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State law to ban harmful nonnative plants, animals

Bamboo grows in the Town of Huntington on

Bamboo grows in the Town of Huntington on June 20, 2012. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed into law yesterday a bill aimed at slowing the spread of invasive plant and animal species across New York State.

The legislation -- which takes effect in January -- makes the sale, possession or transportation of nonnative species punishable by fines from the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Along with disrupting native species and their ecosystems, invasive plants and animals can cost millions to remove.

The bill, authored by Assemb. Bob Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), comes as the Islandwide fight against invasive species has intensified.

In June, the DEC pumped $25,000 into battling perennial pepperweed at West Meadow Peninsula. Less than a month later, the agency joined civic groups in removing water primrose from the Peconic Estuary. Brookhaven and Long Beach City, meanwhile, banned bamboo last week.

The Island has also battled invasive critters, including feral hogs and bronze carp.

"It comes not a moment too soon," Sweeney said. "Some of these species are extremely difficult to deal with, and if you don't catch them early they become entrenched."

Under the law, the DEC and Department of Agriculture and Markets will identify harmful species for disposal. The agencies are required to publish a list by September 2013, also outlining "regulated" species that are legal to own and transport but may not be released into the wild.

Individuals who possess or transport invasive species will -- after a written warning -- face a $250 fine. Vendors can face fines up to $2,000.

Richard Amper, executive director of the Pine Barrens Society, an environmental advocacy group based in Riverhead, said even if the added regulations don't slow the spread of invasive species, public awareness created by the bill will.

Infestations of cabomba, a dense underwater plant, in both lakes of the Carmans River began "innocently" after an individual emptied their fish tank into the waters, he said.

"People aren't actively destroying our ecosystems," Amper said. "It's mostly carelessness and ignorance."

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