Kaatscast: the Catskills Podcast
May 9, 2023

CRISP on the front lines: Invasive Species Emerging in the Catskills

CRISP on the front lines: Invasive Species Emerging in the Catskills
Apple Podcasts podcast player badge
Spotify podcast player badge
Google Podcasts podcast player badge
Amazon Music podcast player badge
Castro podcast player badge
RSS Feed podcast player badge

Spring has sprung in the Catskills, and with the reemergence of our native flora and fauna, invasive species are also happy to awaken. Catskill Regional Invasive Species Partnership (CRISP) director John Thompson tells us what to watch out for, how to report our findings, and what we can do to stem the tide of invasive pests. Plus, two emerging invasives to add to our radar!

Report your findings at: https://www.imapinvasives.org/

Thanks to our sponsors:

Briars & Brambles Books, Hanford Mills Museum, Ulster Savings Bank
Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway, and The Mountain Eagle.

Photo courtesy Rhododendrites, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

--- Support this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/kaatscast/support


Transcribed by Jerome Kazlauskas via otter.ai

John Thompson  0:02  
As our springs get warmer or invasive species can leaf out a little earlier, they have a lot of advantages over our native species.

Brett Barry  0:13  
It's springtime in the Catskills and as the flora and fauna re-emerge, so too does a host of invasive species. Learning to identify and report those pests can go a long way toward controlling them and saving our native trees and plants. We sat down with John Thompson, Director of the Catskill Regional Invasive Species Partnership, and he revealed two emerging invasives to add to our radar. Stay tuned. This episode of Kaatscast is sponsored by Hanford Mills Museum, which re-emerges on May 17. Explore the power of the past as he watched the waterwheel bring a working sawmill to life. Bring a picnic to enjoy by the millpond. For more information about scheduling a tour or about their new exploration days, visit hanfordmills.org or call 607-278-5744, and by Briars & Brambles Books, the go to independent book and gift store in the Catskills, located in Windham, New York, right next to the pharmacy; just steps away from the Windham Path. Open daily. For more information, visit briarsandbramblesbooks.com or call 518-750-8599. I'm here with John Thompson, who is with CRISP and the Catskill Center and John...start by telling us what that all means.

John Thompson  1:42  
Thanks, Brett. Yes. I'm John Thompson, the Catskill Regional Invasive Species Partnership Director. I work at the Catskill Center. The CRISP program is the program of the Catskill Center, but it's also a partnership where we have a number of different organizations that are involved in doing invasive species management throughout our region.

Brett Barry  2:04  
I would imagine that there are quite a few invasive species both from the plant and animal world in the Catskills, but at this point, there are probably some that are more pressing issues than others. What are some of the biggest threats right now that you're seeing in this region?

John Thompson  2:22  
Sure. Maybe I can tell you too, a little bit about the region that I work with...

Brett Barry  2:27  

John Thompson  2:28  
So the CRISP region is over seven counties (that's all of Delaware, all of our Otsego, all of Schoharie counties, most of Greene County, most of Ulster County, almost all of Sullivan County, and a little bit of Orange County). So the area that we're working in is about 3.3 million acres. It's...it includes the Catskill Park (that's 700,000 acres within the blue line itself) and the area that we work in is very forested (it's about 74% forests), so protecting those forests is really important for us here in this region and for the people in New York State. That's a large area for us to manage; what we focus on a lot is prevention, the best way to manage invasive species is to stop them from getting here in the first place and most invasive species are being moved by humans by us. So if we can change the behavior of people, teach them how to identify invasive species, how to report invasive species, what to do about invasive species, and how not to move them, we would be doing a lot to really mitigate the impact of invasive species in our region. So we focus a lot about the species that haven't gotten here yet or the species that are just emerging just spreading into our region, but we also work with landowners, land trusts, land managers in the Catskills to map where invasive species are, and work with a lot of private landowners and people that are interested in training them how to use best management practices. So education and outreach is a...is a big part of what we do. Early detection and rapid response for those emerging species and training people to report invasive species to identify them and report them mostly through a program or an app called iMapInvasives, which is available here in New York State and training people how to manage invasives that might be in their backyard using best management practices.

Brett Barry  4:33  
So iMapInvasives that's available on the web and also as an app?

John Thompson  4:36  

Brett Barry  4:39  
And when you see trends in that software, what does it take to kind of trigger some kind of responses...consistency and reporting a certain area or a certain species?

John Thompson  4:40  
It's several things. One is that if you report something in my region like CRISP region that hasn't been reported before, I get an email of that and that you observed something, you took a picture (hopefully), which you can do through the app and you made some notes about what you saw and where it was. If it's something that is early detection species for us, we would immediately go out and just verify that...that's what it is, we would start to come up with a management plan, if that was appropriate. If it's on private land, we'd be getting permission through a private landowner to access the property and if we need to do management, then we would be working with the landowner from a suite of management options that they have, whether it's just manual control or whether we would use (say) a chemical control on their property, it would be up to the landowner. So that's what we would do.

Brett Barry  5:47  
How many people are in your office?

John Thompson  5:48  
There are three other people besides myself. We have terrestrial invasive species manager (Dan Snider-Nerp). We have Sarah Coney (whose our aquatic invasive species manager), and then we have Kate Cooper (whose our volunteer and outreach coordinator).

Brett Barry  6:05  
So your office was a really important line of defense for this region.

John Thompson  6:09  
Yeah. So it's really important that people are reporting invasive species that we know where they are and that we can do something about it (just like in the example that we described).

Brett Barry  6:16  
So there's invasive species that we've all probably heard about...by this point like the emerald ash borer, which has decimated many of our ash trees. 

John Thompson  6:26  

Brett Barry  6:26  
We've been through other cycles of invasive species in the past that we can all recollect. We also have the woolly adelgid, which is affecting our...our hemlocks.

John Thompson  6:35  

Brett Barry  6:35  
But there's two that are kind of up-and-coming invasives that you're focused on at the moment. Can you tell me what...what those are?

John Thompson  6:44  
Yeah. I wanted to pick out two of the emerging invasives ones that are spreading into our region that people might not be as familiar with. One is beech leaf disease and the other is spotted lanternfly.

Brett Barry  6:56  
So let's start with spotted lanternfly because that's something that's been moving up?

John Thompson  6:59  

Brett Barry  7:00  
I think it was a problem starting in Pennsylvania and moving into New Jersey and it's finally kind of getting into our area.

John Thompson  7:07  
It was found in Pennsylvania in 2014, spread into New York State in 2020, and is continuing to spread.

Brett Barry  7:15  
So it's moving quickly. Some of these invasive species we hear about have been here for decades.

John Thompson  7:19  

Brett Barry  7:19  
But this one just under 10 years and it's thought to have arrived on a shipment of stone from China, I believe?

John Thompson  7:27  
Right. Yeah. It came from Asia (originally), they think maybe about 2012. It arrived on a pallet of stones, perhaps.

Brett Barry  7:35  
And this is how a lot of species...invasive species get here, right? It's through kind of multinational commerce.

John Thompson  7:43  
International trade. Yeah. Exactly.

Brett Barry  7:45  
What kinds of organisms exist in Asia that keep them in check that we don't have here?

John Thompson  7:50  
There are a lot of different species that keep them in check that (actually) it's very interesting. We don't have time to get into a lot of geology or anything. But, you know, the continents used to be together as Pangaea and our forests are really similar in the Eastern United States to the forest in Eastern Asia. So a lot of the same genera that we have like if you think of hemlocks and oaks and maples, they have those in Asia also, so the forest pest that since the continents broke up and trees have evolved to some degree. Insects have evolved much faster. These forest pest have evolved to be able to feed on or exist on similar species of trees in the same genus in East Asia. If you have this global trade, you can easily move within a few days on a plane or a ship through a wooden pallet, you can move something that could be a wood borer in Eastern Asia to the Eastern United States and New York State has more forest pest...invasive forest pest than any other state because of the global trade that we have here in New York City, Buffalo...so there's a lot of new stuff that's coming in. It's really important for us to be able to recognize those things and do something about it before they become widespread and we can't do anything about them. It's just too expensive or not possible.

Brett Barry  9:16  
Are there other insects or birds or things like that in Asia that are keeping them in check there that we don't have?

John Thompson  9:22  
Yeah. So there's a number of predators that would include any of those things that diseases and might be (if it's an insect, it might be other insects); as that species evolved, then this whole suite of species evolved to feed on it...and so we don't have those things. So you're...you're taking something that's new and putting it into a place that doesn't have any of those predators may not have many of those diseases and if we don't recognize it right away, then it could spread quickly and it could be devastating.

Brett Barry  9:54  
So now that we've recognized it, what is it doing to our forests that it's able to do without its natural predators here?

John Thompson  10:00  
A spotted lanternfly? Yeah. That...that one is a species that feeds on at least 70 different species of plants. It is devastating for vineyards. It feeds on grapevines to such a degree that they die, so it could be really impactful to the New York State economy and other states that have vineyards (produce wines, things that we really care about), but it's also a species that it's feeding on one end on its mouth parts, and then it excretes what's euphemistically called a honeydew out of the other end...that's a sugary substance...that as they're feeding in the trees, which might be the tree of heaven (it might be maples in your yard, it might be black walnut); it's producing this honeydew that's falling like rain when it's really abundant onto your car, onto your deck, onto your furniture that you might have outside (really sticky stuff) and it encourages this sooty mold to grow. Also, it attracts ants and bees and things like that. It can really impact how we enjoy our backyards, how we enjoy the outdoors. This one is one that likes to swarm in the fall and that's when they're mating, that's when you get a lot of this honeydew being produced.

Brett Barry  11:22  
What's the actual mechanism that they're killing shrubs or trees?

John Thompson  11:26  
So that they're feeding to such a degree on some plants that they could kill them like the the grapevines in the vineyards (for instance). Also, they could be impactful (the black walnuts, other species of plants). The second part I could explain a little bit more to is that honeydews falling on everything that's below it and one concern is that...that honeydew in a forest (for example)...hopefully you have some regeneration...plants that are growing along the ground. Those could be covered by honeydew, and then the city mold and that could impact those plants because they're much smaller. So it's an indirect impact of the spotted lanternfly.

Brett Barry  12:08  
Honeydew doesn't seem like the right name for this stuff. Someone had a real positive outlook.

John Thompson  12:14  
Yeah, we need to have a more negative name, I guess.

Brett Barry  12:20  
So the spotted lanternfly does not fly long distances, it's a bit of a hitchhiker...and so what types of...of movement do we need to be careful about?

John Thompson  12:29  
The most important thing to be able to recognize is the egg stage of the spotted lanternfly, so it lays its eggs in the fall and it overwinters as eggs and those hatch in April or May and they're gray and flat somewhat similar to the spongy moth egg masses that you might be familiar with, but maybe flatter and just like darker color, it might look similar to a lichen. Some of the gray lichens that you see on tree trunks or mud and they'll lay their eggs on any surface pretty much, so it could be a tree trunk. It could be your patio chair that you leave outside. It could be your trailer that you have outside of your car. They like to lay eggs on rusty spots on metal, so if you move your car to (say) go on vacation from here to the Adirondacks or New England or something, you could be moving those eggs. The adults themselves are really gregarious and they like to swarm together (as I was explaining earlier). They also like to get on you, so if you have them in your yard, they'll crawl up your sleeves, they'll get into your car. As you open the door, they'll fly in. They'll hang on to the car (on the outside). They could get into a trailer or anything else that you might be moving, so recognizing that they're there on whatever it is that you might be moving from one place to another is really important. Because if you can imagine this lawn chair that you have, you could be taking 500 miles away and it could be there tomorrow. We could easily move this species if we're not paying attention to where it is.

Brett Barry  14:14  
Where's the spotted lanternfly been identified in our region?

John Thompson  14:19  
In New York State, it's most abundant in the southern part of the state and New York City. There are a lot (first appeared in 2020) in Staten Island. It's continuing to spread up through the Hudson Valley. It has moved into the Finger Lakes. It was found in Ithaca (a few years ago) and it's on Long Island, so a lot of the wine growing areas...New York State Department of Ag and Markets is trying to mitigate the spread and some of these regions.

Brett Barry  14:49  
Can the Catskills dodge this past or is it definitely on its way?

John Thompson  14:53  
Well, one thing that's important to or seems to be important...the tree of heaven. If you know the book, "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn," or the movie that was made from that book is a tree that's also from Asia. It was introduced in Philadelphia in the late 1700s. It's also an invasive species. There is a relationship between an affinity of the spotted lanternfly with this tree of heaven and it may be important for this spotted lanternfly, which has four different (what are called) instar's life stages; before it gets to an adult. It may be important that this tree of heaven is around, in order for it to become an adult, but it may be able to use native species also for that, but we don't have a lot of this tree of heaven. In the Catskills, there's a relationship between tree of heaven in urban areas. There's a lot of tree of heaven in Brooklyn. That's why I wrote the book about that...and then larger urban areas in the area where I work. There aren't any large urban areas, but there is some tree of heaven that's (kind of) scattered about, so we're doing a program with...with the New York State iMapInvasives program (trying to monitor for the spotted lanternfly and also learning to identify this tree of heaven and report it through iMapInvasives), so we know where those are and that could help with our management if we were to manage some of those tree of heaven to (kind of) slow the spread.

Brett Barry  16:22  
Has the lanternfly itself been spotted in the Catskills yet?

John Thompson  16:25  
Yes, my region (Port Jervis). They've been laying eggs for several years and it's been moving up the Hudson Valley for the last several years.

Brett Barry  16:34  
So to identify it if you've never seen one before, if you've never seen an egg mass before, are these images that are available on that website that you mentioned?

John Thompson  16:41  
Yeah. You can find it on our website the...the CRISP website is www.catskillinvasives.org. There's a website that's called stopslf.org that you can go to. There's...there's a lot of information out there...and of course, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has information online.

Brett Barry  17:01  
And if it wasn't so destructive, it's a really a beautiful insect.

John Thompson  17:03  
It is a beautiful insect. Yes.

Brett Barry  17:05  
So it's a shame that I guess the...the...the guidance, if you see one is to destroy it, right?

John Thompson  17:13  
Yeah. Well, we would like in our region would be to take a photograph and report it, and then you could kill it. The adult itself (as you were mentioning) is really, really pretty. It has like a pinkish tan color to its wings with spots. That's where it got its name, and then the other life stages. The first three life stages, once it hatches from an egg, the first instar is black with white spots, then the second instar is black and white spots as is the third, and then when you get to the fourth instar, they're red with black stripes and spots. So it changes over time and it's important to be able to recognize all of those different life stages. They're not strong fliers (as they think you mentioned), but they are able to climb trees, so what they do is they can jump off when the wind is blowing and they can float for a long distance (a mile...several miles), so they can move by themselves without human beings, but they're...they're moving slower.

Brett Barry  18:15  
I think it's really interesting how we kind of set the stage in the 1700s by bringing this tree over as something that was ornamental and beautiful.

John Thompson  18:22  
Oh, yeah.

Brett Barry  18:22  
And then, you know, cut to a few 100 years later and this insect comes over and it's just...

John Thompson  18:27  
Exactly. Yeah.

Brett Barry  18:28  
...thrilled that it has its local fave.

John Thompson  18:31  
Yeah, yeah. I'm surprisingly about 61% of the invasive species that we have are ones that are introduced ornamentally. Another behavior that you could do is to do research on things that you're planting in your yard. If you're planting native species, then they're not going to be invasive, but if you're planting something that's not native, it's best to do your research and to see is it something that's going to spread...could it be spread by birds eating the fruits and dispersing the seeds is a really heavy seed producer because it might not just be something that you're gonna have to fight within your yard, but you may be spreading it to your own neighborhood or region.

Brett Barry  19:14  
So let's take a brief break and when we come back, we'll talk about an invasive that's even more insidious that's coming our way. We'll be right back. A treasure within the hamlet of Phoenicia, Ulster Savings Bank is a proud supporter of this podcast. Visit them at 58 Main Street. Call them at 845-688-5965 or find them online at ulstersavings.com. Member FDIC Equal Housing Lender. Phoenicia is a waypoint on the 52-mile Catskill Mountains Scenic Byway; following New York State Route 28 through the heart of the Southern Catskills. For maps, itineraries and links to area restaurants, shops and accommodations, visit sceniccatskills.com Thanks also to the Mountain Eagle, covering Delaware, Greene, and Schoharie counties, including brands for local regions like the Windham Weekly, Schoharie News, and Catskills Chronicle. For more information, call 518-763-6854 or email: mountaineaglenews@gmail.com. Okay, we're back with John Thompson, Director of CRISP, which is the Catskill Regional Invasive Species Partnership. 

John Thompson  20:29  
Yeah. You got it.

Brett Barry  20:29  
At the Catskill Center and we have another invasive that we don't know too much about and it's affecting our beech trees. Beeches are really important to the Catskills. Tell us first about the tree that's being affected.

John Thompson  20:44  
Yeah. So beech trees, the American beech, produces what's called mastiff (produces fruit, which is really important wildlife food, produces beechnuts that are eaten by a number of different species (bear, for instance) and if you've seen beech trees in the wild, they have like a really smooth bark when they're healthy (like elephant skin, it's gray), but there's been a complex of invasive species that have been infecting our beech for a number of decades. That's beech bark disease, which is something else that's impacting them. So a lot of the beech trees that we see now (the older tree use, the bark has lesions on its rough) and you see a lot of suckers coming up from the beech trees.

Brett Barry  21:34  
So this new disease, it's not so much well, I guess it is still tied into an invasive species, but it's a disease called beech leaf disease and it's killing native and ornamental beech tree species and it's associated with some kind of invasive species, right or not?

John Thompson  21:50  
Well, not a lot is known about it was first discovered in Ohio in 2012. The signs of this disease are that the leaves of the beech trees will have these bands or stripes on the leaves and as you're looking up at them from below and you have sunlight backlighting them, you'll see these bands of the leaves themselves and as the disease gets more severe, the leaves will start to yellow and curl, and then finally brown and die. What they found associated with the symptoms or signs is that there's a nematode in there that's in the cell structure (starting with the bud, and then in the leaves themselves), so as the...the trees leaf out from the leaf buds, they already have the stripes of the leaves that you can see, so you can identify it and report it right away in the spring when the trees are first leafing out.

Brett Barry  22:45  
And a nematode is a worm?

John Thompson  22:47  

Brett Barry  22:48  
Like a small...is it microscopic or...

John Thompson  22:50  
Yeah. It's very small and...and that nematode is associated with several species (four species of bacteria) in there...maybe other things going on that we don't really realize or don't know about yet. So it's really important that we learn about how to identify this thing and we report where it is, so that we can try to understand how it's spreading, and then eventually, hopefully figure out what is the mechanism that's causing these trees to die?

Brett Barry  23:23  
So in this case, we're not going to be reporting on the cause like we would with the lanternfly in this case, we're...we're reporting on the results.

John Thompson  23:32  
Yeah, you're seeing...

Brett Barry  23:33  
A dying tree.

John Thompson  23:34  
A sign of the tree itself. Yeah. The trees themselves can die from this pest over a period of time (six to ten years), and then those saplings, which are there...so many of them in some of our forests, those could die within a few years. So they'll lose all their leaves and then die. So...

Brett Barry  23:52  
So this disease has made it up to Sullivan County?

John Thompson  23:56  
Yes, it was found last year for the first time and two locations in Sullivan County.

Brett Barry  24:01  
What can we do about it or we don't know yet?

John Thompson  24:03  
Well, I think the best thing that we could do about it is you can go on our website; learn how to identify it, use iMapInvasive, take a photo of it, report it through iMapInvasives. You can also report it by sending an email to the New York State forest health. You can report it to us at CRISP, but the best thing to do if you do see those stripes on the leaves, take a good picture of it and you can email it to me with some details about where you were or you could report it (as I said) through iMapInvasives.

Brett Barry  24:34  
Working in an office in the line of work that you do. Are you generally...

John Thompson  24:42  

Brett Barry  24:43  
I was gonna say pessimistic. Are you...are you...how much concern is there about all of the different species that maybe in danger from invasives or climate change or whatever?

John Thompson  24:54  
Yeah. The...a lot of concern and...and then there's synergistic impacts of...of invasive species and climate change that we could do another show about, but what I see is that we can recognize these species that are just emerging. We can learn how to slow their impact, mitigate their impact, come up with solutions, we have a whole range of solutions to deal with some of these invasive species, so until we know enough about these species, we're not going to be able to develop the tools that we need to be able to manage it and we're working with a lot of partner organizations who are doing great work. We work with volunteers in the field. People are enthusiastic about doing something to help the environment, so I'm optimistic (hopeful) and I see great things happen every day, so the more that we can learn about some of these threats to our force and the more that we can learn personally (how to do things about it), then I think that...that's really helpful to the region that we live in.

Brett Barry  26:02  
Of all of the threats facing our region at the moment, which one keeps you up at night?

John Thompson  26:07  
That's a good question. You get them up at night for a lot of different reasons, but invasive species are a major threat to New York State's biodiversity (as is climate change) and as I was mentioning earlier, there's an interaction between those two invasive species and unfortunately can take better advantage of our warming climate as our springs get warmer or invasive species can leaf out a little earlier than our native species. As our falls get warmer, invasive species can hold their leaves a little longer than our native species. Most invasive species are generalists, so they can grow in a lot of different soil conditions, a lot of different weather conditions, climate conditions, so they have a lot of advantages over our native species. If we can stop moving these invasives and tried to do something to mitigate their impact, then we're giving our natives a chance.

Brett Barry  27:07  
Well, I don't want to keep any longer because it seems like you are someone who needs to be out in the field; protecting our region from exactly what we've been talking about. You have more important things to do. So I really appreciate the time that you spent explaining some of the things and what we can do about it.

John Thompson  27:24  
Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Brett Barry  27:26  
Thanks, John.

This episode was recorded at the Sojourner Truth Library at SUNY New Paltz by our production intern (Jerome "J.K." Kazlauskas). Kaatscast is a production of Silver Hollow Audio. Please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Ask your smart speaker to play "Kaatscast: The Catskills Podcast" or visit us anytime at kaatscast.com, where you can sign up for our mailing list. Search for shows based on keywords and transcript text and join one of our listeners supporters like Kristine, Allan, and Tracy for as little as $1 a month. I'm Brett Barry. Enjoy spring and watch out for invasives. Let us know what you find. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.