KEENE VALLEY - A local program that's been fighting the onslaught of invasive plant species in the Adirondacks has earned high honors from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program received the EPA's Environmental Quality Award at a ceremony in Massachusetts last week.
The award is the highest honor doled out by the agency, and is given to organizations promoting exemplary environmental stewardship.
The Invasive Plant Program was founded in 1998 and is based at the Adirondack Nature Conservancy in Keene Valley. The program attempts to protect the park's natural resources from invasive species, like eurasian water milfoil and water chestnut.
Program director Hilary Smith said the award recognizes the many volunteers who have taken up the cause against invasive plants.
"Really what it does is give recognition to a team of partners who've been working on invasive species management for upwards of 10 years," Smith said. "It gives them an accolade of reassurance to continue the work on invasive species. We are making a difference and it's an important program for the Adirondacks."
The threat posed by invasive species is a far-reaching one, Smith said. When plants and animals are introduced to new habitats, they often reproduce and spread at alarming rates.
"That puts native species at risk," said Smith. "And the costs to combat them once they've established a presence are very high."
Smith said the program is conducting education programs, monitoring plants and wildlife throughout the park, and working to control non-native infestations. Last year, the program was awarded funding through the state's Environmental Protection Fund.
The program relies on its partnerships, as well as the volunteers who help monitor more than 200 lakes throughout the park. Early detection, Smith said, plays a major role in ridding the lakes of harmful intruders.
"One of the primary aspects of our program is early detection," she explained. "There are lots of opportunities to get involved either with early detection surveys for terrestrial invasive plants, forest pests, or aquatic invasive species. We have a number of training opportunities and field days to get involved throughout the summer."
The group's EPA award also recognizes several of the program's partners, including the Adirondack Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, Adirondack Park Agency, and the state Departments of Environmental Conservation and Transportation.
DEC commissioner Pete Grannis said the relationship between the Invasive Plant Program and other agencies is even more important due to the declining economy.
"The program has been so successful that we've used it as a model to develop other regional partnerships for fighting invasive species," Grannis said. "Especially in fiscally constrained times, effective public-private partnerships are critical to everyone's success."