Christopher Pennuto, professor of biology, was recently awarded a five-year, $3.5 million grant from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Environmental Protection Fund. The grant, administered by the Sponsored Programs Office, will allow Pennuto and his team to continue and enhance their work through the Western New York Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management, or WNY PRISM.
The program aims to provide expertise on invasive species management, coordination, and outreach education. It’s the second consecutive time Pennuto was awarded the grant.
“Mainly, it’s going to allow us to expand activities and hire some more full-time staff,” he said.
Currently, WNY PRISM, which is housed on the Buffalo State campus in the Great Lakes Center, has two full-time staff members. The grant will allow that number to jump to four, Pennuto said. It will also provide funding for 25 summer boat stewards and four summer management interns.
“All of those individuals are engaging in invasive species education, awareness, and management for the eight counties of Western New York,” he said.
There are eight PRISM offices throughout the state, Pennuto said, and as the acronym implies, they work with local organizations having a stake in invasive species management.
“Our office works with DEC, DOT, Fish and Wildlife...all the state agencies in the region, citizen science groups, Waterkeeper, ski clubs, snowmobile clubs,” he said. “Anybody that seems like they have an interest or concern with invasive species, we partner with.”
The boat stewards program, which expands under the new grant from four boat stewards this past summer to 25, will provide a steward at 20 boat launches throughout the eight counties of Western New York, Pennuto said. Stewards work from May through September.
“They’ll talk to all the boaters that come and go as a way to educate them about invasive species in our lakes and rivers,” he said. “They’ll educate them on how to prevent the spread of invasive species from our lakes and rivers and show them techniques for cleaning, disinfecting, and drying their watercraft. Whether they’re kayaks, canoes, boats with motors, whatever, every recreational craft is a potential vector for invasive species.”
In terms of which invasive species poses the most threat to Western New York, there are a variety of answers, Pennuto said.
“There are different ways in which any of us might interact with invasive species, and in the ecological interactions these species have with other species they encounter,” he said.
For example, the Emerald Ash Borer attacks ash trees, which are often used in municipal landscapes. That becomes a problem for local cities, towns, and villages.
“When municipalities and homeowners find these beautiful ash trees dead, it’s a huge economic burden to remove them,” he said. “They’re dead and present a hazard and they have to remove them. That’s a cost.”
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