Missing the boat on invasive species
The Lake George Park Commission announced last week that “great strides” have been made in reducing the amount of Eurasian milfoil in the lake. Unfortunately, this good news was offset by the bad news that a mandatory boat inspection program proposed for keeping new invasive species out of the lake won’t happen this year.
It’s possible to control invasive species — which can crowd out native species in a lake, decrease oxygen, interfere with boating, fishing and swimming, etc. — once they are introduced. But only with repeated applications of environmentally destructive chemicals. Or with major effort and expense ($7 million has already been spent to control invasive species in Lake George through a variety of methods, including hand-pulling, and current spending is $1 million a year). But they can never be eliminated completely. The only real remedy is to keep them from being introduced in the first place.
And the best way to do that is a mandatory inspection program for boats at various locations around the lake. Inspectors would make sure boats are “drained,” “clean” and “dry” before being allowed to enter the water. Those that aren’t would be washed, and any destructive organisms found on their outsides removed. This approach has been successful in Minnesota, Colorado and California with Lake Tahoe, and it could work equally well for Lake George.
It’s also the approach proposed by the Lake George Park Commission in November, and favored not only by environmentalists but by local governments around the lake. (Even 10 years ago, these conservative-minded governments would have wanted no part of any such regulation. But they’ve now had more time to see the deleterious effects of invasive species on the lake’s health and beauty, which they rely upon to attract residents, recreational users and tourists.)
It would have been possible, but difficult, to start mandatory boat inspections this year. That’s because the $40 inspection fee contemplated would cover only a small part of the $700,000 annual cost of the program, so other funding sources — such as federal grants, county sales taxes, hotel occupancy taxes, increased boat registration and dock fees — would have had to be found.
But Gov. Andrew Cuomo made it all moot by refusing to give the required state approval until after the Department of Environmental Conservation and Lake George Park Commission conduct a comprehensive environmental review of how to keep invasive species out of the lake. We hope that’s a real commitment to dealing with the problem, and not a sign of antagonism for the plan, or fear of imposing yet another “tax” in the form of the inspection fee.
It is encouraging that the state will provide additional money this year to extend an existing program in which stewards check boats and educate boaters, as well as to have more outreach and more patrols by DEC and commission officers trained in preventing the spread of invasive species.
But such steps are half-measures at best. They’re not going to keep new invasive species out of the lake. Only a mandatory inspection scheme can.