EDITORIAL: Invaders are on our shores

IS IT POSSIBLE to have a love-hate relationship with dandelions? Right now they’re shouting “Spring’s here!” Some people eat them, drink their wine, even write songs about them. Others of us would prefer to count dandelion carcasses removed from the lawn. They are, after all, just a weed.
Some weeds are worse, especially ones lurking on or just beneath the water’s surface–invasive species creeping our way. Yuuucch.

Who wants to swim surrounded by water lilies, algae and coontail? That’s the problem facing Camp Pontiac on Lower Rhoda Pond, which lies across the town line between Copake and Ancram. Those species, considered invasives, live up to that name, threatening the camp because what parent wants the guilt of sending a child to a summer camp where the water’s full of icky stuff. In all seriousness, the future of the camp, a longstanding local business, is in jeopardy if a solution can’t be found.The remedy the camp has chosen is to add chemical herbicides to the water in the 7-or-so acres of the 60-acre pond that the camp owns. The camp has tried “other management programs” to control this unwanted vegetation to no avail, according to a application the owners have filed with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The new plan calls for adding chemicals with names like Navigate to the pond to kill the infestation. Some of the camp’s neighbors on and near the pond don’t like that idea.

As the name suggests, Navigate can open waterways so choked with invasive plant species that recreational boats can’t pass through them. The National Pesticide Information Center at Oregon State University says the active ingredient in Navigate is 2,4-D, a widely used herbicide. It was an part of an herbicide recipe used in the Vietnam War called Agent Orange, but it is not the chemical Dioxin, which is known to have caused widespread illness, including cancer.

It affects the way plant cells grow and it can cause unpleasant effects if high concentrations come in contact with human skin–a risk for people applying it. There was “not enough data” for experts to conclude whether it can cause cancer, said the Pesticide Information Center in a 2009 brochure.
It can affect wildlife. The good news is that 2,4-D tends to break down quickly in both water and soil; the bad news is that it’s been found in shallow wells and streams. Pesticides don’t stay put and there are shallow wells around Lower Rhoda Pond that supply drinking water to homes. There’s no way to put 2,4-D on the 7 acres of Lower Rhoda Pond owned by the camp and assume some of it won’t migrate to the other 53 acres.

Then there’s the outflow of Lower Rhoda, which is part of the Roeliff Jansen Kill watershed and empties into the Hudson. The prospect that herbicides applied in the pond will reach the river is small. But it’s the small stuff that adds up to big problems.

And that brings us back to the costs. One small business proposing a legal activity can’t be expected to protect everybody for everything. Where should we, as a community and a society, draw the line? One of the starting points requires recognizing that while applying herbicides has a cost benefit to one business that same action may end up shifting costs to the neighbors. Consider the costs of testing local wells after 2,4-D is applied. And has any thought been given to whether knowledge of herbicide use would have to be disclosed at the time of the sale of a home on the pond and whether that would have an impact on local real estate values?

How do you balance herbicide use against the potential loss of a pond that disappears under colonization by an invasive species or two?

If we’re being invaded–and we are–who better to defend us than the Department of Defense, which just happens to have good advice in the form of Invasive Species Management programs for protecting its facilities. DOD’s first recommendation is that before taking action you should develop a management plan for the entire watershed. That’s exactly what should happen here.

The DEC should not grant anyone permission to apply herbicides in Lower Rhoda Pond or any other water body in the Roe Jan watershed until there’s an overall invasive plant species management plan. Maybe we’ll learn to live with these invaders. If not, let’s repel them in smart ways that cause the least harm and share the costs in the fairest way possible.

Comments are closed.