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New York state taskforce to fight ecological invaders
Tuesday, August 12, 2003

The Democrat & Chronicle, Albany New York Bureau, by Yancey Roy

New York state will launch a task force to tackle invasive species, including zebra mussels, milfoil and purple loosestrife, under a law signed Monday by Gov. George Pataki.

The panel will study the impact that the nonnative species have had on New York, upsetting the food chain and choking out native species. The group is also charged with devising ways to fight back. The task force must report its findings by Nov. 30, 2005.

“ Invasive species come in many forms — plants, animals, pathogens — but they all pose a common threat to New York’s environment and economy,” said Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli, D-Nassau County, one of the sponsors of the bill to create the task force. “ The new task force will allow New York to develop comprehensive strategies to protect our vital ecosystems and our valuable natural resources.”

Zebra mussels have been one of the most prolific invasive species. The tiny, razor-sharp mussels are now found in Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, in the St. Lawrence and Niagara rivers, in the major Finger Lakes, all along the Erie Canal and down the Hudson River as far as West Point, said Charles O’Neill of New York Sea Grant, a research program.

“ They’re like little vacuum cleaners sucking up the bottom of the food chain and starving everything on up the chain,” said O’Neill, who is based in Brockport. In the Great Lakes, zebra mussels have pushed native clams and mussels to near extinction, he said. Zebra mussels make the water clearer, but that allows for further light penetration which encourages nuisance vegetation such as water chestnut, said O’Neill.

Eurasian milfoil, a plant with feathery underwater foliage, also has been a high-profile problem at numerous lakes around the state. Milfoil ties up boats and propellers and clogs water intakes. It can interfere with swimming and fishing as well.

“ It can make bays and shallow areas very difficult to manage,” said Bernard Melewski of the Adirondack Council. “ And, of course, the bays and the shallow areas are where the predominance of docks and homes are.”

Purple loosestrife, with spikes of brilliant purple flowers, is another alien invader. “ It spreads voraciously and chokes out native grasses. It can dominate a wetland rapidly,” Melewski said.

The task force will have 17 members, led by representatives of the state Environmental Conservation and Agriculture departments.


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