Yes, everyone should be educated and make sure their boat is clean, drained and dry, inspected and decontaminated, to stop the spread of invasive species and preserve Adirondack Park lakes, ponds and rivers. The park is a national treasure we must protect for future generations, as our ancestors did for us. That means taking seriously our obligations to protect clean water, native wildlife, aquatic life, allowing people to live in harmony with the wilderness.
Some suggest that this could be done with education and voluntary programs alone, without a law, regulations or enforcement. We can all wish that were true, but it isn’t.
The Adirondacks now have a park-wide network of free voluntary boat inspection and boat washing stations. But at some of those, including popular entrances into the park, only a small fraction of the boats coming into the park are stopping. The percentage that stopped at the new station on the Northway this summer is estimated at less than 10 percent. Why? They are not required to. Education alone will not work.
Existing law should be strengthened to make boat inspections mandatory. When someone is transporting a boat to a water body in the park, the driver should be obligated to stop at an open boat inspection station, just as trucks currently stop at weigh stations.
Invasive species infestations harm the environment, the economy and recreation. Prevention is always easier and less expensive than trying to remove a troublesome invader later on. It is a conservative approach. In most cases, removal isn’t possible.
New York Environmental Conservation Law §9-1710 requires that boaters take reasonable precautions to remove harmful, non-native plants and animals from watercraft when transported in New York State. It is due to expire on June 1, 2020.
The law was first approved five years ago with a sunset provision so it would expire in 2019, if the Legislature felt it had been ineffective or onerous. The Legislature renewed the law last year, for one year, to allow a limited amount of time to determine how to strengthen the law and reduce the frequency that boaters bypass inspection stations.
The law has helped educate boaters and should be renewed, but would work better if inspections were mandatory in the Adirondacks.
Some will question how mandatory inspections could be enforced on remote sections of forest preserve, or when traveling between distant bodies of water within the park. Some will argue that we can’t strengthen protections without strengthening enforcement and funding. These are distractions from progress. Our lawmakers can strengthen invasive species protections with the resources we have now, better protecting our waters, preserving property values and aquatic recreation.
We believe that the vast majority of boaters will comply with the law if inspections are mandatory and well-publicized. A few weekends of conservation officers monitoring popular boat launches would spread the word that the state was serious about compliance.
Lake George and Loon Lake (Chestertown, Warren County) are New York’s only locations where pre-launch inspections are currently required. Inspectors in those locations have slammed the door on new infestations, but not on boaters. The rest of the park still remains vulnerable.
The longer we wait to act, the more aggressive, nonnative plants and animals will invade our aquatic ecosystems. The damage and the cost will only increase until we take action to stem the invasions. It’s time to act!
This essay by Adirondack Council’s John F. Sheehan is a companion piece to “Invasives Viewpoint: Add Boat Inspectors, Educate Visitors” by Thomas E. Williams, owner of Paradox Consulting Group based in Hudson. Mr. Williams’ essay will appear in the Adirondack Almanack on Monday. This essay was written for “It’s Debatable,” which appears in each issue of the Adirondack Explorer.