ADIRONDACKS — Invasive species could be bad for more than just lake life and native trees; they could drive down real estate values and have other economic impacts, according to new research.
In the Adirondacks alone, the potential losses — ranging from reduced tourism if foliage declines to fewer second-home sales — could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a recent report prepared for the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program.
The potential impact is estimated at somewhere between $468 million and $893 million, with the greatest impact being on property values. Some people think even those figures are low.
“My wife is in real estate, and I was a real estate attorney for many years,” said Chester town Supervisor Fred Monroe, who is active in lake protection issues. “I see a big difference in value between property on clean, clear water and those that are on a cloudy water body.”
Based on studies of lakefront property values in Vermont and Wisconsin, the impact across the Adirondacks could be as much as $2 billion, said Eric Siy, executive director of the Fund for Lake George.
The Adirondack Park covers nearly 6 million acres. The region has 3,000 lakes and ponds, as well as thousands of miles of rivers and streams — and the various waters are among the region’s top attractions.
“These are among the most vulnerable and valuable waters in the country,” Siy said. “Right now there is no strategy to protect them.”
The report, “The Actual and Potential Economic Impact of Invasive Species on the Adirondack Park,” recommends stepped-up measures to prevent their arrival and spread through the region’s lakes and forests.
“Invasive species pose a significant threat to the Adirondack Park economy, and it warrants putting systems into place to address both invasive species present in the park and those that have not yet arrived,” the study concludes.
“Prevention is much more cost-effective than dealing with it after the fact,” said Brendan Quirion, Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program coordinator. The program is administered by The Nature Conservancy, a private, nonprofit organization, though the program receives state funding.
In the Adirondacks, various state, academic and private organizations spent $3.56 million in 2013 to fight invasives, according to the study.
Quirion said efforts to understand the economic impacts of invasive species are new, and the report is intended to generate discussion.
“There’s pretty good understanding of the ecological impacts, but it’s a new and emerging science that looks at the economic impact of invasive species,” he said.
The study, done with private funding, was prepared by Yellow Wood Associates of St. Albans, Vermont. The report looked at five species already found in parts of the Adirondacks — Eurasian water milfoil, Japanese knotweed, Asian clam, spiny water flea and spotted wing drosophila, a fruit-eating insect.
Also studied was the possible impact of three invasives that haven’t yet arrived — an aggressive water weed called hydrilla and two deadly tree bugs, emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle.
It found that the arrival in the Adirondacks of the Asian longhorn beetle and emerald ash borer could lead to a $46 million to $51 million annual decline in visitor spending, if the forest that draws people is lost and maple foliage declines. The beetle is known to attack hardwoods like maples.
The study estimates there could be also a $650,000 annual hit on maple syrup production.
“If invasive species undermine the viability of the tourism economy, tax revenues will go down (not only from tourism, but in all impacted economic sectors),” the report states.
The state’s Catskill and western forests have already been hit by infestations of the emerald ash borer, and there are concerns about the arrival at some point of the Asian long-horned beetle, which can decimate hardwood forests. The Asian beetle has been found in New York City and on Long Island.
Other forest invasives, like the hemlock-killing woolly adelgid, are found in other parts of the state and are moving north as the climate changes, noted David Gibson, a partner in Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.
“We just have to be very vigilant,” he said.
Gibson said Adirondack Wild supports close monitoring, but would be very concerned about wholesale tree removal in the Forest Preserve to try to stop an invader.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has imposed a ban on moving firewood more than 50 miles to try to halt the accidental spread of invasive insects — a measure that appears to have had some success, though the insects are still sometimes found in new locations.
Meanwhile, the DEC is reviewing a draft statewide plan to manage aquatic invasive species. New York is considered particularly vulnerable to aquatic invasives due to its lakes, rivers and canals, as well as the number of commercial ports through which ocean-going vessels can bring outside organisms into the state’s waters.
At Lake George this past summer, all boats that had been to other water bodies were required to undergo an inspection, and potentially a hot-water decontamination. The state paid half of the $700,000 cost, but funding is guaranteed only through 2015. The other half was paid from private sources and local governments concerned about potential damage to the region’s lake-centered tourism economy.
Everyone involves agrees, however, that the program needs to go on indefinitely, as there are no signs that the threat from endangered species will diminish.
“Once the phenomena hits, you cannot go backward. You cannot eradicate,” Siy said. “These species are very adaptive and can out-compete native species.”
Something like the Lake George inspection program is needed across the Adirondacks, some think. Monroe, who is also executive director of the Adirondack Park Agency Local Government Review Board, said a system of inspection and decontamination stations at major entrances and key intersections throughout the Adirondack Park could be launched, “and the costs would not be insurmountable.”
A new group, the Adirondack Lakes Alliance, has begun meeting to discuss ideas to protect pristine lakes and how to fund them.
“I think if everyone looks at what’s to be gained and what’s to be lost, and what’s a fair share, this could be done,” Monroe said.
“This is an emergency,” Siy said, noting there are hundreds of invasive species not yet in the Adirondacks, compared to 18 known within the park. “It’s all hands on deck and all checkbooks on the table.”
The draft DEC aquatic invasives plan, now in a public comment period through Dec. 15, falls short of calling for a costly mandatory inspection program. It calls instead for expanding a steward program at state boat launches, as well as public education, and establishing regional “first-responder” teams to take quick measures when an invasive is found at a new location.
The Nature Conservancy applauds the plan in concept, but fears it won’t succeed unless the DEC has more personnel to enforce it, Quirion said.
“The main takeaway is that without increasing DEC’s capacity to implement the plan it’s doubtful the plan can be successful,” Quirion said.
“I don’t think it goes far enough. I think that’s the consensus,” he said.