Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Week of January 26, 2009

Updated 1/30

Bird culling fallout alarms central NJ community

By VICTOR EPSTEIN, Associated Press Writer

FRANKLIN, N.J. - The black carcasses of dead starlings still pepper the snowy roads and lawns of central New Jersey's rural Griggstown community three days after federal officials used a pesticide to kill as many as 5,000 starlings. Many residents were still getting over their shock Monday from the sudden spate of deaths. Some were unaware that the deaths resulted from an intentional culling and that the pesticide used was harmless to people and pets.

"It was raining birds," said Franklin Township Mayor Brian Levine. "It got people a little anxious."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture called local police last week and the Somerset County Health Department to warn them that a culling program was under way, but there was no notice that dead birds could fall from the sky, Levine said.

"A lot of us are concerned because it's so odd," said Chris Jiamboi, 49, as his vehicle idled along a stretch of road in Griggstown marked with the flattened remains of dead starlings. "There were a lot of them dead in the roads and no one drives fast enough around here to kill a bird. Then they started showing up dead in people's backyards."

Carol Bannerman, a USDA spokeswoman, said a bird-specific pesticide called DRC-1339 was used to kill the starlings. It is harmless to people and other animals, she said.

Bannerman said the starlings had to be killed because they were plaguing an area farm, where they were eating feed meant for cattle and chickens and defecating in feeding bowls.

Federal employees dispensed the pesticide on Friday. Birds that ingest it usually die within three days, Bannerman said, so the die-off should have run its course by Monday.

The DRC-1339 pesticide is commonly used to protect farms and feedlot operations from European starlings, which are considered an invasive species by the USDA. One hundred starlings brought to the U.S. in 1890 have grown into the nation's most numerous bird species, Bannerman said. Link


Feds promise better notice about bird kills

BY BRIAN T. MURRAY, Star-Ledger Staff

Federal authorities who killed hundreds of starlings that dropped from Somerset County skies last weekend promised New Jersey representatives yesterday they will better notify local officials of future "treatments" of nuisance birds.

The promise from the Wildlife Services branch of the United States Agriculture Department was made in a letter to U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) following the commotion caused last week when the USDA launched an effort to kill 3,000 to 5,000 European starlings that were plaguing a Mercer County farmer.

Notices of the eradication failed to reach residents of surrounding communities, and people in the nearby Griggstown section of Franklin Township in Somerset County were alarmed to find the birds falling dead onto their cars, porches and snow-covered lawns. Link


New York State park visitors to fight Asian longhorn beetle

By Brian Nearing, Staff writer, TimesUnion.com

ALBANY — The state will check its campgrounds next month to hunt for an invasive tree-eating Asian beetle that may have hitched a ride from an outbreak now raging in Massachusetts.

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is pulling campground reservations made during the last four years by residents near Worcester, Mass., to learn which campgrounds were visited by people who unknowingly could have brought in firewood infested with Asian longhorn beetles.

"We expect to start a survey of our campgrounds in February to look for signs of the beetle," said Pam Otis, a parks analyst who spoke Thursday at the New York Invasive Species Council.

Worcester is fighting a massive beetle infestation since the insects were first discovered in August. A 64-square mile area has been quarantined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and officials this month started cutting down thousands of infested trees.

In New York, temporary emergency rules that ban the movement of untreated firewood more than 50 miles from its source have been in place since June 2008. The state is moving to make such rules permanent.

Maple syrup producers have warned that the state's syrup industry could be devastated if the beetles get into sugar maple trees.

"What the New York park system is doing is a very good exercise to help us uncover any satellite beetle populations that may exist," said Suzanne Bond, a spokeswoman for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. "This work is critically important to help us identify outbreaks sooner, rather than later." Link


Monday, January 19, 2009

Week of January 19, 2009

Updated 1/23

Help on way for New England cottontail

By DAVID BROOKS Staff Writer, Nashua Telegraph

The cutest endangered species in New Hampshire is getting some federal help – which is good, because the New England cottontail needs all the help it can get."

This is one of our top priorities," John Kanter, the state's endangered-wildlife program coordinator, said of the elusive bunny.

As recently as the 1960s, the New England cottontail was found from the Hudson River through southern Maine and also thrived in New Hampshire. Today, officials know of only 10 places where the species is found at all, mostly in a few flooded areas along the Merrimack River south of Concord and in the Seacoast.

The New England cottontail, like many species, has suffered from changes in habitat.

It likes brushy land in transition between field and forest, with lots of brambles and low bushes where it can hide and find food. That sort of thicket was common when New Hampshire was filled with farms. Today, however, the state mostly consists of mature forests, which don't have much undergrowth, or developed land, which has even less.

Adding to its problems are invasive plants, such as multiflora rose, honeysuckle bush and autumn olive, that drive out the rabbits' preferred cover and food, plus the increase in whitetail deer, which compete with the cottontail for food.

Finally, there's the Eastern cottontail, which is a distinct species of rabbit despite the fact that it looks so similar that most people can't tell them apart; only by sampling DNA from fecal pellets can scientists be sure.

The Eastern cottontail was introduced into the Northeast in the first half of the 20th century, largely by hunting clubs, and is doing fine, largely because it seems better at spotting predators, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Link


Invasion of the Blobs

By Lily Whiteman, National Science Foundation

Although the moon jellyfish is currently widely distributed throughout the world, scientists believe that this jellyfish was probably transported and introduced to many of its current habitats by ships.

How do ships introduce non-native species of jellyfish to new habitats? For one thing, young jellyfish, known as polyps, travel with ships after clinging to their hulls. In addition, ships take on ballast water needed for stability in originating harbors, and then dump this water along with accompanying organisms, including jellyfish, into destination harbors.

Ships currently transport millions of gallons of ballast water around the world annually. Largely because of this phenomenon, 15 to 25 percent of all marine species that are currently found in global sea ports are non native.

Once non-native jellyfish are released from ships into new habitats where conditions suit them, they may colonize these habitats. And if these invasive jellyfish face few or no predators to control their numbers, their populations may explode into large swarms. Large jellyfish swarms may consume large numbers of commercial fish and thereby damage the fishing industry.

Invasions of non-native species of jellyfish have wreaked havoc on many ecosystems, including the Gulf of Mexico, the Sea of Japan, the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean. The costs of resulting ecological problems to the tourism and fishing industries have been staggering.

How do scientists distinguish native from invasive species of jellyfish? By using DNA analyses. Native species that have had a long history in a particular ecosystem have had time to diversify, while specimens taken from recently introduced species show more similarity with each other.

In addition, scientists are currently poring over records of worldwide marine life that were fastidiously maintained by some early explorers. Such analyses will help scientists map the natural distributions of jellyfish species before large-scale shipping introduced non-native species to new habitats. Link


Drawdowns at Candlewood Lake could use study

Annual drawdowns at Candlewood Lake, Connecticut, to kill invasive watermilfoil plants could use more study

By Robert Miller, Staff Writer, NewsTimes.com

By now, there's a wide ring of ice and snow encircling Candlewood Lake. Unless there's a serious thaw, that wintry crust may stay in place until February.

"It's actually very nice,'' said Michael Calandrino, a member of the Danbury Common Council who lives on the lake and has walked and cross-country skied around its perimeter when the lake water is low. "We've had some good times out there.''

In February the season of the lake's deep drawdown will end, and Candlewood will gradually start rising. By spring it should be back to about 427 feet above sea level -- 8 to 10 feet higher than this winter's low.

FirstLight Power Resources, which owns the lake, manipulates its level. For the past 20 years, FirstLight and its predecessors -- Connecticut Light & Power Co., then Northeast Generation Services -- dropped the lake down deep every couple of years, the better to kill off Eurasian watermilfoil, the invasive plant that befouls the lake in summer.

In 2008 the watermilfoil was especially thick and noxious. Therefore, the news of a deep drawdown was welcome. Freezing winter weather can kill the exposed plants, leaving the lake a little less tangled for a year or two.

But that doesn't always happen. Sometimes, even after the lake has been low, the watermilfoil comes back strong.

That has led Larry Marsicano, the executive director of the Candlewood Lake Authority, to ask: When the drawdown doesn't work, what are we doing wrong?

"We've had years when we've had limited success, even when we've had back-to-back-to-back drawdowns,'' he said.

Working with the New Fairfield-based Candlewood Watershed Initiative, Marsicano has looked at the rise and fall of the lake over the past 20 years.

He's found that in recent years the owners have not dropped the lake as low as they had in the past. For example, in 1985 the lake fell below 419 feet for more than half of the two-month drawdown. In 1995 it fell below 418 feet for 21 days.

In comparison, in the last deep drawdown, January through March 2007, the lake was only below 419 feet for two days.

But Marsicano said what he and other researchers need to do is to match that data with weather records for the same year. A blanket of snow around the lake may act as a blanket, insulating rather than killing the watermilfoil.

"You need the cold,'' he said. "But you also need a dissicating dryness to kill them.''

Greg Bugbee, an assistant scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, is now studying watermilfoil on Candlewood Lake. He admits, somewhat ruefully, there's been little research on the weather's effect on the plant -- what conditions kill it, what conditions help it survive.

Given that watermilfoil is a problem in lakes throughout the continental U.S. and parts of Canada, he said, this lack of research is "kind of shocking.''

Bugbee said it makes sense that a layer of thick, fluffy snow would protect the watermilfoil. It's not clear that a shelf of ice would do the same.

Marsicano said if the region is undergoing climate change, that might also affect how the drawdown works. "There are so many variables to consider."

He said it may be that the drawdowns should start earlier -- in early December -- to expose the watermilfoil to winter cold without snow protection. Dropping the lake a foot or two lower may also help. Link


New York farm fights starling flock

By JOE MINISSALE, Indenews.com

HILLSDALE--Bill Carney, 56, bends down in his backyard Friday and picks up a dead black bird with his bare hands and throws it away in the garbage. There are three European starlings on the ground around his home on Anthony Street.

"I noticed the one dead and didn't think anything of it," he said. "I came back later and there were two more. I'm upset about this whole scenario."

Residents in the area are discovering dead birds on their property, and while officials say there is no threat of disease from the birds, Mr. Carney wants some answers.

Last week officials with the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services program visited a farm in Copake at the request of the farmer and applied a chemical called DRC-1339, a federally restricted pesticide. They were using it for what they call a "controlled baiting" of the non-native invasive species, which is not protected by federal law. The chemical kills the birds.

"We are focusing on the starlings for the feed consumption disease threats... with dairy farms," said Kenneth Preusser, a Craryville native who works for the USDA office on Route 9 in Castleton.

One example he cited was the possibility that the birds would spread salmonella.

The state Department of Conservation says that because DRC-1339, which has as its active ingredient 3-Chloro-4-methyl-benzenamine hydrochloride, is classified as a "Restricted Use Pesticide" it is "for use only by USDA personnel trained in bird control or persons under their direct supervision."

"The main issue is when they are actually feeding on the farm, they are going for high protein. They also impact milk production, and take high protein rations from the cattle, an economic loss to the farmer as well," said Mr. Preusser.

Mr. Preusser would not divulge the name of the farmer, but said the department supplied the farm with 500 pounds of "pre-bait," and then applied the pesticide via bait. He said officials observed as roughly a thousand starlings ate the bait. He also said the officials made sure no cardinals, blue jays or other species were in the area. If any other birds flew on the farm during the controlled baiting the officials scared them away.

Mr. Preusser said that the pesticide is metabolized and excreted by the birds, which he said eliminates the threat of secondary poisoning to pets or other wildlife. The birds succumb to the pesticide within 24 hours after the application of DRC-1339.

"There are no secondary hazards," he said. "It is mainly targeted to the starlings."

Farmers who would like the pesticide administered may apply during January and February, when the starlings tend to congregate on dairy farms and cause damage by consuming and contaminating feed and potentially transmitting diseases to livestock. The fee is $700-$800, which covers the pre-bait, bait, salary and vehicle use.

Anyone with questions may dial the USDA at (518) 477-4837 and (518) 495-4735 on the weekends. Link


Move to make firewood transport ban permanent

By BRIAN NEARING, Staff writer, TimesUnion.com

ALBANY, NY — To fight the spread of invasive pests, the state is moving to permanently bar the movement of untreated firewood from one part of the state to another.

Temporary emergency rules that ban moving firewood more than 50 miles from its source have been in place since June 2008, State officials hope the ban will prevent the spread of such invasive species as the emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle and sirex wood wasp through infested wood.

The regulations do not affect homeowners cutting wood on their own property for use on that same property. They also do not affect firewood being transported through New York for sale and use in another state.

"Invasive pests and diseases damage both the environment and the economy," said Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis. "By taking proactive measures, we can reduce the risks of the inadvertent introduction of invasive and destructive pests and further protect our forests, woodlands and urban trees."

Under the regulation, only firewood cured by heating to a core temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit for 75 minutes can be moved without restriction.

A public comment period on the proposed permanent rules ends Feb. 9. Comment may be sent via e-mail to firewood@gw.dec.state.ny.us, or by writing to Bruce Williamson, NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, 5th Floor, Albany, NY 12233. Link


Comments sought on draft invasive species plan

From GeorgiaFrontPage.blogspot.com

A draft plan that targets more than 180 invasive species threatening Georgia’s rich variety of native wildlife is available for public comment.

The Georgia Invasive Species Strategy describes the complex scope of problems posed by non-native plants, animals and disease-causing organisms and proposes ways to lessen the impacts in a state ranked sixth in the nation in biological diversity.

Jon Ambrose, assistant chief of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section, said the strategy provides a framework that will help communicate and coordinate invasive species management priorities.

Copies are available at www.georgiawildlife.com (click the “Conservation” tab to reach the link) or from the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division office in Social Circle (770-761-3035). A public comment meeting is set for 5:30-7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at the Wildlife Resources Division’s Conservation Center in Social Circle. For directions, go to http://www.georgiawildlife.com/.

The deadline to submit comments is Feb. 16. Send written comments to jon.ambrose@gadnr.org or Jon Ambrose, Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, 2070 U.S. Highway 278 S.E., Social Circle, Ga.30025.


North Carolina officially bans vitex, "kudzu of the coast"

By Gareth McGrath, Staff Writer, StarNewsOnline.com

A plant that was first promoted by North Carolina has now been outlawed by state officials.

Rules to ban the sale, transport and possession of beach vitex by nurseries, garden shops and private property owners passed their final regulatory hurdle on Thursday.

The plant will be officially added to the state’s “noxious weed” list on Feb. 1.

Fast-growing, salt-tolerant, disliked by animals and sporting a beautiful purple flower during the summer, vitex was marketed as a coastal landscaping plant by N.C. State University in the 1980s.

But vitex started worrying researchers earlier this decade when it began overtaking dunes, crowding out the native sea oats and sea grasses.

Beach vitex has been found all along the North Carolina and South Carolina coasts, including on most barrier islands in Southeastern North Carolina.

It also has been reported in Virginia, Georgia and along the Gulf Coast.

For more information about the invasive plant or to report an infestation, go to http://www.beachvitex.org/.



Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Week of January 12, 2009

Updated 1/17

New York Governor slashes invasive species funding

DEC chief defends moves as careful way to trim spending

By BRIAN NEARING, staff writer, TimesUnion.com

ALBANY — State lawmakers had harsh words Tuesday for Gov. David Paterson's plan to cut $50 million from an environmental fund and slash support in areas like a zoos, solar energy, waterfront revitalization and a breast cancer registry. Programs to fight invasive species would drop from $5 million to $1.5 million.

"These changes shock and disappoint me," said Assemblyman Robert Sweeney of Suffolk County, chairman of the Assembly's Environmental Conservation Committee, during a legislative hearing on the environmental aspects of Paterson's proposed $121.1 billion budget. "This is offensive to anyone who cares about these issues."

At the hearing, DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis defended the governor's proposal as a "careful and calculated decision on where cuts could be accommodated." While saying that the fund had been scaled back to its "core mission," Grannis also admitted that the environmental fund — created in 1993 to pay for environmental projects — is the "most complicated and sensitive part of the budget."

Grannis and Parks Commissioner Carol Ash urged lawmakers to support Paterson's proposal to expand the state's bottle recycling law to cover sports drinks and other non-carbonated beverages. The governor is relying on $118 million from that switch to support the environmental fund.

State Sen. Carl Marcellino, a Suffolk County Republican who was the longtime chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee until Democrats took control last week, said Paterson's changes "dismiss a decade of hard work building up this fund. Now it is swept out the door." [Note from Bill: Senator Marcellino has been a very strong leader in advancing invasive species policies in New York State.]

Marcellino also reminded Grannis of his time as a state assemblyman, when he had resisted Gov. George Pataki's efforts to divert cash from the fund into the overall budget.

"These were raids, Pete, remember?" Marcellino said. "Are we ever going to get that money back? And you are going to add more to that pile?"

Brian Nearing can be reached at 454-5094 or by email at bnearing@timesunion.com.


Top 5 Invasive Plants Threatening Southern Forests in 2009

Asheville, NC — U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) Ecologist Jim Miller, Ph.D., one of the foremost authorities on nonnative plants in the South, today identified the invasive plant species he believes pose the biggest threats to southern forest ecosystems in 2009.

“Cogongrass, tallowtree, and Japanese climbing fern are among the fastest moving and most destructive nonnative plant species facing many southern landowners this year,” said Miller.

“Rounding out the top five invasive species that I’m very concerned about would be tree-of-heaven and nonnative privets. While our forests are besieged by numerous invasive plants, these and other nonnative species present serious financial and ecological threats to the South and its forests in 2009.” Link


Invasive algae found in four new locations

KEITH WHITCOMB JR., Staff Writer, BenningtonBanner.com

ARLINGTON, VT. — The results of testing over the summer for an invasive species of algae have confirmed its presence in four new locations in the Vermont section of the Batten Kill, the Batten Kill Watershed Alliance announced this week.

Didymosphenia geminate, commonly called "rock snot" or didymo, is a type of algae diatom, said Leslie Matthews, an environmental scientist with the Water Quality Division of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. The single-celled organism can "bloom," creating mats of brown material on the riverbed and rocks which could possibly interfere with the life cycles of insects and fish.

The water samples that Matthews analyzed were collected by the Batten Kill Watershed Alliance using a grant from the Vermont Aquatic Nuisance Species Grant-in-Aid program. Eight sites were tested along the river and its tributaries, four of which showed the presence of didymo.

Those sites were in Manchester and Arlington along the Batten Kill itself, the West Branch River in Manchester and the Green River in Sandgate. Matthews said the didymo populations were small, by comparison to similar, native organisms found in the water. She said each sample contained between 500 and 1,000 diatoms, out of which three to four were didymo.

The alliance said the project's cost was $1,383, which included sampling equipment, paying a group of river stewards to distribute educational pamphlets, and the installation of an education kiosk in Arlington. The alliance intends to apply for another grant to fund a study in 2009 to track the algae's population. Link


New brochure: Terrestrial Invasive Plants of the Potomac River Watershed

From the Maryland/DC office of The Nature Conservancy. Link

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Week of January 5, 2009

Happy New Year!


From The Nature Conservancy:

This is to inform you of an exciting new development which should assist getting the best control and management information on invasive species in natural areas! Many of you may already know that TNC houses an extensive (but dated) library of management documents for mostly plant invaders on our website. We have now uploaded most of these documents into a “wiki” format, so that the latest and greatest management information (from YOU!) can be easily entered and updated. Need the latest info on Phrag or Typha management? What has and has not worked? Check out what we have already entered, and please add your experiences and make your additions here! http://invasipedia.ucdavis.edu/doku.php/main_page