New York prepares to launch attack against alien invaders

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New York's fight against exotic pests such as lake-choking molluscs, alien weeds and pine tree attacking wasps will be developed by a new state office.

The Environmental Conservation department will involve biologists and foresters in developing ways to combat invaders. Headed by a biologist, Steve Sanford, the four-member office will also work with universities, state agencies and non-profit organisations, to support research and raise public awareness. While removing the invasive species manually has been effective in some areas,a few non-native species are already well established, and others are on the horizon.

One of the tasks of the Office of Invasive Species is to map and record all those threats to native wildlife.

"Even though many of them have been around for years, we have never had a co-ordinated system in place to attack the problem, a system that threads together the issues of public outreach, funding and legislation needs, and research," Pete Grannis, Environmental Conservation commissioner said this week.

Common and spreading non-native plants in New York include phragmites, Japanese knotweed, Eurasian watermilfoil and garlic mustard.

Among animals are the zebra mussel, Asian long- horned beetle, round boby and the sirex wood wasp, which spreads a fungus that can devastate pine trees.

Foresters are preparing to confront the emerald ash borer, a tree-eating beetle that has been moving east and recently appeared in Pennsylvania. Humans are suspected of spreading pests through infested wood, boat ballast, bait fish and other means.

"You need to have eyes out there to know when something comes in. Ultimately we will have a map on the internet that anybody can go to and either type in a location or type in a species," Mr Sanford said.

Besides prevention, fast identification and "rapid response" eradication are important, Mr Sanford added.

And even with well established non-natives such as phragmites, the bamboo-like reed or tall grass now common in New York wetlands, "bio-controls" may offer answers.

Predators or parasites that keep a species in check elsewhere might "very carefully" be applied.

"You don't want to make the problem worse," he said.

The 2007-08 state budget included $5m (2.5m) for invasive species programmes. This includes grants for eradication and a public outreach through the New York-based Cornell University, which supports community projects.

There is also a plan to develop virus-free planting stock for fruit growers at the university's college of agriculture in Geneva. AP