The state Department of Environmental Conservation is proposing regulations that would restrict the transport of aquatic invasive species at state boat launches it oversees.
The DEC is currently taking public comments on the plan.
Aquatic invasive species have been a problem for years in lakes around the Adirondacks, causing ecological damage to water bodies that is very costly to fix. Probably the most common is Eurasian watermilfoil, but other plants also pose threats, as do non-native animals such as zebra mussels and Asian clams.
The regulation would apply to all kinds of boats, including motorized ones, canoes and kayaks. It says operators may not launch into the water with any invasive species visible on any part of the vessel without a written permit from the DEC. That includes live wells, bilges, motors, rudders, anchors, any equipment or gear, or the trailer used to transport the boat.
Boat operators will also be required to drain bilges, live wells, bait wells and ballast tanks when they are leaving or arriving at a boat launch, unless a written permit is obtained from the DEC. Many aquatic invasives are able to live in these wet or moist environments.
Not adhering to the regulations would be a violation-level offense that could bring a fine of up to $250 and/or as much as 15 days in jail.
DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis told the Enterprise in an email that the regulations would be enforced by environmental conservation officers and forest rangers whenever they are engaged in compliance checks at boat launches. She also said police agencies will have the ability to enforce this regulation as they do with Environmental Conservation Law.
So far, the regulations have gotten mixed reviews.
Hilary Smith, director of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program, said they are "an important step to limit the spread of aquatic invasive species.
"They are complementary to similar local laws passed in a number of towns and counties in the Adirondacks," Smith wrote in an email. "With the next boating season just a few months away, we're excited by the prospect of having this new tool in the prevention toolbox."
Sen. Betty Little, a Republican from Queensbury who represents northeastern New York, said she thought the regulation was a good idea.
"I've worked on invasive species for a number of years because of the damage it does to a lake," Little said. "Milfoil, zebra mussels are horrible in a lake. I think it's a great educational program as well. If someone from DEC is there, they're not going to be there all the time but if they do see someone, they can help them with that."
She did note that there is a need for uniform signage at boat launches regarding invasive species. This isn't addressed in the regulations.
Peter Bauer, director of the environmental group Protect the Adirondacks, said he thought the regulation is a baby step that needs to go further to be effective.
"We think that the regulation will be ineffective and is inadequate," Bauer said. "It's a poor substitute for a comprehensive statewide boat control program. We think that the DEC needs to be a leader in the control of aquatic invasive species, and they need to partner with organizations and local governments around the state to create a mandatory boat inspection and decontamination program that is enforceable and manageable."
Bauer also questioned whether the DEC will be able to enforce the regulation with its budget cuts in recent years.
"Right now, they can barely pay for gas for their rangers, so we don't know who is going to enforce it, how it is going to be enforced," he said. "These boat launches are open 24-7, so the chances of a DEC official being at a boat launch to actually conduct an inspection, we think, are very low."
Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said his environmental group is pleased to see the DEC taking steps to stop the spread of invasive species at its boat launches and in state waters; however, he said the DEC would probably have a hard time enforcing the regulations.
"DEC has so few personnel available for anything new," he said. "They have, since the mid 1990s, lost a considerable number of their employees to state budget cuts. They used to have close to 4,000 people at DEC, and they're down to 2,900 now."
DEC will accept public comments on the proposal through Feb. 24. The full text of the proposed regulation can be found on DEC's website at www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/propregulations.html.
Comments on the proposed regulations can be emailed to email@example.com or mailed to Edward Woltmann, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Bureau of Fisheries, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4753. Hard copies of the full text may also be requested from at the above address.