It was a beautiful Monday morning as my fellow Student Conservation Association Hudson Valley AmeriCorps members and I made the trek to the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve. Members were coming from as far north as Moreau Lake State Park (near the Adirondacks) and as far south as Jones Beach State Park on Long Island. I had come to Sam’s Point before to volunteer with bird surveys, so I was thrilled to return to this spot for our service project. We had gathered at what would be our home base for the next three days – us in a circle, cars in the background, and a spectacular view of Sam’s Point itself. We had gathered here for the 9/11 Patriots’ Day of Remembrance and held a moment of silence to reflect on that day 16 years ago, as well as the service we would be providing for the parks.
Before we could get started, some orientation was in order, as there was a lot of information to cover. Sam’s Point has a rare population of ridgetop dwarf pitch pine barrens, supporting wildlife such as birds, fishers (small mammals related to weasels), and porcupines. In April 2016, a wildfire broke out in the area, and efforts are underway to study the resilience of this ecosystem. We were able to see more of the area by hiking up to the scenic overlook as well as to the super cool ice caves!
There were multiple projects being done in our three days of service. Two crews worked on erosion control devices on the Verkeerderkill Falls Footpath. One crew worked on making water bars, trail structures that take the water off the trail. Another crew worked on building bog bridges, low wooden bridge structures that raise the trail out of the water or other sensitive area. The third crew was constructing invasive plant boot brush stations at various entrances around the park preserve. I was part of the invasive species crew for the service project. Our main focus was removing spotted knapweed, a purple flower that grew on the edge of the Loop Road. We had been out in the sun working hard on knapweed removal, and towards the end of the day, decided to move in the shade to work on stilt grass.
While pulling knapweed for many hours at a time, SCA members were able to have some fun. We had started to play the game Murder on the Trail, which is where the “killer” would stick out their tongue at a person, and five minutes, later the “victim” had to die dramatically. Aaron (one of the program managers) came to check in on us and did not know we were playing this game – he wasn’t sure what was happening when someone dropped to the ground. Other fun things included exploring Lake Maratanza and finding baby snakes! From the beginning of the trail at the bottom of the ridge, all the way to the top, past Sam’s Point towards Lake Maratanza, we pulled almost half a mile of knapweed. That’s a lot of knapweed!
The other teams worked hard and played hard too! The bog bridging crew installed over 170 feet of new bog bridges and the water bar crew improved almost a quarter mile of trail on one of the park preserve’s most popular trails. The boot brush crew installed three new boot brush stations to educate the public about invasive species and help stop the spread of invasive plant seeds.’
After three days of hard work and camping out at Sam’s Point, it was time for all of us to return to our homes in the Hudson valley. We had done great work for the park and I was happy to be a part of it.
Thank you to the SCA, SCA members, State Parks, and the staff of Sam’s Point. Until next time!
Post by Emily Enoch, SCA Hudson Valley AmeriCorps Member
Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is an invasive plant from Europe and Asia that can overcrowd native wetland plants. It is easily recognized by its tall and showy purple spike of flowers in the summer, lance-shaped leaves and square stems. As an invasive species, it lacks its natural predators and can spread quickly, producing as many as 2.7 million seeds a year.
Wetlands are rich habitats that support a diversity of plant, insect and animal species, such as marsh marigold (Caltha palustris,) twelve-spotted skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella,) painted turtle (Chrysemys picta,) green heron (Butorides virescens.) The introduction and spread of purple loosestrife has resulted in the loss of native plant and animals that depend on wetland habitats. In addition, purple loosestrife limits the growth of rare plants and can clog drainage ways and ditches, negatively affecting adjacent land and crops.
Since purple loosestrife grows in wetlands, methods to control this plant and promote native biodiversity aren’t always easy. Small young infestations can be removed using hand tools, but care must be taken to dig out all of the root portions to avoid regrowth. This may not be feasible for larger, more established infestations. The flower heads cut be cut, bagged and disposed of to prevent seed production and the spread of this plant. Chemical herbicides can be utilized by licensed applicators that follow strict protocols to avoid contaminating water bodies and non-target native species. However, there is an easier way to fight this invasive: biological control or biocontrol. Biocontrol is the control of an invasive species by introducing a natural predator of that species following very specific federal and state regulations and testing to make sure there will be no other negative impacts on the ecosystem. In this case, the biocontrol is the small purple loosestrife beetle, a beetle of the genus Galerucella. These are native to Europe and Asia and feed on purple loosestrife in its native range, keeping the plant in check.
Scientists must thoroughly test any biocontrol species to make sure they only affect the target invasive species and don’t negatively impact native species. In the U.S., studies have shown the beetles to be very host-specific, feeding and reproducing predominately on purple loosestrife. The beetles do not completely eradicate purple loosestrife, but they suppress the plants’ growth and ability to reproduce by feeding on its stems, buds and leaves. Thus, they reduce the plants’ dominance and impact within the ecosystem. Since 1992, biologists working under state and federal permits have released millions of these beetles at numerous sites across the northeast, including at several New York State Parks, such as Silver Lake State Park in western NY. In NY, the Department of Environmental Conservation continues to monitor the numbers and effectiveness of the beetles and to ensure there are no unforeseen problems.
The beetles are released in the summer when loosestrife is actively growing. They overwinter in the soil near the host plants and emerge in the spring to reproduce, with females laying eggs from May to June. When they hatch, the larvae feed on the loosestrife’s young growth and work their way down the plant where they eventually enter the soil to pupate. They emerge as adults in the summer and the cycle continues. Though they are not strong fliers, occasionally the beetles have been found 10-12 miles away from the initial release site.
Release sites for the beetles are determined by the dominance of purple loosestrife. These sites usually have a high percentage of loosestrife plants where hand removal of them is difficult. Biologists must submit an application to the Department of Environmental Conservation to justify the need for the beetles and receive a permit. The number of beetles depends on the size of the purple loosestrife infestation. Silver Lake State Park is one location where the beetles have been used as a biocontrol for this invasive plant. Silver Lake has an approximate 40 acre wetland with a purple loosestrife population of about 15%. In 2010, 800 Galerucella beetles were released in an effort to control the loosestrife. One meter by one meter plots were established in order to monitor the survivorship of the beetles and the defoliation, or the loss of leaves, stems and flowers, of the plants where the beetles have fed on them. Each summer after the beetles have emerged, the plots are assessed to determine the effectiveness of the beetles and if any more should be released. This is done by looking at the number of loosestrife plants that are defoliated (eaten, not flowering) vs. the number that are flowering, as well as the number of beetles that are seen. More beetles have been released at Silver Lake State Park since the initial 800 in 2010; the purple loosestrife plants have remained contained to that area and their growth has been restricted. In 2016, State Parks biologists expanded the program to Letchworth State Park.
Galerucella beetles fed on these loosestrife leaves at Silver Lake State Park, photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks
Several Galerucella beetles on a loosestrife plant at Silver Lake State Park, photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks
The extent of purple loosestrife has declined dramatically in areas with this biocontrol. It is unlikely that the beetles will eliminate purple loosestrife populations entirely. The hope is that as more Galerucella beetles are released across the state, the invasive loosestrife will be diminished, making room once again for the native flora and fauna at these sites.
Post by Amy McGinnis, State Parks
Featured image, Galerucella calmariensis beetle on a purple loosestrife, by Amy McGinnis, State Parks
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.
Giant hogweed can grow more than 14 feet tall. If you see it, do not touch it! Photo by DEC
Water chestnut is frequently pulled out by hand from kayaks and canoes, seen here at Rockland Lake State Park. Photo by State Parks
Have you ever seen a purple triangular prism hanging in the trees? It’s actually a trap for the emerald ash borer. Photo by State Parks
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Oak tree infected with oak wilt. Photo by NYS DEC
The discolored leaf from a tree in the red oak group. Photo by NYS DEC
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.
There was fun for all at an ISAW event last year at Allegany State Park, where kids made emerald ash borer masks. Photo by State Parks
Cleaning your boots after a hike helps to stop the spread of invasives. Photo by Credit: Gary Peeples/USFWS
Here are five easy tips that can make a big difference:
Use local firewood – buy it or gather it where you will be burning it so you don’t transport forest pests.
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.
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.
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
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.