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Gillibrand Discusses Federal Invasive Species Legislation

WAMC/Pat Bradley

New York’s junior U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was in Lake Placid Monday to discuss federal legislation that would help control the spread of invasive species.

Senator Gillibrand was at the Lake Placid Beach House overlooking Mirror Lake in the center of the village.  She has introduced the ‘Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act’ to revise the Lacey Act.  The senator said too many invasive species enter the U.S. because of a broken system that fails to prevent their entry, thus threatening the economic vitality of areas like the Adirondacks.  “Under current law invasive species are regulated by a 112-year-old statute that gives the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service limited power to regulate non-native species of animals or to prohibit their importation or interstate sales. We have to improve the federal government’s ability to quickly respond to the threats. Once a species is listed as injurious it can’t be imported to the U.S.  However, the current process can take four years to complete, giving invasive species more time to infiltrate our waterways.”

Gillibrand reported there are currently more than 236 species listed as injurious. Yet some already negatively impacting New York’s lakes and rivers — like the spiny water flea — are not on the list. Her legislation, she explained, would not only help speed listings but strengthen Fish and Wildlife enforcement.  “It also has a lot higher fines. For example, if you are found to have brought an invasive species in purposely you can be fined $10,000. Because there are requirements to be inspected, just because someone inadvertently brought something in but didn’t actually get their boat inspected, they will be fined. If they purposefully are averting inspection they’re also subject to a Class A misdemeanor, so it’s a criminal penalty. So it’s a much tougher, steeper fine that hopefully will create some prevention as well.”

The bill establishes a listing process based on risk assessment.

Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program Director Hilary Smith says more than 100 towns and villages, more than 30 cooperating organizations and hundreds of volunteers in the Adirondacks are working to protect the lands and waters from invasive species. She said federal action is needed and praises the scientific method proposed in the bill.  “What is so critical about this particular initiative is that it uses a science-based risk assessment project to look at the species that are potentially going to be introduced, before they actually arrive. So it sets up a screening protocol in advance of their introduction and that’s what’s going to be so important in the long run with prevention.”

Lake Placid-based Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism CEO Jim McKenna used the previous day’s Ironman competition to highlight the importance of Gillibrand’s invasive species legislation to tourism.  “The legislation, Senator,  is very important because it does drive economies. The Adirondacks are different and what makes them different is the bodies of waters that we have throughout the park. And it’s so important, Senator, that this legislation moves forward. This is our differentiator.”

State Senator Betty Little said she has been involved in the issue of invasive species since 1986 when milfoil was discovered in Lake George and noted the recent state legislative actions regarding invasive species prevention successes. She described how she lives on a small lake just south of Lake George that has been infested with milfoil, zebra mussels and pond weed.  “I love to swim but I hate to have a piece of milfoil or weed hit me while I’m swimming. I know it’s a weed, but it sure feels like a snake!  So it really does ruin the recreational ability of our lakes for boating, for swimming, for everything else.  This legislation at the federal  level is so important. This is taking what’s going on here and hopefully we get a handle on the invasives and we prevent the invasion and we are able to also eradicate those lakes who have it in them.”

The Senate bill is co-sponsored by Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, Michigan Senator Carl Levin and Florida Senator Bill Nelson, all Democrats.  A companion bill has been introduced in the House by New York Democrat Louise Slaughter.
The latest hearing on the ‘Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act’ was held by the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife on July 16.

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