Boat stewards will monitor New York waters for invasives

Albany — State officials, ahead of the busy boating season on New York waters, announced that boat stewards will be deployed at nearly 200 locations in an effort to halt the unintentional introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species.

The DEC, state Department of Transportation and Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation boat steward partnership “provides a vital function in protecting New York’s waters and raising public awareness about aquatic invaders that could harm the health of our rivers, lakes, and streams, as well as the fish and plants that inhabit them,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said.

The state DOT is working with the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, DEC, state parks and local communities to host boat inspection and decontamination stations and help establish new sites along state highways, including at the Adirondack Welcome Center being built on Interstate 87 in Queensbury, Warren County.

Locating regional inspection stations on primary travel corridors helps obviate the need to construct and staff stations at individual lakes and streams, officials said.

Aquatic invasive species are nonnative aquatic plants and animals that can cause environmental and economic harm and harm to human health. Many such species have been found in the lakes, ponds, and rivers of New York – often transported from waterbody to waterbody on boats and watercraft equipment.

Boat stewards are volunteers or paid members who provide boaters and other water recreationists with important information about precautions to reduce the likelihood of spreading aquatic invasives. The stewards help people learn how to inspect, clean, drain, and treat watercraft and equipment. Stewards also ask where boaters last launched and can sometimes determine what invasive species are found in the lake or pond visited through the iMapInvasives website.

DEC and state parks are working with local governments, lake associations, the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program and Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute “in taking a front-line defense against invasive species, such as Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny water flea, in waterbodies in the Adirondacks.,” officials said in a prepared statement.

That effort is funded by the state Environmental Protection Fund (EPF), including $9 million in funding for a five-year management contract with the watershed institute.

Funding for programs in other areas of the state is made up through a combination resources including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and EPF aquatic invasives prevention grants.

In addition, state parks has entered a partnership with the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) to place boat stewards at approximately 30 state parks-owned boat launches across the state.

Since 2008, the number of boat steward programs has been steadily increasing. To date, more than 25 programs are active in the state through the Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management program, including the Finger Lakes and more recently established in the Lower Hudson Valley, Long Island, the Capital District/Mohawk River area, and Western New York.

Many organizations pursue boat steward programs, such as lake associations, colleges and universities, non-profits, county soil and water conservation districts, and municipalities.

New York has more than 7,000 lakes, ponds and rivers that could potentially be exposed to dozens of harmful aquatic invasive species available on DEC’s website. One of the main pathways for transfer of aquatic invasive species between waterbodies is recreational water vehicles (boats, canoes, kayaks and jet skis). Aquatic invasive plants and animals such as hydrilla, water chestnut, Eurasian watermilfoil, zebra mussels and Asian clams are easily transported on boats, boat trailers and recreational gear.

State regulations require water recreationists to take reasonable precautions to prevent the spread of aquatic invasives, and New York is expanding boat steward programs across the state, particularly in popular, high-use areas.

DEC advises boaters and anglers to check boats, trailers, and other fishing and boating equipment for any plants or animals that may be clinging to it. Be sure to check bunks, rollers, trim tabs and other likely attachment points on boats and trailers. Following a thorough inspection, DEC encourages boaters to follow the “Clean, Drain and Dry” standard:

  • Clean boats, trailers and equipment of any debris, and dispose of it in an upland area or receptacle provided for this purpose.
  • Drain the boat completely, including bilge areas, livewells and baitwells. Water ski and wakeboard boat operators should be sure to drain all ballast tanks. Many aquatic invasive species can survive in as little as a drop of water, so it’s imperative that all water is removed, officials said.
  • Dry all equipment for at least five days before using it in another waterbody. Longer drying times may be required for difficult-to-dry equipment or during damp or cool periods.

If boating equipment cannot be completely and thoroughly dried, it must be decontaminated prior to use in another water body. Various decontamination techniques and special techniques to clean boats previously used in zebra mussel infested waters are provided on DEC’s website.

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