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Wanakena resident seeks funding to wipe out wild parsnip

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WANAKENA — William G. Gleason has made it a mission to eradicate wild parsnip around Wanakena and hopes others will pick up on his example.

At dusk, Mr. Gleason can often be seen in the area wearing sweat pants, a long-sleeved shirt, a hat, protective lenses and gloves so he can pull whatever wild parsnip he finds without sunlight activating a burning reaction between the sap and his skin.

A painful rash can persist for months if skin contacts the leaves or plant sap in the presence of sunlight. Blisters appear a day or two after exposure. The sap could cause blindness.

“Every one I pull means up to 1,000 seeds less,” Mr. Gleason said. “I’ve gone up and down these streets.”

The plan to destroy every wild parsnip plant has had an effect in Wanakena.

“You don’t see a lot of it anymore where it was,” said David R. Ziemba, the unofficial mayor of Wanakena, who is also an advocate of eliminating the plants.

Mr. Ziemba lops off the blossoms of wild parsnip plants before they go to seed.

“Bill does the pulling,” Mr. Ziemba said.

The taproot can be severed with a shovel. It can be mowed to keep it from flowering, but a weed whacker should not be used because that will fling leaves and sap around.

Mr. Ziemba said he started noticing the spread of the plant when a water line went in. Wild parsnip favors disturbed ground and sunlight, which is why it is so prevalent along roadsides, he said.

He suffered blisters from the plant once on his legs, the marks of which took years to disappear. A doctor told him the blisters are common in children who do not know what they are touching.

The seed can lie dormant for several years. After it sprouts, the plant stays close to the ground in its first year. In its second year, it grows tall and has an attractive yellow umbel flower.

Washing off the sap before it is exposed to sunlight can avoid more serious problems.

Mr. Gleason said he is looking for help to spread the word about the plant and to find financial help for communities.

“What I’m after is the money so we can kill it, eradicate it. We need to be able to put money into the pot so that people can do this. Everybody I’ve talked to says there is no money,” he said. “It’s spreading. I think we need a massive cleanup.”

Mr. Gleason wants officials to react to wild parsnip the same way they do with giant hogweed, which also can cause a photosensitive reaction on human skin.

Partners of the St. Lawrence-Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management implemented controls last spring to curb the population of giant hogweed plants in the eastern Lake Ontario region.

Counties scheduled for treatment included Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Oswego and Oneida. Across the five-county region, 61 sites were to be treated.

Dawn C. Howard, manager of the St. Lawrence County Soil & Water Conservation District, has been helping Mr. Gleason contact the county Highway Supervisors Association and the county Environmental Management Council.

Mr. Gleason said residents should not have to shoulder the burden of taking out the plant on their own. In Star Lake, Mr. Gleason has started marking what wild parsnip he finds.

At the home of Lawrence E. Cooper, 83, wild parsnip surrounds his mailbox on Benson Road and is 7 feet tall in his backyard. Mr. Cooper said he had no idea what the plant could do if he touched it.

“I just thought it was weeds,” he said.

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