Keeping an eye on invasives

A Minnesota conservation organization is now teaching waterfowl hunters that washing their dogs can help fight invasive species. If the devil is in the details, then the folks in Minnesota may indeed be barking up the right tree.

When it comes to going to war against invasive species, there is one universal truth: The best way to combat them is to make sure they are never introduced in the first place.

The National Wildlife Federation says it is "extraordinarily difficult and costly" to control and eradicate invasives once they take hold, so it makes the following recommendations on its website:

* Create effective mechanisms to prevent their introduction in the first place;

* Create monitoring systems for detecting new infestations;

* Move rapidly to eradicate newly detected invaders.

With that in mind, it is disturbing to see two of the region's chief environmental watchdogs -- the Lake George Park Commission and the state Department of Environmental Conservation -- coming to very different conclusions about fighting invasives in Lake George.

The Lake George Park Commission has proposed a mandatory boat-washing program with a price tag of $700,000 that experts say would be 90 percent effective.

But Kathy Moser, the DEC's invasive species expert, came out recently and said visual inspections -- which would cost substantially less -- would probably catch 80 to 85 percent of the invasives. Lake George park commissioners tabled their vote knowing how essential DEC support is to having boat-washing approved. As our world has evolved into a global marketplace, stowaway species have become a constant that threatens the environment and our economies. That especially applies to the tourist trade in the Adirondacks.

Invasives could irreparably harm the lake and make tourism vanish in decades to come. But adding boat-washing fees could also put a crimp in the local boating industry. Not everyone who owns a boat on Lake George is a millionaire with money to burn.

The Nature Conservancy recently reported the United States spends more than $73 billion fighting invasive species. Lake George's recent battles with Asian clams have already carried a hefty pricetag for Warren County.

The Nature Conservancy suggests two plans of attack:

* Stop the spread of invasive species through education, partnership and policy.

* Manage invasives and restore freshwater habitats.

What worries us most is the DEC's recent presentation stopped one possible solution in its tracks.

We don't pretend to know if boat-washing is worth the money. After all, we saw two decades of controversy over whether PCBs should be removed from the Hudson River without a clear-cut consensus. But doing nothing is short-sighted and ill-advised. So even if it only improves the odds of fighting invasives by a fraction, it still might be money well spent.

The Associated Press reported earlier this year federal grants are now being awarded for research on ways to prevent invasions into lakes. Researchers hope to refine techniques to detect invasive species' DNA in the water. But that doesn't help us with the decision at hand.

We do know the health of Lake George should not be gambled with. That 5 percent increase in effectiveness could be significant in the long haul, especially knowing how difficult it is to eradicate the invaders. Ultimately, we believe it may be better to be safe rather than expensively sorry. Even if that means waterfowl hunters have to wash their dogs, too.

-- The Glens Falls Post-Star