Statewide consortium waking up the public to biological invaders


WEST SENECA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Zebra mussels, purple loosestrife, emerald ash borer beetles: that is just a sampling of the invasive plants and animals that are threatening native flora and fauna, threatening fragile ecosystems across the New York.

State officials have declared this week Invasive Species Awareness Week to try to bring these invading pests to the public’s attention.

The emerald ash borer (EAB), an invader from Asia has already caused the destruction of millions of ash trees, across the United States, and the Town of Amherst seems to be one of the hardest hit areas of Western New York for the destructive beetle.

The emerald ash borer infests large mature ash trees, and there are several infestations across New York that have now been quarantined. A consortium of state and volunteer groups called the Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) is a statewide resource which is divided up into 8 regions.

While there are chemical treatments for ash trees to protect them against the ash borer, experts say the deck is stacked against them.

There is another invasive pest that can hurt people a lot more than vegetation, it is the giant hogweed, which can cause serious injury, and John Cronenberger of West Seneca has several hogweeds behind his home.

“I really want to urge people to, if they see it, to not go near it, to stay away from it,” said Cronenberger as he pointed out a stalk of giant hogweed in a field behind his house on Clinton Street.

The sap from a giant hogweed contains toxins that, on the skin, can cause third degree burns, if exposed to sunlight. If the sap comes in contact with your eyes, it can lead to blindness.

The giant hogweed is identified by large round, flat white flower heads, and large leaves. They can grow to 14′ high.

Cronenberger said he wants to get the word out, because he has seen unsuspecting young people playing paint ball in the field where the giant hogweed is growing.

“But my biggest concern is the proximity that we have to the Burchfield Nature Park,” John said, which is adjacent to Buffalo Creek, “where families bring their kids to play, and splash in the creek. My fear is that this plant is going to wind up over there someday and I am afraid of the possibilities of somebody really getting hurt.”

The giant hogweed is invasive, but was brought to North America more than 100 years go. There are also other non-invasive plant pests that have been here all along.

For instance, there is also a growing body of research indicating climate change may be supercharging other pests, like poison ivy, which horticulturists believe is becoming more plentiful, and its oil, which can cause a painful rash, is more potent.

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