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State cracks down on harmful invasive species

Bamboo in the Town of Huntington. (June 20,

Bamboo in the Town of Huntington. (June 20, 2012) Photo Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

New York State is cracking down on harmful invasive species after years of delays, adding scores to its list of banned plants, insects and animals.

Under the state plan, 115 species would be outlawed -- about 10 times the current number. Another 29 would be subject to restrictions.

The Department of Environmental Conservation quietly posted the expanded list on its website late last month, a move that was hailed as overdue by environmentalists and decried as an overreach by commercial nurseries, including some on Long Island.

"That was a big step for the state to have a 'do not sell' list," said Jane Jackson, stewardship director of the North Shore Land Alliance for Preservation.

Chuck O'Neill, coordinator of Cornell University's Cooperative Extension invasive species program, said the flood of "exotics" into New York probably can't be stopped, but it can be controlled.

"And if you can slow it down, that gives you more time to be prepared for it," he said.

The regulations, aimed at reducing harm to the environment and public health, would prohibit introduction, sale or import of:

Seventy-one more plant species, including two fast-spreading varieties of bamboo. Two species -- poisonous giant hogweed and a river-clogging algae dubbed "rock snot" -- are currently banned.

Five more animal species, including aggressive mute swans and two fast-breeders, beaver-like nutria and European hare. Eurasian boars are prohibited now.

Twenty-seven additional fish and shellfish species, including Zebra mussels and four varieties of carp. Northern snakehead, sea lamprey and Chinese mitten crab are already outlawed.

Eight more insect species, including Africanized honey bees. The state now has five banned insects, including the destructive gypsy moth and Asian long-horned beetle.

Four more fungi, including a tree-attacker that causes Sudden Oak Death. None are now prohibited.

Invasive species, which outcompete native creatures, wreak havoc on natural habitats and cost the nation billions of dollars every year, experts say.

Zebra mussels, for example, have caused extensive damage in the Great Lakes region since 1988, when they arrived from the Soviet Union in ballast water. The mollusks would be banned for the first time in New York, though it has spent decades working with other states to minimize their impact.

The mussels kill off indigenous species, cloud water and glue themselves to hard underwater surfaces, clogging utility pipes and water systems.

"Every year, we see more instances of invasive species that are having an impact, both environmentally and economically, in New York, and acting to regulate or prohibit these species was long overdue," said Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), who chairs the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation.

On Long Island, many lakes and rivers are clogged with invasive plants, and the long-horned beetle has destroyed thousands of trees, officials say.

The expanded invasives ban would align New York with states that have had tougher laws for years, including Massachusetts, Hawaii, California and Florida.

New York has studied the problem for more than a decade. Anti-invasive measures it adopted since then include regional councils, control programs and an early detection/fast response team. But no law requiring the DEC to draft a comprehensive list of invasives to ban was enacted until last year.

The DEC, working with the Department of Agriculture and Markets, plans to ban many plants Nassau and Suffolk have already outlawed.

The state plan would end Long Island's neighbor vs. neighbor wars over bamboo. Nearly 12 communities barred invasive varieties that pop up in nearby yards, and pierce sidewalks and swimming pools.

But Dwight Andrews, a Bay Shore-based landscape designer and arborist, criticized the state rules, which include a sweeping ban of cultivars -- new varieties hatched from invasive parents.

"There are thousands and thousands of cultivars on Long Island," Andrews said, including golden lysmachia, or Creeping Jenny, which often decorates hanging baskets. Though exemptions might be granted, landscapers and nurseries could lose millions in sales, Andrews said.

The state rules, coupled with Long Island's, will block or discourage gardeners from buying many popular ornamental trees, shrubs and grasses that are hardy, unusual or deer-resistant.

Two top sellers on both lists are porcelain berry and Japanese barberry.

Under the state law, anyone who imports, ships, or introduces or sells banned invasives can be fined as much as $250. For repeated violations by professionals, the top fine is $2,000 -- and they could jeopardize their licenses or permits.

DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes said the agency first will spread the word about the tougher regulations. "New York's approach is to provide for education and outreach initially," he said.

A 60-day comment period ends Dec. 23. The rules take effect six months after they are finalized.

To view the state regulations and invasives list, visit http://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/265.html

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