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Purple loosestrife targeted for removal from lower Beaver River

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NAUMBURG — Despite its beauty and benign appearance, the invasive purple loosestrife has been deemed public enemy No. 1 and targeted for eradication along the lower Beaver River.

“It can take over and out-compete everything else,” Nichelle L. Billhardt, manager for Lewis County Soil and Water Conservation District, said of the non-native plant.

The district last year compiled an inventory of invasive species in the Beaver River watershed with funding and assistance from the Beaver River Advisory Council, Brookfield Power and the St. Lawrence-Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management, a state-funded coalition dedicated to identifying and controlling invasive species in Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Oneida and Oswego counties.

While other non-native plants like the Japanese knotweed and honeysuckle were more prevalent, they are firmly entrenched and would be much more difficult to eradicate than purple loosestrife, Mrs. Billhardt said.

“This is one we know we can control,” she said. “If we get it now, we can get rid of it.”

Patches of the purple-flowering plant were found along stretches of the Beaver River between Murmur Creek and its confluence with the Black River in Naumburg.

While the reason for the original infestation is unknown, Mrs. Billhardt said, it may have started somewhere around that creek, located just north of Croghan, since there was no evidence of the plant upriver from that point.

District officials are attempting to contact riverfront landowners to get permission to remove the plant from their properties, with plans to start eradication efforts within the next few weeks, she said.

Workers will access infested areas by boat, dig up the plants manually with a pitchfork or shovel, extract the roots and bag the material to stem any further spread, Mrs. Billhardt said.

“Because this plant is capable of producing millions of seeds, it is imperative to quickly remove it so the infestation does not continue to spread up and down the Beaver River and into the Black River and points beyond,” states a Soil and Water release.

Purple loosestrife, which is typically found in wetlands, drainage canals and roadside ditches, is capable of quickly crowding out most native vegetation, taking away food or shelter from wildlife, the release said.

Infestation of the plant tends to eliminate nesting areas for birds and act as a deterrent for bog turtles and other species, Mrs. Billhardt said.

“Unfortunately, they are a beautiful flower,” she said, noting that can result in resistance from landowners to remove the invasive plant.

Purple loosestrife, which came to the U.S. from Europe long ago in ship ballast and even as a decorative flower, has been found throughout the region and state for years, Mrs. Billhardt said. Larger-scale infestations have been combated with chemicals and the introduction of a few species of weevils or beetles that feed on the plant, she said.

However, as with other invasive plants, it is much easier and less expensive to combat them before they become too pervasive, Mrs. Billhardt said.

“The sooner you can identify it’s there, the sooner you can get rid of it,” she said.

Anyone with questions or concerns about purple loosestrife is asked to call the Lewis County Soil and Water Conservation District at 376-6122 or visit its Facebook page.

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