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Department of Interior hires local invasive species expert

August 31, 2014
By MIKE LYNCH ( , Lake Placid News

Hilary Smith, director of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program based in Keene Valley, has taken a high-level job with the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C.

Starting Oct. 20, Smith, of Saranac Lake, will be the department's invasive species coordinator and its policy liaison to the National Invasive Species Council. She will work in the department's Office of Policy Analysis.

The department has 10 bureaus, including the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management. Smith will work with all of the bureaus to coordinate the department's strategic plan for dealing with invasive species and understanding that plan's policy needs. She will serve on the Office of Policy Analysis' senior leadership team and advise the Interior secretary, deputy secretary and assistant secretary on invasive species.

Article Photos

Hilary Smith, who directs the Adirondack Park Invasive Species Program, speaks at a press conference at The Wild Center museum in Tupper Lake in August 2009.
(File photo — Nathan Brown)

She will respond to any legislation proposals that might be coming out that will affect the bureaus or the Interior, and provide testimony on the department's behalf if it is requested by Congress. She will serve as the department's liaison to the other federal agencies working on invasive species issues.

Smith will lead Interior's participation in the activities, programs and planning of the National Invasive Species Council and would represent the department at meetings of the Invasive Species Advisory Committee. She will coordinate the department's input to the National Invasive Species Management Plan.

"It's really exciting," said Smith, a Saranac Lake resident who will move to Washington along with her husband, Todd. "It's really an opportunity to plug in on the national level on really key federal issues in regard to invasives. Essentially they are working on the same types of strategies that we are here in New York: coordination, prevention, early detection, rapid response, monitoring, management and so forth."

Smith has been working on invasive species issues in the Adirondack Park since 2002, when she was hired through a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant to help start an aquatic invasive plant monitoring program. That grant-funded job lasted 18 months, and Smith was based at the state Adirondack Park Agency.

When the grant ended, Smith moved her office to the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy's office in Keene Valley. At about that time, the terrestrial invasive plant program merged with the aquatic plant program, helping form the early foundation of APIPP. In 2008, APIPP became the state's first Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management, or PRISM. It now serves as a model for seven other regional PRISMs across the state.

"I can see why she's got the job," said Bill Wellman of Plattsburgh, who has been involved with the New York State Council of Trout Unlimited and is a former vice president of the Lake Champlain chapter. "She's carried the invasive species ball in New York state. She's been instrumental in increasing everyone's awareness of the threat of invasive species in New York, whether it be terrestrial or aquatic. She's done a super job."

APIPP's founding partners include TNC, the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the APA and the state Department of Transportation. The partner list has since expanded to include Paul Smith's College, the Lake Champlain Basin Program, Cornell Cooperative Extension county offices, soil and water conservation districts, river and watershed associations, lake associations and more than 30 cooperating partners representing environmental, academic, advocacy, municipal, industry and resident groups.

APIPP is funded through the DEC's Environmental Protection Fund.

APIPP's mission is to serve as a clearinghouse of information on invasive species, coordinate plans and actions to prevent the spread of invasive species, and communicate with policy makers on them. It also hosts regular meetings with stakeholders and educates the public on invasive species.

"I feel like the work that I've done here prepared me well for the next step," Smith said. "I've just had an incredible opportunity through APIPP to be exposed to so many new and exciting initiatives to address invasive species, and many of the strategies that we started here were groundbreaking for the state, and so that allowed us to be out at the forefront, working with the state partners to shape what the statewide plan is to address invasives."

APIPP has been recognized statewide and nationally over the years. In 2013, the National Invasive Species Council awarded the program for "Outstanding Achievement in Invasive Species Leadership."

"We'll be very sad to see her leave," Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said. "She's done terrific work here in the Adirondacks and really pioneered the invasive plant control program, but our loss will be the nation's gain. We're thrilled to see that she'll be taking her expertise and applying it nationwide."

Smith said she is proud of APIPP's many accomplishments, including starting the first systematic regional monitoring program for invasive species in the state and helping to leverage statewide legislation that addresses prevention and transport of invasive species.

"One of the greatest milestones is to have been a part of building a model for how to address invasive species at a landscape level that has been replicated not only across the state but also in other parts of the country, and have that be funded in our state budget," Smith said.

"Honestly, I view this job as a dream job, and I absolutely love my work, and I love the Adirondacks, and I really feel we can make a difference here. And it would take something this big to get me to leave, and it was really just an opportunity I couldn't pass up.

Smith will be replaced by Brendan Quirion, who is APIPP's terrestrial invasive plant coordinator. Her last day at APIPP will be Sept. 17.

"It really is the people of the Adirondacks that have inspired me to do the work," Smith said. "They're just incredibly dedicated and passionate about protecting this special place."



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