudson Valley, but no confirmed infestations have yet been found in Pitch Pines in that region. Surveys were conducted in Schunnemunk State Park, Harriman State Park, and Minnewaska State Park Preserve.
Strike Team members David Hendler and Mike Ferri inspect a pitch pine for evidence of Southern Pine Beetle , photo by Casey Bannon, State Parks
Strike Team members David Hendler and Mike Ferri survey for Southern Pine Beetle at Schunnemunk State Park, Photos by Casey Bannon, State Parks
The Western Strike Team focused on the Finger Lakes, Central, Thousand Islands, Niagara, Allegany and Genesee Regions.
Over the course of the field season, they visited 22 parks in 15 counties.
They worked on 50 different projects, targeting 19 invasive plant species.
The top three focal species were: Pale Swallowwort (Cynanchum rossicum), Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) and Buckthorn (Rhamnus spp.).
Topping the ranks in numbers or volume removed were: 2.79 acres of Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) surveyed and removed, 35,025 Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata ) plants, 34 bags of Pale Swallowwort (Cynanchum rossicum), and 7 dumpsters filled with Phragmites (Phragmites australis).
Western strike team member Sienna McDonald conquers a honeysuckle plant, photo by Dallas Ortel, State Parks
Western strike team member Phil Bossert works on a pale swallow-wort removal project, photo by Sienna McDonald, State Parks
State Parks also hired two Forest Health Specialists to perform surveys for two non-native insect pests: Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) and Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). These surveys alert New York State Parks invasive species staff to new infestations, assist staff in identifying infested trees that can potentially be saved and allow for the identification and removal of trees that may pose a risk to the safety of park patrons. Forest Health Specialists also performed HWA canopy monitoring (tree-climbing) surveys at sites where HWA-infested trees had been treated previously with chemical insecticides. At these sites, the crew collected data on infestation levels and overall tree health in order to assist invasive species staff in monitoring the effectiveness of treatments.
Over the course of the 18-week field season, the crew was able to visit 17 different parks.
HWA canopy monitoring surveys were performed in 8 parks, and a total of 42 trees were surveyed.
All hemlock trees that had been treated with insecticides in previous years showed either no sign of infestation or signs of improvement.
Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) surveys were performed in 14 different parks, and the crew confirmed two new sites of EAB infestation.
Aquatic Invasive Species
The New York State Park’s Boat Steward Program is one of many boat steward programs throughout New York State. These programs provide targeted educational programming to increase awareness about aquatic invasive species (AIS) and other environmentally significant issues.
Did you know that NY State Parks adopted regulations in 2015 to help try to protect our lakes and rivers from the costly effects of invasive species? Find an FAQ about the new regulations here.
The regulations states that a boater:
shall not launch or retrieve their watercraft from a Parks-owned boat launch facility unless the watercraft’s water-containing compartments (livewell, bilge, bait bucket) are dry.
has inspected the watercraft to ensure that there is not plant or animal material attached to the motor, trailer, body of the vessel, etc.
The Boat Steward Program has stewards at many of our Parks-owned boat launches across the state who conduct educational boat inspections to provide step-by-step instructions on ways you can effectively inspect your boat and dispose of invasive species. These demonstrations are both free and voluntary.
Boat Stewards can help you learn about what to do to prevent spreading aquatic invasives and what to look for. They are primarily educators and do not play a role in the enforcement of regulations.
Many Parks-owned boat launches across the state are also equipped with disposal stations for aquatic plant or animal material. The disposal stations are designed to provide a place for plant or animal material to dry out in an upland area. The dried out material is typically collected and placed in the garbage to prevent any further spread.
When you come across a red-shirted Boat Steward, please stop and ask any questions you may have.
2016 Boat Steward Program Highlights:
2016 was the first year of a 2-year $500,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to expand the boat steward program at state park launches
16 stewards worked 30 launches within the Great Lakes Basin, Lake Champlain Basin, and Saratoga Lake
There were 21,431 voluntary inspections out of 22,344 boats (95% of boaters allowed their boat to be inspected)
2,982 boats were discovered carrying aquatic invasive species
54,627 boaters interacted with Stewards, with many boaters receiving education about Clean-Drain-Dry and aquatic invasive species
11 invasive species removal projects in partnership with Strike Teams and other partners
10 educational events
Approximately 500 bags, or around 12.5 tons, of water chestnut were removed from Selkirk Shores State Park.
The winter is a great time to visit State Parks in New York. Even in these colder months, opportunities for recreation are abundant and each year State Parks welcomes cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and hikers, who enthusiastically explore the many miles of trail that are open and maintained for winter activities.
Many recreationists are as eager to hit the trails in the winter as in the warmer months, but most are likely not aware that by enjoying their favorite winter past-time, they are also able to aid State Parks Biologists and staff in detecting an insidious invasive pest.
The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), is a non-native, invasive aphid-like insect that infests Eastern Hemlocks throughout New York State, and across most of the eastern US. The insect attacks the tree by attaching to the underside of the branch at the base of the needles, and feeding on the sap. The tree will respond by shutting down resources to the damaged areas. Eventually, as the infestation spreads, the tree dies – the insects having essentially sucked the life out of it.
Currently, work is being done throughout NY State to try to slow the spread of this pest. However, in order to combat HWA, researchers first need to know where it has (and hasn’t) been found. This creates an opportunity for concerned and conservation-minded citizens to provide a great service to the parks they love, and to help to protect the natural beauty that they cherish.
Hemlocks, one of many coniferous (cone-bearing) species throughout New York State, can best be identified by their needles, which are flat, generally a little more than an inch long, and have two white lines running parallel on the underside. The winter months are the best time of year to check these trees for HWA. The insects, which lay eggs in the fall, coat the egg sacks with a white, woolly protective layer, which allows the developing young to survive the winter. This white “wool” also makes the egg sacks very visible throughout the winter months (mainly December-March), and allows observers, with little to no formal training, to detect the presence of HWA in hemlocks.
Checking for HWA is easy – simply flip a hemlock branch over, and scan the base of the needles for the presence of white, woolly, round egg-sacks. While some larger hemlocks have branches that are un-reachable, many of the smaller trees have overhanging branches that can easily be reached without leaving the trail. Take note of where you are, and anything that looks suspicious (many smart phones will even allow you to save your location), and let Parks staff know where you found HWA before you head home for the day.
State Parks Invasive Species Field Control Director, Bob O’Brien, demonstrates surveying techniques to volunteers at Allegany State Park. Photo of Alyssa Reid, State Parks.
Volunteers at Allegany State Park employ an innovative technique to reach a hemlock branch and check for HWA. Photo by Alyssa Reid, State Parks
So, as you head out on the trail this season, consider pausing from time-to-time to inspect a nearby hemlock branch or two. NY State’s hemlocks need our help, and you can play an important role in conservation, while enjoying the outdoors!
For more information, or to find out how to volunteer and learn more about HWA and invasive forest pests, contacts NYS Parks Invasive Species Staff: 845-256-0579.