Tag Archives: Invasive Species

Lose the Loosestrife: Beetles for Biocontrol

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.

Loosestrife flower, photo by A McGinnis
Purple loosestrife flower spikes at Silver Lake State Park. Photo by Amy McGinnis

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.

Loosestrife in bloom, photo by Amy McGinnis
Purple loosestrife plants in bloom at Silver Lake State Park. Photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

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.

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.

Beetle on loosestrife at Silver Lake SP, photo by A McGinnis
Galerucella calmariensis beetle on a purple loosestrife leaf at Silver Lake State Park, photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

Post by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

Featured image, Galerucella calmariensis beetle on a purple loosestrife, by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

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

On land and In Water: 2016 Invasive Species Removal Efforts

Terrestrial Invasive Species

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.

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2016 Eastern and Western Strike Teams, photo by Robert O’Brien, State Parks.

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
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Taylor Ouderkirk, Casey Bannon, Mike Ferri, David Hendler, photo by Taylor Ouderkirk, State Parks.
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Left: Eastern Strike Team removes Asiatic sand-sedge at Jones Beach, NY; Right: Strike Team member David Hendler removes black swallow-wort, photos by Casey Bannon, State Parks.

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.

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The Eastern Strike Team performs Southern Pine Beetle surveys at Minnewaska State Park Preserve, photo by Sarah Travalio, 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).
  • the-2016-western-strike-team-left-to-right-sienna-mcdonald-phil-bossert-dallas-ortel-and-melissa-kirby-state-parks
    The 2016 Western Strike Team (left to right): Sienna McDonald, Phil Bossert, Dallas Ortel, and Melissa Kirby, photo by State Parks.
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Western Strike Team members Phil Bossert (left) and Dallas Ortel (right) remove honeysuckle at John Burroughs Memorial Field State Historic Site, photos by Sarah Travalio, 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.
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Forest Health Specialists Jacob Sidey and Abigail Pierson prepare to climb a hemlock at Robert H. Treman State Park and Abigail shows how they climb using just ropes and no spikes, photos by Sarah Travalio, State Parks.
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Surveying hemlocks: Jacob Sidey (left and center) at Mine Kill State Park and Abigail Pierson (right) at Robert H Treman State Park, photos by Sarah Travalio, State Parks.

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.

ariana-london-lake-champlain-steward-completes-a-boater-survey-on-her-tablet-computer-at-the-great-chazy-boat-launch-in-2015-meg-philips-state-parks
Ariana London, Lake Champlain Steward, completes a boater survey on her tablet computer at the Great Chazy boat launch in 2015, photo by Meg Phillips, State Parks.

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.

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Becca Reile, Buffalo Harbor Steward, completes a boat inspection in 2015, photo by Meg Phillips, State Parks.

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.
jared-reed-saratoga-lake-steward-participates-in-invasive-species-awareness-week-in-albany-matt-brincka-state-parks
Jared Reed, Saratoga Lake Steward, participates in Invasive Species Awareness Week in Albany , photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks.
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Kelly Butterfield, Sunset Bay Steward, and Holly Flanigan, Fort Niagara Steward, pulling water chestnut (an aquatic invasive species) at Grindstone Marsh in Selkirk Shores State Park, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks.

Click on these links for more information about the Boat Steward Program and aquatic invasive species.

If you are interested in volunteering to help remove invasive species in your area, become a member of your local Partners for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) program.

If you are interesting in seasonal work removing invasive species in State Parks, check out the State Parks employment page.

Keep An Eye Out For HWA

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.

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HWA egg sacks on an Eastern Hemlock branch. Note the two white lines on the underside of the needles. Photo by Alyssa Reid, NYS Parks.

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.

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.

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HWA surveys are an important way to help out, while exploring New York’s winter wonderland. Photo by Alyssa Reid, State Parks

Post by Sarah Travalio, State Parks

Japanese Barberry: Not an Average Landscape Shrub

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Barberry in fall, photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is an invasive shrub from Asia. Invasives are species not native to our country or state and can cause ecological, economic or human harm. They arrive here as a result of international trade and intentional or accidental release. Outside of their native ranges, they lack predators or other factors that keep them from out-competing, or overcoming native species. Invasive species have been shown to degrade habitats and cause declines in native plant and wildlife populations. They can cause the loss of crops and income, and can also affect recreational opportunities in addition to other species. The United States spends billions of dollars a year in efforts to control invasive species and reduce their impacts.

Japanese barberry was introduced in the 1870’s for landscaping, and was used extensively for hedgerows and prized for its attractive red berries and bright red fall foliage. It is a dense spiny shrub (you might know it as a “pricker bush” that is common in neighborhoods and farms).  They can grow up to 8 feet tall, have zig-zag branches and small oval leaves that range from green to purple in the summer, with white to yellow flowers.

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Barberry fruit, photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

Barberry can produce large numbers of seeds at a rapid rate and tolerate a variety of conditions –which are typical of invasives. It escapes from gardens and farms and can crowd out native plants, which threatens native biodiversity and normal ecological functions in forest, field and edge habitats. Wildlife help barberry spread by eating the berries and dispersing the seeds in their scat (poop). Studies have shown that these berries have less nutritional value for wildlife than native fruits such as native cherry or viburnums. Barberry grows into dense thickets, crowding and shading out native plants and seedlings, reducing habitat and forage for other species. Additionally, barberry has been found to alter soil pH and the layer of vegetative litter on the ground. This change in soil pH can persist long after the invasive has been removed, further inhibiting native plant growth. It poses a threat to humans as well by creating prime habitat for deer ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease.

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Thicket of Japanese Barberry in a forest community, photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

A simple control method for established Japanese Barberry plants is to dig them out.  Barberries are fairly shallow-rooted and typically easy to dig out, but all of the roots must be removed to prevent regrowth. The roots are easily identified by their yellow color when broken. Once dug from the ground, the shrub should be disposed of in a manner that leaves it dead and unviable. This can be done by burning, chipping or leaving the plant in the open sun to desiccate.  Plants may be bagged in thick heavy bags, such as contractor bags, and thrown out, particularly if berries are present to avoid establishment of new plants.

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Digging out a barberry, photo by State Parks

For very large shrubs or thickets where manual or mechanical removal may not be feasible, systemic herbicides may be used with a basal bark  (spraying the entire circumference of the lower trunk or stem of the plant) or cut stump application. Chemicals are recommended as a last resort and should be applied by a licensed applicator. It is advised that people carefully follow label instructions to minimize impacts on native species.

Though new regulations prohibit planting of Japanese Barberry in New York State, it is still sought as a landscape shrub because deer do not eat it, it is hardy (further traits of invasive species), and the red phase offers a pleasing color to gardens. Thus, established barberry plants continue to threaten native ecosystems and efforts to control invasives.

There are native deer-resistant shrubs that could be planted in place of this invasive, such as St. John’s Wort, Highbush cranberry, Winterberry, and Shrubby cinquefoil. You can consult native plant nurseries and other sources, but also check the New York Flora Atlas to make sure the shrubs are native to New York State.

The simplest precaution that can be taken to control invasive Japanese barberry is to increase awareness of it and plant only native plants in gardens. This helps to support native plant species and the wildlife and native pollinators that rely on them.  You can also look for volunteer opportunities in your local State Park for invasive species removal workdays in the spring to fall.

Resources:

Going Native: Invasive Species

New York Flora Atlas

New York State Prohibited and Regulated Invasive Species Regulations

Post by Amy McGinnis, State Parks