Legislation passed at the bitter end of the 2014 NYS Legislative Session included a historic bill that will help transition New York to a greater focus on the prevention and interdiction of aquatic invasive species (AIS). This bill was carried by Assembly member Barbara Lifton from Ithaca and Senator Thomas O’Mara from Chemung County. Both have communities engaged in trying to stop the spread of hydrilla (hydrilla verticillata) on Cayuga Lake and elsewhere. Adirondack legislators all supported this bill and Dan Stec was one of the Assembly co-sponsors.
This bill is important for the Adirondacks because we still have many lakes and ponds that are not yet infested with AIS. While the list of infested waters grows and the number of AIS increases, we now have an important new tool to try and stop the spread. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) finalized rules this month that prohibits the launching of boats with any visible plant or animal matter or standing water at DEC boat launches and fishing access sites. This is important but limited. This new legislation will allow the DEC to develop similar regulations for all public, private and commercial boat launches across the state.
For the first time ever New York will have a law that blankets the entire state.
What this bill does is effectively prohibits the transport of AIS in New York. Dirty boats can be fined. This is the first, and vital, step in building a comprehensive statewide program for the prevention, management and control of AIS. This gives many organizations, local governments, lake associations, among others, an important tool for stopping the spread of AIS. This law is an important building block for a strong, comprehensive statewide AIS control program.
Many non-profits, local governments, and academic institutions such as The Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College, have organized programs where Lake Stewards provide public information about the threats and hazards of AIS. The people and organizations on the front lines of AIS education have been calling for a state transport law for years. Many other states have passed such laws. There are many local boater educational efforts, which have helped to teach boaters about AIS, but these programs provide limited coverage across New York. The new legislation places an emphasis on boats being moved around the state in a cleaned, drained and dry condition. This will help statewide efforts to control AIS.
In the management of AIS, great emphasis has been placed on direct control and management of AIS in infested water bodies. These efforts often had the support of boaters and property owners and local governments. These control efforts did not change recreational use patterns or limit opportunities. It was safe for lake managers to work on control, with less emphasis on intervention. As infestations continued to grow, the field of AIS management evolved to make prevention a core part of a comprehensive program to combat AIS. While prevention changes recreational boating, it is an effective strategy to prevent new AIS outbreaks, which is far cheaper for communities to manage and far better for the ecological health of a waterbody.
The days of dirty boating must end. The threat of AIS infestation is real and the costs are high, both in dollars and in ecological harm. The recent costs of control efforts on Lake George for the Asian clam (Corbicula fluminea), Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum), and zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) show the high costs of control efforts. Over $7 million has been spent to control AIS on Lake George for all the various AIS since the 1980s. Recently, over $1 million has been spent to try and control hydrilla in Cayuga Lake. Given this reality, New York needs to significantly improve its AIS prevention and interdiction infrastructure.
The protection of lakes, ponds, and rivers from AIS infestation will help the economy and quality of life of Upstate New York communities. It will help the economy and quality of life in the Adirondack Park.
Many rallied behind this effort to pass a statewide AIS transport law. All the environmental groups from the Adirondack Park and many from across the state stepped up. The Local Government Review Board supported this effort and made its views known. Local governments passed resolutions, including the Warren County Board of Supervisors just hours before the Senate vote. Trout Unlimited was a strong supporter and the New York State Federation of Lake Associations mobilized scores of lakes associations from across the state. A fine joint statement is here.
Lake George has built a comprehensive boat control program. It is fortunate to have a state commission for the lake that has authority to regulate boats. In Chester, Loon Lake now has a comprehensive boat control program too. In these places, boats are inspected and if a boat fails inspection it must go through a decontamination process, which involves power washing and cleaning. The communities around lake George and Loon Lake have built systems for inspection and decontamination, which minimize interference for boaters while preserving the beauty of the Loon Lake and Lake George experiences and ecological health of those lakes.
These programs show the future of boating in New York and protective programs to prevent the spread of AIS.
In a related effort, Senator Betty Little passed a bill to require the DEC to place signs at all boat launches warning the public about the dangers of AIS and the importance of boat cleaning. This bill would have been a big deal 10 years ago. It was also passed by the Assembly.
The AIS transport bill will likely take a year to fully put in place. The 2014 boating season will see the status quo, but many will work to make sure that the new law is fully operationalized by spring 2015.
This new state law that prohibits the launching of dirty boats on New York State waters and will necessitate replication of the Lake George and Loon Lake models across the Adirondacks and across the state. This law is a step change in AIS management and control and marks a badly needed greater investment in the protection of New York lakes, ponds and rivers – vital natural resources that in many ways underwrite and define the Adirondack Park experience.