Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Paul Hetzler: More Blissful Ignorance, Please

It’s a rare blessing to have a job I absolutely love, but it’s not all roses. Although some of it is, literally, roses. All too often it is my dubious honor to bring to public awareness a new invasive pest or disease, and history has not always been kind to the bearers of bad news.

There is an old saying that knowledge is power, but there is another one that ignorance is bliss, and some days I’d be happy to trade some alleged power for a little bliss.

The 5th annual New York State Invasive Species Awareness Week began on Sunday. In New York it’s easy to be aware of invasive species since we have so many of them. Thanks to our early success creating a world-class sea port, and excellence in canal-building, NY has more invasive forest pests than any other state, and ranks in the top three for aquatic invasives. I guess the folks who set out to make NY the Empire State should have thought twice about trying to rank first in everything.

However, we are doing a lot right. New York State has funded six region-wide Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISMs), which pull together private and public groups to cooperate in the prevention and control of invasives. The Adirondack Park falls within the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP) PRISM.  Jefferson County, and the parts of St. Lawrence, Lewis and Oneida Counties, outside the Adirondack Park boundary (along with all of Oswego County), fall within the St. Lawrence-Eastern Lake Ontario (SLELO) PRISM, a well-organized and active partnership.

Some of the highlights of invasive lowlife include the new (2014) spotted lanternfly, which made its way to the US on a pallet of stones shipped from China to Pennsylvania. That’s right. Either Amazon Prime is out of control, or someone in PA was unaware that we had loads of rocks up here we could have sent them for way cheaper.

spotted lantern flyAlthough with its wings outstretched, the colorful lanternfly looks like a moth, it is neither moth nor fly, but rather a planthopper. These things work far too hard at sucking the sap out of trees, because they drain trees dry, often killing them. It prefers the Ailanthus tree, also from China, but these do not (yet) grow in northern NYS. However, they’ll settle for sugar maple, so we need to keep an eye out for lanternflies.

Anyone who remembers the Great Lakes before about 1985 knows what a dramatic change the tiny but prolific zebra mussel wrought. No more catching loads of perch and bass in a favorite weed bed. But on the other hand you can see like, fifty feet down. And more recently, the round goby and spiny water flea have taken some of the fun out of angling.

By now, most area residents know that in 2017, the emerald ash borer (EAB) was found in northwest Franklin County, and in several locations across St. Lawrence County. For such a destructive pest, the EAB is tiny — two of them fit end-to-end across a nickel with room to spare. It would be easy to overlook if not for its bright, metallic, emerald-green color with copper highlights.

emerald ash borer photo courtesy DECThe adult beetles themselves do little harm, but the juveniles are guilty of real delinquency. Immature EAB (larvae) feed on cambium tissue of ash trees, girdling and thus killing them. Aside from ash protected with insecticides (at some expense) through the estimated 15-year duration of EAB infestation, all ash trees in NY State will die.

During Invasive Species Awareness Week, people can take advantage of several events where kids and adults alike can learn more about the species affecting out region, and what we can do in response.

Nature Up North, a local citizen-science project affiliated with St. Lawrence University, will be at the Canton Farmers’ Market on Friday, July 13 from 10 am to 1 pm, and again at the Potsdam Farmers’ Market on Saturday, July 14 during the same time slot. There will be literature available, as well as people to answer your questions, and even a giant talking bug. And on Thursday July 12 at Jacques Cartier State Park, Nature Up North and others will present an invasive species program at the beach pavilion from 7 to 8 pm.

Other Invasive Species Awareness Week events are listed on the website of SLELO PRISM, as well as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation site. Find an event near you — the news may not be blissful, but taking action is better than sticking your head in the sand. And much less itchy.

Spotted lanternfly and emerald ash borer photos courtesy DEC.

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Paul Hetzler

A Canton, NY-based arborist, educator and writer, Paul Hetzler had intended to be a bear when he grew up, but failed the audition. He settled for an educator position instead, and serves as Horticulture and Natural Resources Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County.

His work has appeared in the medical journal The Lancet, as well as Highlights for Children Magazine. He is the author of Shady Characters: Plant Vampires, Caterpillar Soup, Leprechaun Trees and Other Hilarities of the Natural World.

You can reach Paul at the Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Canton at (315) 379-9192.




2 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    There is a lot of sensory overload with regard to environmental bad news these days. Invasive species, forest destruction around the world, ocean life dying from over-fishing and plastic dumping, air pollution, climate change, rising oceans, extinctions at an alarming rate, etc., etc.. But it is hard to get your head around any of these with a 24 hour news cycle bent on only covering chaos in our government. This is what happens when we place more emphasis on tribalism and differences and less on common sense, truth, and survivability.

  2. Joe Hansen says:

    We should certainly act responsibly and try to minimize the spread of new species but with international commerce only growing I’m afraid any victories are temporary. If life has a chance it will find a way to survive no matter where its origins. Unfortunately mankind’s activities are decreasing diversity and that is a shame, but adaptation and evolution continue on regardless. When folks in my outdoor groups get a little too much of the religious fervor for combatting invasives, I mention killing all those damn robins first. That settles them down.

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