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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

The Return of the Eagle

Between 1950 and 1972, chemical contaminations such as DDT almost eliminated bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). The chemicals lead to soft, very breakable eggs resulting in no baby bald eagles and a drastic decline in the population, at which time the species was put on the NYS endangered species list as well as the federal list. By 1960, only one active eagle nest was known in New York State. So, in the late 1970’s, an intensive restoration program began to rebuild the population in the state, to hopefully remove them from the list. The program involved bringing in and raising wild bald eagles from the Great Lakes region and Alaska in hopes that the birds would reestablish the population here in New York. The project, known as “hacking”, was a big success! In 2014, a statewide survey found approximately 330 nests in New York, 250 of which were occupied by breeding pairs, causing the species to be moved from  endangered status to threatened within the state. In addition, the birds’ successful recovery across the U.S. led to the removal of bald eagles from the federal Endangered Species list.

immature-bald-eagles-often-hang-out-near-the-nest-during-the-summer-notice-that-these-birds-are-all-brown-indicating-they-were-born-this-year-photo-by-state-parks-july-2014
Immature bald eagles often hang out near the nest during the summer. Notice that these birds are all brown, indicating they were born this year. Photo by State Parks.

Bald eagles mate for life and will usually return to the same nesting site year after year, somewhere near their birth nest area. Bald eagle pairs perform various activities together before mating, such as sharing food, building the breeding nest, and sometimes even courtship flights. The nesting season in New York ranges from the beginning of January to the end of August. Between September and December some birds may stay if there is open water and ample food, while others may migrate to a wintering location. During the nesting season, the eagles are extremely sensitive to human disturbances, such as loud noises, fast movement, or being too close to the nest. If too many disturbances happen during the nesting season, the eagles may leave or even abandon their nest. This past summer, State Parks and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) enacted a plan to help protect the bald eagles nesting in Beaver Island State Park from these human disturbances. Similar protections are in place for eagles nesting in other State Parks such as on the Hudson River, Thousand Islands, and other regions.

one-of-many-no-motorized-vessel-buoys-located-around-the-nesting-area-photo-by-josh-wulf-july-2016
One of many “no motorized vessel” buoys located around the nesting area. Photo by Josh Wulf,2016.

One protective measure is to keep motorized vessels away from the nesting bald eagles. The “no motorized vessel” buoys extend 330 feet all around the nesting area in all directions. Non-motorized vessels such as kayaks or canoes are permitted. In all cases, there are still federal navigation laws around the islands to help protect the habitat, such as maintaining a 5 mph speed limit while within 100 feet of the shoreline. There are also signs on the land that note the edge of the prohibited area for anyone walking on foot. You can help by paying attention to signs to keep your distance from nesting eagles and also avoid disturbing groups of eagles you may see in the winter.

immature-bald-eagle-in-late-winter-notice-the-white-feathers-are-starting-to-come-in-but-the-bird-still-lacks-the-white-head-of-the-adults-photo-by-gary-mcdannel-2014
Immature bald eagle in late winter. Notice the white feathers are starting to come in, but the bird still lacks the white head of the adults. Photo by Gary McDannel, 2014.

Preserving and maintaining good habitat in State Parks has played an important role to the return of this majestic species. With the cooperation of everyone, we can continue to enjoy the wonder of seeing bald eagles on New York’s lakes and rivers, thanks to the remarkable recovery effort that brought the eagles back.

For more information on bald eagles and the protection, please visit the NYSDEC website:

Viewing Tips

Life History

Protection

Post by Jillian Harris, State Parks

 

Sammi’s Story

Up close observations of bald eagles are rare and usually reserved for biologists and dedicated naturalists, however if you have been to Trailside Museums and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park over the last 30 years, then you have probably had an intimate encounter with Samantha, our impressive resident bald eagle. Affectionately known as Sammi, she has been greeting visitors since 1985.

Her story began in southeastern Alaska in the early spring of 1984. In the nest, her mother laid two eggs several days apart. Both parents took turns keeping the eggs warm and hunting for food. About thirty-five days later, Sammi and her sibling hatched from the eggs. Mom and Dad hunted continuously to feed their very hungry baby eaglets and themselves. The eaglets grew bigger and stronger and soon they would be getting ready to learn to fly, also known as fledging.

Meanwhile, Research Scientist and Endangered Species Unit Leader Peter Nye and a team of biologists from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Endangered Species Unit had traveled to southeastern Alaska. As part of New York’s Bald Eagle Restoration Project, they collected nestling bald eagles from 1976 through 1989, restoring New York State’s declining eagle population, which had been decimated by hunting, habitat destruction and widespread use of the pesticide DDT. On July 17, 1984, Mr. Nye climbed up Sammi’s tree and collected her and her sibling. They were put into crates and transported, along with 30 other young eagles, back to New York State.

Sammi and about half of the eagles were transported to a site in the Adirondacks, while the others went to a site in Albany County. The young eagles were raised to independence through a process called hacking. Living in artificial nests, called hacking towers, they were fed by hidden human hands, until fully feathered, when they were released to learn to fly and hunt from the towers. Sammi was released on August 31, 1984. She fledged from the tower on September 2 and returned to it on September 7. She left the hacking area entirely on September 20. DEC personnel last had contact with her on November 2 on Sacandaga Reservoir, near Northville, NY. Winter was coming, so Sammi migrated south.

Unfortunately for Sammi, she would barely get to know the usual rewards for migrating south, warmer weather and open water for fishing. She was found injured on the ground on December 27 in Woodleaf, North Carolina by a private citizen. She was taken to Dr. Brown of the Carolina Raptor Rehabilitation Clinic, where it was discovered that she had been shot with a .22 caliber firearm, which broke one metacarpal in her right wing. Dr. Brown and his staff spent an extensive amount of time and effort trying to rehabilitate her, but to no avail. Even with surgically placed pins and replacement of dead bone, the damage was irreversible. She was returned to New York on April 17, 1985, where Dr. Edward Becker surgically removed the right wing at the wrist joint.

Samantha was transported to Trailside Museums and Zoo on May 10, 1985 on a permanent loan as an educational specimen. She is a very proud and feisty bird, keeping the zookeepers on their toes whenever they have to enter her enclosure. She keeps her feathers very well groomed and always seems to maintain an aura of majesty. It is difficult not to utter an ‘ooh’ or an ‘ah’ when coming upon her. She can be very vocal, delighting and sometimes startling passersby with her piercing call. While we know that Sammi would much rather have spent the last 30 years living her life in the wild, she remains an excellent ambassador of her magnificent species, providing daily lessons on power, grace and hope. The Bald Eagle Restoration Project was an astounding success. There are now more than 170 pairs of bald eagles nesting in New York State.

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Photos courtesy of Palisades Interstate Park Commission.

Sources:

Post by Chris O’Sullivan, Environmental Educator at Trailside Museum and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park.