You may have seen them in a park near you, these super heroes and heroines in disguise. Since 2008, New York State Parks have deployed Invasive Species Strike Teams. These Strike Teams conduct invasive species surveys and manually remove non-native invasive plants in areas of significance. The goal is to protect native plant and animal species and the natural areas in our parks. State Parks are also an important resource for tourism and recreation. Maintaining the integrity of the natural areas and features in parks helps to support these public interests, including camping, picnicking, fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, wildlife viewing, and other recreational activities.
For the past 10 years, Strike Teams have primarily been involved with removing invasive species on land, but in 2018 State Parks was able to establish an Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Strike Team thanks to grant funding received from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The AIS Strike Team isn’t afraid to get a little dirty or wet, as their main charge is to suppress, contain, and work towards the reduction of invasive species found in aquatic habitats within the Great Lakes watershed. The team’s home base is at De Veaux Woods State Park in Niagara Falls, but you’ll be able to find them working in the streams, lakes, and wetlands throughout Western NY and into the Thousand Islands.
The AIS Strike Team is made up of seasonal employees who travel through New York State from roughly May to November. A list of priority projects and a schedule is developed by State Park biologists. The AIS team then goes to the sites and camps near the project area for up to a week at a time. This is not luxury living! They use their hands and an assortment of manual hand tools, such as pick mattocks, shovels, machetes, saws, loppers, and sometimes power equipment, to accomplish the goals of the invasive species removal projects they work on. Sometimes the work requires a boat ride or lugging heavy backpacks into a work site. Some of the plants the team has tackled in and near the water include phragmites (common reed), oriental bittersweet, water chestnut, Japanese knotweed, flowering rush, European frogbit, purple loosestrife, and many more.
Another component of the AIS Strike Team is to provide experiential learning to K-12 students. In July, the AIS Strike Team partnered with State Parks’ FORCES program and Syracuse University to host a service day for high school students participating in Syracuse University’s Team and Leadership Academy. Students learned about aquatic invasive species and helped remove water chestnut from Sterling Pond at Fair Haven Beach State Park. For some of these students this was their first time learning about invasive species, let alone being on a boat, so the experience and learning opportunity was well received.
More recently the AIS Strike Team participated at the Great New York State Fair. For three days, the crew worked educational tables focused on invasive species. Families got to learn about invasive species by participating in crafts and games and examining live aquatic invasive species specimens the crew brought with them.
The AIS Strike Team was asked to reflect on their experience during the first year of operation. Here are some words from our hard-working weed warriors:
Working with the NYS OPRHP has been an exciting and worthwhile experience. Our ability to explore and improve our State Parks with the Aquatic Invasive Species Strike Team makes me appreciate what is accomplished through the hard work and constant communication that goes into making our parks so enjoyable. I now realize the impact and extent of invasive species across the state, as well as the importance of our commitment to protect the native species throughout the Great Lakes Watershed.
— Adam Lamancuso, Strike Team Member
This opportunity allowed my understanding of native plant life to flourish and opened up an entirely new perspective towards environmental stewardship through invasive species management. The places I’ve been, species I’ve seen, people met, and progress made to mitigate and apprehend the spread of invasive plants was an opportunity like no other. I wish to see the AIS program continue for years to come and inspire more along the way.
— Billy Capton, Strike Team Member
I love that I get to work outdoors every day and get to travel to new Parks in New York State that I’ve never been to. Not only is it work but also an adventure every day. It’s very rewarding to come to work knowing that the work we do is making a positive difference for the ecosystem and the parks themselves.
— Patrick Mang, Strike Team Member
It is clearly a great privilege to be able to work outside nearly every day, striving to protect NYS’s most treasured natural areas. What must not be overlooked, however, is the progression and determination of our seasonal Strike Team crew members. They continue to work hard each day, learn from and teach one another while continually finding ways to inspire each other along the way, even when faced with challenges. As a Crew Lead, this is the most fulfilling part of the position
— Logan West, AIS Field Lead
The crew asks that, in order to make their life a bit easier, please play your part to prevent the spread of invasive species. If you are a boater remember to Clean-Drain-Dry! Inspect your watercraft and trailer for plant and/or animal matter, and remove and dispose of any material that is found. Drain your bilge, ballast tanks, live wells, and any water-holding compartments. Clean your watercraft between uses or allow it to dry before visiting a new water body.
If you are recreating anywhere, not just State Parks, remember to Play-Clean-Go! Remove plants, animals, and mud from boots, gear, pets, and vehicle, including mountain bikes, ATV, etc. Clean your gear before entering and leaving the recreation site and stay on designated roads and trails.
If you are a gardener one of the best ways of reducing the spread of invasive species is avoid introducing them in the first place! Plant only NY native flowers, shrubs, and trees. Check the NY Flora Atlas to see if a plant is native to NY or not and learn more about New York’s invasive species on the NYS DECs Prohibited and Regulated Invasive Species List.
Post by Matt Brincka, State Parks