Otsego County: Office to fight pests

Area organizations dealing with such issues as zebra mussels and water chestnuts will be getting some help, according to a media release from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The agency announced the formation of a new office to focus the effort to combat the problem.

The Office of Invasive Species will bring together foresters and biologists to work with universities, state agencies and nonprofit organizations to support research and raise awareness. Biologist Steve Sanford will lead the effort.

Otsego County Conservation Association Executive Director Erik Miller said that having a specific representative handling the issue will be a big help.

"More needs to be done," Miller said, but this move is an indication the problem is "getting the respect it deserves."

The greater Oneonta area has not been immune to invasive species. In August 2006, efforts were made to combat an infestation of water chestnuts on private wetlands behind Oneida Street in Oneonta. That Eurasian plant grows thick and has been known to clog pipes, canals and waterways, affecting navigation and power plant infrastructure, according to Matt Albright, assistant to the director at the State University College at Oneonta Biological Field Station, at the time.

Water chestnuts have also been spotted this year in Otsego Lake, where a cleanup day is held in August to target invasive species as well as debris. Zebra mussels have been found in Otsego Lake this year and were discovered in Canadarago Lake as early as 2002.

Even though many of the invasive species have been around for years, "we have never had a coordinated system in place to attack the problem," said DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis in the release.

The office will provide a system that threads together the issues of public outreach, funding, legislation and research, which is what Miller, an incoming city alderman, said he hoped would happen.

His organization recently received a $15,600 grant from the DEC to organize and conduct a three-year program for the eradication of water chestnuts on Goodyear Lake. The program beginning in August will use manual means instead of herbicides. Also included in those DEC Aquatic Invasive Species Eradication grants was $28,139 for the SUNY Research Foundation to eradicate 40 acres of purple loosestrife and water chestnut from a wetland near Oneonta

There is a total of $5 million for invasive species programs in the 2007-08 state budget for such grants as well as public outreach through Cornell Cooperative Extension and a plan to develop virus-free planting stock for fruit growers at the state Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva. Plans call for creating an Institute of Invasive Species Research at Cornell University.

Humans are suspected of spreading the problem of invasive species through infested wood, boat ballast, bait fish and other means.

Beside prevention, fast identification and "rapid response" eradication are important, Sanford said.



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