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Help Protect Our Parks – It’s Invasive Species Awareness Week!

July 9th -15th, 2017 marks the fourth annual New York Invasive Species Awareness Week! Each year, New York designates one week to highlight the environmental impacts of invasive species and what we can do to help. This year’s theme, “Invasive Species Reality Check: Where We Are & Where We Need to Go,” focuses on past successes and goals for the future. Invasive species affect all of us, and we could use your help to detect and prevent the further spread of invasive species in New York.

What are invasives? Invasive species are plants, animals (don’t forget about insects!), or other organisms that are accidentally or intentionally introduced from a different region or country (meaning they are non-native), and that cause harm to the environment and the economy. In general, invasive species tend to be adaptable to a variety of environmental conditions. They grow and spread quickly, and because they are non-native, they do not have natural controls like predators or diseases that would normally reduce their numbers. Therefore, invasives are able to displace native plant and animal species and the organisms that depend on those native species.

Keep in mind that not all non-native species become invasive – it is the species that are very successful and have the potential to negatively impact large areas that become a problem. In New York, several especially problematic invasives include: giant hogweed, a huge plant that can cause severe burns and blisters on skin; water chestnut, an aquatic plant that forms dense, impenetrable mats on the water’s surface; and the emerald ash borer, a beetle that has already killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America.

One high priority invasive species that we could use your help detecting is called oak wilt, a fungal disease that affects oak trees. It can kill trees in the red oak group (oaks with pointed leaf tips) in as little as 2-6 weeks! Trees in the white oak group (oaks with rounded leaf tips) are less susceptible to the disease, but can still be killed in a matter of years. This July and August, look for oak leaves that are turning brown, starting at the outer edge and progressing into the middle of the leaf. The leaves may fall off of the tree in the spring and summer, often when parts of the leaf are still green. The oak tree’s branches may begin to die off from the top of the tree downward. If you see any of these symptoms, it is crucial that you contact DEC Forest Health via email at foresthealth@dec.ny.gov or call 1-866-640-0652. Read more from the Department of Environmental Conservation about this destructive invasive. Last year, there were only 15 cases of oak wilt reported in New York. Your eyes on the ground could assist in the rapid identification of any new cases and help prevent the spread of this disease.

Take Action!

If you are ready to take action and learn more about invasive species, you’re in luck! This week there will be interpretive hikes and paddling events, presentations, webinars, invasive species removal projects, and more, all across New York State. Check out the Invasive Species Awareness Week (ISAW) calendar or see if your local State Park or nature center is hosting an event. Last year, New York State hosted over 120 ISAW events and had more than 2,000 participants. So whether you just learned about invasive species from reading this blog post or you’re already able to spot the difference between the highly invasive aquatic Hydrilla plant and the common native look-alike Elodea canadensis (learn more about that here!), we need your help. Learn, act, tell your friends. Public awareness and action plays an essential role in halting the spread of invasive species and preventing new introductions.

 

Here are five easy tips that can make a big difference:

  1. Clean, drain, and dry your watercraft and gear thoroughly to stop the spread of aquatic organisms.
  2. Use local firewood – buy it or gather it where you will be burning it so you don’t transport forest pests.
  3. Plant only non-invasive plants in your garden, or even better, plant native plants. You can use the New York Flora Atlas to check which plants are native to New York.
  4. Clean your boots or your bike tires at the trailhead after hitting the trail – seeds of invasive plants can get stuck on your boots, clothes, or tires. You don’t want invasives in your yard or your other favorite hiking spots.
  5. Get involved – volunteer to help protect your local natural areas, join your local PRISM (Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management) to stay informed, or become a citizen scientist by using iMapInvasives to report infestations of invasive species right from your smartphone.

New York Invasive Species Awareness Week is coordinated by The New York State Invasive Species Council (ISC), Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC) and Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISMS) in partnership with numerous other agencies, organizations, and groups.

Post by Kelsey Ruffino, Student Conservation Association & State Park

Did Someone Say “Free Boat Wash?”

Yes its true, boaters can expect to be offered free boat washes from stations at select boat launches throughout the state, especially in places like the Adirondacks. The purpose of these stations are to provide free boat washes while also helping to prevent the spread of certain invasive species.

Everyone takes the time to give their cars a good wash periodically, but have you ever thought about how often you should be cleaning your boat? Boats can be carriers of invasive plants and animals. Most of the time, you can see these plants hanging off your propeller, bunks, and trailer and you can simply pick them off. However, some invasive species, like the young of zebra mussels and Asian Clams (called veligers) are so small they cannot be seen with the naked eye. Yet just adding a few of these into a lake or other waterbody is enough to start an invasion.

When we wash our boats, also known as decontaminating, it reduces the chances of transporting harmful invasive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels, spiny waterfleas, or Asian clams, to additional waterbodies.

How do boat wash stations work?

Boat washing begins with a general boat and trailer inspection.  A trained professional, typically a boat or watercraft steward, first checks over your boat to see if it needs to be cleaned. If a boat is noticeably dirty and has visible plant matter on it, or if the boat was previously in a different waterbody, there is a good chance the boat steward will offer to decontaminate your boat for free. After a visual inspection of the boat and trailer, the boat steward will ask you to lower your propeller, just low enough to check if there is any water in the engine. If water comes out, the engine will need to be flushed of that foreign water with 120o F water from the boat wash station.

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State Parks staff working with Lake George Park Commission stewards to determine if this boat needs to be decontaminated, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks

At pristine waterbodies like Lake George, boat stewards are more concerned with boats going into the lake that were previously elsewhere. In other lakes where many invasive species are already present, boat stewards may focus their decontamination efforts on boats exiting the water, to prevent furthering the spread of those species.

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Lake George Parks Commission Stewards using specialty “muffs” to run the engine while also flushing it clean of any water that could be carrying invasives, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks

Afterwards, if the boat steward determines that you also should have a full decontamination, they will begin cleaning your boat.  The water in the boat wash station is heated up to 140oF with pressure as high as 1,400 PSI. This temperature and pressure has been shown to kill most animals and plants trying to hitchhike on your boat. For specific areas where electronics and engine components are exposed, lower pressure is used to prevent damage to the boats. Boat trailers with felt bunks will be soaked in 140 o F using a low pressure attachment to kill any invasive species that may be hitchhiking on this material.

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Jake Barney, a State Parks Boat Steward, demonstrates using a Boat Washing Station.. The handle in the boat steward’s left hand is used to control the amount of pressure coming out of the hose, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks

During the washing, it is important to wash the outside of the boat and trailer, including the propeller, hull, trailer hitch, and underneath the trailer. It is also important to flush the engine and drain the bilge to ensure the boat is properly decontaminated. Boat wash stations can recycle contaminated water and heat it again, ensuring that its runoff will not contaminate the waterbody.  Boat stewards take special care to be sure that no damage happens to the boats during cleaning.

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What your average portable boat washing station looks like. The yellow tanks on each side hold water used for decontamination. The machine has a gas engine but uses a diesel burner to heat the water to 140o F, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks

Boat wash stations are an effective way to clean your boat of all invasives, including those that may be too small to see. Using the boat washing station is the most efficient and effective way to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species, while also providing a free cleaning of your boat and trailer!

Thanks for helping keep New York’s pristine lakes and rivers clean, so we can continue to enjoy them for generations to come!

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Kayaking at Fair Haven Beach State Park, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

Additional information:

Click here for more information on boat decontamination procedures:

Decontaminating your boat with a boat wash station is always suggested, but be aware that some lakes, such as Lake George, require you to get a decontamination before launching.

Heading to the Adirondacks or Lake George? Find a boat wash station here.

This summer, State Parks will be opening two boat wash stations, one at Allan H. Treman State Marine Park and the other at Saratoga Lake State Boat Ramp.

Post By: Jordan Bodway and Kristin King, Lead Boat Stewards, State Parks

Staff Spotlight: What it means to be a “Boat Steward”

On a Monday in mid-May the 12 members of the 2015 NYS Parks Boat Steward Program piled into two minivans in the parking lot at Hamlin Beach State Park. The vans were packed to the gills with supplies, including snacks for the road, uniforms, plant rakes, 5-gallon buckets, and  folding tables. Strict instructions were given to avoid opening the trunk without someone standing by to catch any overnight bags or coolers that may tumble out. To a bystander, our situation likely seemed akin to a scene from the National Lampoon’s Family Vacation film – only we weren’t leaving for a vacation. We were bound for a multi-day training at Paul Smith’s College, where watercraft inspection began in New York State more than 15 years ago.

Watercraft inspection has become an increasingly popular way to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) via overland transport.  During the training, Boat Stewards learn how to educate the public on AIS, conduct voluntary watercraft inspections remove and dispose of any plant or animal matter, and collect data about the boaters that they interact with.  This data helps us to understand how and where AIS are being transported, which regions of the state require enhanced outreach, and where boat washing stations would be most efficiently utilized.

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Stewards conducted mock watercraft inspections for AIS at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondack Park. Returning stewards from the Paul Smith’s program took on various “boater personalities” to help the new stewards prepare for any type of situation that could arise at the boat launch.
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Paul Lord (SUNY Oneonta) held a hands-on invasive plant and animal identification session, which was an invaluable piece of the training for the stewards. After they had time to become familiar with the specimens, stewards were given a quiz!

Fast forward to five weeks later, the stewards are trained and on-site at 21 launches across the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain.

The following images were taken in the field during routine site visits.

Above left: Zebra mussels attached to a stick near the boat launch at Point Au Roche State Park on Lake Champlain. Can you imagine how many of these mussels could cover the bottom of a boat?! Banded mystery snails were also found at this location. Zebra mussels and banded mystery snails are just two of 50 known invasive species in the lake.

Above right: Melyssa Smith (OPRHP Water Quality Unit) and Ariana London (OPRHP Boat Steward) practice throwing the plant rake from a boat launch on the Great Chazy River. It is still a bit early in the season for significant plant growth; however AIS Eurasian watermilfoil and a native Elodea have been collected at this site thus far.

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“So far, the two main aquatic invasive species that I have found are curly-leaf pondweed and Eurasian watermilfoil. I keep some samples on my table to show to boaters and park visitors who come by to learn about them. I also throw my rake into the water every morning to gather new specimens. I have been learning to identify many different types of aquatic life!” – Sarah Powers, Salmon River and Lake Ontario steward.

Above left: Tara inspects a motor boat that is preparing to launch. “For me, being a Boat Steward is about patience, passion and perseverance.” –Tara Camp, St. Lawrence River steward.

Above right: A curly-leaf pondweed specimen on the boat launch at Westcott Beach State Park. Notice how the leaves resemble lasagna noodles.

If you encounter a Boat Steward this summer, be sure to ask them how you, a New York State Park visitor, can help halt the spread of aquatic invasive species by adopting a few simple practices when launching or retrieving your watercraft.

And always remember to:

  • Drain your bilge, ballast tanks, livewells, and any water-holding compartments
  • Inspect your watercraft and trailer for plant and/or animal matter, and remove and dispose of any material that is found
  • Clean your watercraft between uses or allow it to dry before visiting a new water body

For more information about the NYS Parks Boat Steward Program, please call (518) 402-5587.

Post and photos by Megan Phillips, OPRHP Water Quality Unit.