Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today thanked USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack and the Obama Administration for their swift action to combat invasive species, particularly the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, in Finger Lakes National Forest, the only National Forest within the state's borders. On April 8, Governor Cuomo wrote a letter to Secretary Vilsack requesting that Finger Lakes National Forest be designated an "Insect and Disease Treatment Area" under the 2014 Federal Farm Bill, which would give the state access to funding to combat invasive species within the forest's borders. Yesterday, USDA announced designations to assist 94 national forest areas in 35 states, including Finger Lakes National Forest, to address insect and disease threats that weaken forests and increase the risk of forest fire. Details on funding to New York will be announced at a later date.
"Finger Lakes National Forest is a New York State treasure and this designation will help ensure its health for years to come," Governor Cuomo said. "Invasive species threaten our fragile ecosystem and I thank Secretary Vilsack for his attention and swift action on this issue."
Hemlock Wooly Adelgid is currently the largest threat to the ecosystem in Finger Lakes National Forest. Native to Japan and China, feeds at the base of the hemlock needles and taps into the food storage cells of the tree. This feeding results in death of the needles and terminal buds and over time will cause severe dieback or death of the tree. It was first discovered in New York State in the early 1980s in the Hudson Valley and has increased its range in recent years. Most recently it was discovered in Allegany State Park in Western New York.
The adelgid is difficult to manage because it has a very high reproductive potential. The loss of Hemlocks from northern forests is a concern because the hemlock occupies a very specific niche and is normally a very long-lived tree. Specific impacts from the loss of hemlock forests include warming of stream water temperatures which could impact fish, amphibian and invertebrate populations and upset the food chain. Loss of the Hemlock's shade could also negatively impact the range of many shade-loving understory plants.
"I am so pleased that the Finger Lakes National Forest will be designated an insect and disease treatment area and therefore be eligible to receive critical funding to preserve this national and state treasure," said US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who worked with USDA to gain approval. Senator Gillibrand is the first New Yorker in nearly 40 years to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee. "This designation will promote the health and vitality of this national forest, helping to preserve this valuable ecosystem which is a cornerstone to tourism and economic development in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State."
Congressman Tom Reed said, "Efforts to combat invasive species help care for our natural resources and agriculture land in New York State. This recognition by USDA will coordinate federal and state efforts to address the issue of invasive species in our region and help to mitigate the costly economic and environmental damages they can cause."
State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, "Invasive species wreak havoc on agricultural and forest lands, and only through concentrated efforts are we able to prevent their spread. This designation grants the state access to federal funds which will help protect one of the most cherished natural resources in the Finger Lakes Region and help preserve its beauty for generations."
State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens said, "Governor Cuomo recognizes that a healthy natural environment is vital to New York's economy and quality of life. DEC continues to work with other state agencies and local and federal partners to eradicate the wooly adelgid and this designation will provide federal funds to help us build on efforts to protect the Finger Lakes National Forest."
In July 2012, Governor Cuomo signed legislation to protect New York's waterways and natural habitats from the devastating environmental effects of invasive species. The law provided the Department of Agriculture and Markets and the Department of Environmental Conservation with the authority to regulate the sale, purchase, possession, introduction, importation and transport of invasive species and established penalties for those who violate such regulations.