Invasive species can cause environmental and economic damage, and present a threat to the shipping, fishing and recreation industries across upstate New York, according to Sen. Chuck Schumer.
Schumer, a Democrat, is proposing a rapid response grant program to help tackle the issue. The proposed legislation would allow states and local authorities to request federal grants for early detection and rapid response when the presence, or threat, of a new aquatic invasive species is identified.
“Early detection would allow locals to hire and train individuals that have a specific job responsibility to find invasive species. Rapid response efforts contain and where possible eradicate invasive species before they get their stranglehold on the waterway,” Schumer says.
He says the economic and environmental impact of foreign plants and animals threaten up to 7,000 jobs and 750 businesses in western New York alone.
Breakdown of species and threatened job markets
Schumer says across the upstate region, there have been instances of Zebra mussels, spiny water flea, Asian clam, Eurasian milfoil and Hydrilla, Quagga mussels and water chestnut, among other aquatic pests.
He says, in the Finger Lakes region more than 3,000 jobs and 465 businesses are at risk. There are an additional 1,400 jobs, and more than 200 jobs at risk in the North Country and Southern Tier regions respectively.
Jim Howe, director of the Nature Conservancy in Western New York, says aquatic invasive species are the number one issue in the Great Lakes.
“These are species that are coming from other continents. They have not natural predators here and no natural enemies here in North America so they’re able to survive and displace our native species at great environmental and economic cost.”
He says the impact extends beyond harbor communities with species like the Zebra mussel creating havoc by clogging up underwater pipes.
“There’s 106 power plants in the Great Lakes. The total annual cost, just from the Zebra mussel alone is $130 million a year in maintenance costs.”
Although there are several invasive species already present in the Finger Lakes, Great Lakes as well as upstate rivers, there are still many waterways that aren't contaminated.
But, Schumer warns that can change quickly if nothing is done.
“For those waterways already contaminated we’re going to continue to fight for funding and expertise and containing existing infestations. This is the ‘stitch in time saves nine’ for our cleaner waterways or for new invasive species that come in.”
Schumer says his bill would set aside a stream of federal dollars - in the range of the tens of millions - to combat foreign aquatic pests.
He says the focus on rapid response would mean federal help would be available within months, not years.