Monday, March 31, 2008

Week of March 30, 2008

Updated April 2

The Nature Conservancy on Long Island Joins Nurseries and Landscapers in Urging Gardeners to Avoid Purchasing and Planting Invasive Plants

Cold Spring Harbor, NY — April 1, 2008 — As part of a comprehensive effort to reduce the number of invasive plant species introduced to Long Island’s natural areas, The Nature Conservancy, North Shore Land Alliance, Long Island Farm Bureau, Long Island Nursery and Landscape Association, and New York American Society of Landscape Architects are encouraging gardeners to grow native plant species this spring.

The groups have partnered to donate copies of the book Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants, published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, to all public libraries in Nassau and Suffolk counties, government officials (county, town, village, State, Federal) representing Nassau and Suffolk, growers, nurseries, select landscapers, landscape architects, and Long Island’s garden clubs. The book details a variety of attractive and hardy native alternatives to many of the non-native plants that are degrading our natural landscapes.

“Invasive plants are one of the greatest threats to the natural environment of Long Island,” said Kathy Schwager, invasive species specialist for The Nature Conservancy on Long Island. “They are often introduced and proliferated by people who plant pretty – but what turns out to sometimes be invasive – plants.” Awareness of invasive plant species is part of a growing trend. In 2007, both Suffolk and Nassau Counties passed legislation stopping the commercial sale, introduction, and propagation of 63 plant species that are deemed non-native and invasive on Long Island.

“This book is a useful resource when it is time to plant your garden this spring. Take it with you when you go to your local nursery and your nursery professionals can help you find the best native alternatives for your garden,” said Joseph M. Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau. Full Article


In a real pinch: 'Hairy' crabs could be a detriment to environment


PORTSMOUTH, New Hampshire — If you see a medium-sized crab with white-tipped, hairy claws, beware. Called the Chinese mitten crabs, these Asian-based crustaceans are an invasive species and pose a threat to fisheries and local ecosystems in both fresh and saltwater habitats, according to a press release from New Hampshire Estuaries Project.

NHEP has launched a New England-wide campaign, enlisting commercial fishermen to detect the mitten crabs before they pose a problem and become established in the area.

NHEP Project Coordinator David Kellam said the crab is particularly nasty because it lives in both freshwater and saltwater." In the freshwater system, the juveniles burrow into the banks of streams," Kellam said. "These crabs can come in and increase erosion, which would then suffocate a lot of the creatures that live in the bottom of these streams."

Adult crabs migrate to the sea, where they can clog fish passage structures, foul fishing gear and crowd-out some commercially significant species. In addition, the crabs eat the food of other species. "They just compete for limited food sources, and they're very good at it so they end up pushing other species out," Kellam said.

While the crabs have just recently been detected on the east coast, they have posed a significant problem on the west coast and in Europe for years. A total of 13 mitten crabs have been found on the East Coast in the last three years, with the most recent observation in January 2008 in the Hudson River in Newburgh, NY.

The focus of the campaign is early detection, said Kellam. "If they start expanding they should just go up the coast," he said, adding so far they have been found only in the Hudson River and Chesapeake Bay. "But they could expand — it may be too cold up here, but we don't know," Kellam said.

If identified, ecologists can go into an area and net the crabs, removing them. "Early detection is key," said Kellam. "If (someone) finds one, especially if they have hairy claws — it's the only thing with hairy claws — they should hold on to it, not release it, and they should call the New Hampshire Sea Grant." The number for the NH Sea Grant is 749-1565.


North Carolina hopes to wipe out pretty but invasive plant

By Gareth McGrath,

Members of a small task force are quietly confident they might be able to turn the tables on beach vitex, a plant native to the Pacific Rim that was first welcomed to the coast with open arms.

Vitex is hardy and can be beautiful, but it's also ecologically damaging. Officials are hoping to make it one of the handful of established invasive species ever largely eradicated in the Tar Heel State.

"I think it's certainly something that's within reach," said Dale Suiter, a Raleigh-based biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "With things like kudzu, it's too late. But I don't think that's true here."

Working with South Carolina researchers, the group has zeroed in on the best method and time to kill the woody shrub. Suiter said that's in late summer, when the plant is already starting to go dormant and beginning to move fluids - and any herbicide that's applied - into its roots.

The task force recently received a $128,485 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to help fund widescale eradication, educational outreach and surveying efforts. "We just had no ability to do that before this," said Melanie Doyle, state coordinator for the Carolinas Beach Vitex Task Force.

But officials know it's much too early to claim victory. Hundreds of miles of coastline still need to be surveyed or resurveyed, and the nearly 300 known vitex sites need to be dealt with. And this February vitex was found along a bulkhead in Wilmington, which could mean the plant has colonized estuarine shorelines along the state's numerous sounds, tidal creeks and waterways.

Vitex rotundifolia is a prolific seed producer, churning out up to 20,000 seeds per square meter that can easily be spread by animals, wind or even the current. Vitex, which features beautiful purple flowers in summer, also can grow up to 15 feet a year - double that amount in areas with irrigation systems - and is salt-tolerant. That makes it a seemingly perfect dune plant, which is what first attracted folks at N.C. State University to the exotic shrub from Asia with the aromatic silvery leaves. The school's arboretum began marketing the plant to nurseries in the mid-1980s, just as coastal development in North Carolina really began taking off.

In South Carolina, the plant gained popularity as a quick fix to help stabilize dunes and beaches battered by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. But as vitex began overwhelming dunes and forcing out native vegetation, officials realized something had gone dreadfully wrong.

It's not just the displacement of sea oats and sea grasses that makes vitex particularly worrisome to environmentalists. The plant doesn't have any of the dune-building and stabilizing benefits of native beach vegetation. Vitex is also a threat to nesting sea turtles and shorebirds. Yet it is those very drawbacks that have helped the task force develop a strong network of partners, ranging from federal and state agencies to the volunteers who monitor beaches for sea turtle nests.

Unlike most weeds, the worst thing that concerned property owners can do is to cut or dig up vitex. That's because runners cut off from the mother plant will simply sprout roots and start growing on their own. "To try and nip any future infestations in the proverbial bud, several coastal communities have adopted rules banning vitex from their beaches.

The N.C. Department of Agriculture wants to have vitex declared a noxious weed, which would make it illegal to be sold in the state. Full Article


'Rock snot' has outdoors enthusiasts concerned in Maine

BY JOHN RICHARDSON, Blethen Maine Newspapers

As anglers return to the state's streams and rivers this spring in search of prized trout, Maine officials will be watching for something else: a fast-spreading algae called "rock snot" that's fouling some of the world's pristine trout streams.

Rock snot, also commonly called didymo, is an invasive species that appears to hitch rides from one river to another on boots or waders worn by fishermen. Once introduced to a new stream that has clean, fast-moving water, didymo can spread quickly and coat the rocky bottom with thick, gooey brown mats of algae.

There is no known way to get rid of it, and experts say it can disrupt river food webs and threaten valuable recreational fisheries. It was first discovered in New England last summer when it invaded a stretch of the Connecticut River between northern New Hampshire and northern Vermont. Officials fear that Maine could be next.

"The thing about Didymo is it follows people and ends up in pristine fishing areas," said Paul Gregory, an invasive species specialist with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. "It's the fishermen who are seeking out pristine trout waters. ... They're likely to be coming to Maine as well."

Maine's DEP is concerned enough about the risk of spreading didymo that employees who wade through streams this summer as part of biological monitoring programs will use boots that don't have felt soles. Felt soles are better for grabbing underwater rocks and preventing slips and falls. But they also are more difficult to clean and dry. Moist surfaces can keep the algae alive for up to two weeks. Gregory said DEP staff will be more diligent in cleaning boots and will use rubber-soled waders whenever it won't be too dangerous. "If anybody's a good candidates for spreading it, it's us," he said.

"For a lot of people who are really conscious about it, you make a mixture of water and bleach in a spray bottle and spray down your gear when you're done. The problem with that is you don't want to have bleach residue on your boots either," Bernstein said. Officials in Maine and New Hampshire recommend soaking boots in hot tap water and soap or detergent for 30 minutes and thoroughly drying them before the next use. Full Article

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