By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — A highly aggressive invasive species from Korea has been found in the North Tonawanda portion of the Erie Canal as state and federal authorities rush to identify the extent of the impending threat.
The discovery was made by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, Michael A. Goehle, who first identified the Hydrilla plant on Sept. 7 near a Sweeney Street boat ramp, as he was tagging fish for a catch and release derby in the Twin Cities.
Goehle said the plant, which also has been detected in the Cayuga Inlet of the Finger Lakes and in the New York City area, looks very similar to a native species, thereby makings it difficult to single out.
“Right now are top priority is determining where it is and whether it’s limited it to the area or expanding,” Goehle said. “We’re in the process of looking throughout Tonawanda Creek. We’re looking on both shorelines. The initial stage of that should be done next week.”
Goehle said last week he took a sample of the plant to a Syracuse symposium on Hydrillas, where biologists from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers identified it as an invasive species.
As a result, the DEC is working with a host of federal and state agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York State Canal Corporation, the Office of Parks and Recreation and the Western New York Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management to determine the breadth of the infestation and possible solutions.
Officials are labeling the discovery as having a high likelihood of spreading into the Niagara River, the canal and and into the Great Lakes.
“As invasive vegetation goes this is one of the worst,” said Paul McKeown, natural resource supervisor with the DEC. “Especially if you have clear water, it grows at a very dense level.”
Hydrilla is considered to be among the most invasive aquatic plants in North America, according to the DEC, and has resulted in significant ecological, recreational and economic impacts in other regions of the country such as Florida.
The plant’s biological traits enable it to out-compete native species and dominate aquatic ecosystems due to its ability to grow in a variety of environmental settings and to propagate and spread from the simplest of fragments, making it easy to attach to boats and spread.
“Inspect boats and gear for any clinging plants, mud or tiny animals,” advised Kathy Moser, DEC assistant commissioner for natural resources. “Remove them, and clean and dry all boats and gear. Use DEC’s aquatic invasive species disposal stations, when available.”
Those who have questions about the Hydrilla or want to report a potential finding can call 877-STOP-ANS, a a national invasive species hotline.Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.