EDITORIAL: Stop invasives at water’s edge

HARRY POTTER WOULD FEEL right at home with a list of ingredients from the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s roster of invasive species, things like fanwort, slender false brome, cut-leaf teasel and the infamous giant hogweed. And that’s just plants. You may have seen ’em on TV, but imagine crossing paths with a gang of Clarias batrachus, a.k.a. walking catfish…. Yuuuuck!

Too bad we can’t wave a wizard’s wand and make these unwelcome guests go back to wherever it is that people keep their catfish on leashes. But what we can do is take precautions to limit, at least temporarily, the progress these invaders are making into our communities, crowding out what we prefer to think of as native species.

Most of what we now call native species were once invasives too, just like us human beings. But that’s another issue, and today our waterways and landscapes are under increasing threat from what once were considered exotic flora and fauna. They easily hitch rides to our neighborhood on jets, trucks and boats. Their arrival is literally changing the nature of the place we call home.
That’s the driving force behind the gate that the Kinderhook Lake Corporation (KLC) is installing on Rose Street Extension in Niverville. At last report the posts for the gate were standing in the water near the end of the underwater ramp used to launch small, motorized craft. The idea is to encourage people from out of the area not to launch a boat in Kinderhook Lake unless someone local with a key to the gate has checked with the boat’s owner to see whether the hull has been properly cleaned. Scrubbing the hull and motor dislodges migrating invasives before they can make their homes in and around the lake.

Fewer than half the total number of lakeside residents belong to the nonprofit KLC; there’s no requirement to join in order to use the lake. And judging from statements made at a Town Board meeting earlier this month, old animosities between the KLC and non-member residents still simmer. Some non-members harbor suspicions that the gate is simply a ploy by the corporation to exclude non-members. That’s an unfortunate misunderstanding, and if it isn’t resolved it could have dire implications for the lake and the people who enjoy it.

Whatever the reasons for the rift between the corporation and its neighbors, invasives represent a threat to all property owners in the area. If the lake becomes clogged with a plant like milfoil, which can restrict navigation, or if some pest like the zebra mussel gobbles up nutrients and space, invasives can cause all sorts of unexpected collateral damage, and the property values of all the homes around the lake will suffer; so will the quality of life of the property owners.

One gate will never halt the advance of invasive water critters any more than a handful of tree traps will repel the beetles that kill ash and hemlock trees. But the gate will remind boaters of their responsibility to avoid transporting invasives and it can assure local residents that they are taking a practical step to help preserve a valuable local resource.

There’s also a question of scale here, something that keeps coming up when people look at the daunting tasks ahead. We all must adapt to a changing climate. Invasives certainly are adapting all the time. Many survived the recent brutal winter in the Northeast, and early evidence indicates some have emerged even hardier than before. That trend seems likely to accelerate as the temperature of the Earth’s surface, oceans and air continues to rise.

Our history as a species suggests that national leaders won’t suddenly come up with a comprehensive, long-lasting  solution to the global problems we face. There’s no pill for healing climate change. Instead we need to adjust our behavior. Something as simple as agreeing on the need for a gate to deter the careless introduction of invasives might be a small test of whether we can agree on anything to fix the messes we’ve gotten ourselves into.

The KLC’s plan for a barrier is a small step in a good direction. All residents should accept it. The KLC should reach out to non-members, asking for other low tech/low cost approaches to defend the lake. Nobody has to get involved in this process. But ignoring the problems won’t make them go away. The invasives are waiting for the community to let down its guard.

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