Aquatic invasive species pose a serious threat to the economy and the environment, not only in the Adirondacks, but in all of New York State.
The current debate over a voluntary vs. mandatory boat inspection program is the classic “carrot or stick” scenario. Forcing a mandatory program on the boating public in the Adirondacks, without even considering other intermediary options, is a mistake.
There are many steps that could be looked at to enhance the current program, which by all accounts has been very successful in preventing the introduction of new invasive species. Expanding this success formula will require a strong partnership and funding component from the state, local government, lake associations, businesses, marinas, trade organizations, sportsmen and environmental groups.
The mandatory program on Lake George is often held up as the benchmark for how prevention should be done. The reason it works is because education and awareness, combined with a broad-based funding model, created the buy-in and foundation for the effort. If we just pass legislation that only provides the “stick,” we will have a low rate of participation and alienate those who were omitted from the process. The Adirondack advisory group on aquatic invasive species is a great example of consensus building that helped advance the current park-wide voluntary inspection/decontamination program.
I would suggest we first look at more practical and cost-effective ways to provide additional boat inspection facilities and plug some of the current holes that now exist… especially in areas like the western Adirondacks. There should also be a greater effort placed on installing educational signage at the hundreds of informal boat launch locations across the park. We need to adopt a “frozen boats” program with a tagging process that can be administered by marinas and boat storage locations. A program like this would eliminate the need to have a boat inspected or washed prior to the first launch after winter storage and would save time and money that could be applied to other efforts.
Lastly, I would like to see an effort to connect with the rapidly growing seasonal rental market in the Adirondacks. When you look at the most common online outlets, such as Airbnb and Vrbo, there are literally thousands of rental weeks and weekends available. These seasonal visitors come from all over and, while they are a welcome addition to many local economies, they can also bring unwanted pests with them on their watercraft or fishing gear. In most cases, these rental customers have little or no knowledge about invasive species or the potential impact they can have on the economy or the environment. Education for both the property owner and their guests needs to be a priority going forward.
So, now we are back to the question about voluntary vs. mandatory. Almost everyone is in favor of more boat inspection locations, provided there is a practical and comprehensive approach to making it happen. There are thousands of lakes and ponds in the Adirondacks and countless miles of rivers: Controlling or monitoring access to all of them is not possible. Moving directly to a mandatory program, without considering some of the steps I have outlined, will only fuel more divisiveness and result in noncompliance and ridicule of the law. I vote for the “carrot.”
Thomas E. Williams is the owner of Paradox Consulting Group based in Hudson. He has consulted for the Adirondack Watershed Institute, the Fund for Lake George and the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, and is a former president of the Adirondack Landowners Association.
Photo: Adirondack Watershed Institute steward watches over the Second Pond boat launch near Saranac Lake. Photo by Sara Ruberg.
“It’s Debatable” appears in each issue of the Adirondack Explorer. This essay by Paradox Consulting Group’s Thomas E. Williams is a companion piece to “Invasives Viewpoint: Make Boat Inspections Mandatory” by John Sheehan, director of communications for the Adirondack Council.