NANFA-- invasive species issue in Congress

Jay DeLong (
Mon, 25 Mar 2002 16:44:27 -0800

Issue gets new attention in Congress, report

The fight to control ecologically and economically damaging invasive species
is getting a boost from Congress.

A bill introduced in January by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and taken up by
the House Resources Committee last week would provide federal help to
states, tribes and private landowners to control invasive species, which
crowd out native species and drain $137 billion from the economy through
impacts on agricultural production, diminished uses of land and water
resources and
control costs. For example, damage to the cotton industry from the boll
weevil is estimated at between $6 billion and $50 billion, according to
Defenders of Wildlife.

H.R. 3558, introduced by Reps. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Wayne Gilchrest
(R-Md.) and Del. Robert Underwood (D-Guam), aims to "provide the missing
link in existing efforts to eradicate invasive species that are negatively
impacting native fish, wildlife and their habitats," according to the
Resources committee. That would take the form of grants to help communities
control invasive species and restore native habitats on federal lands and
adjacent private lands, both through capacity-building and financial
assistance for control projects. The grants would be carried out with
oversight from a federal agency.

The bill also would set up a demonstration program with the National
Wildlife Refuge System to study ecologically-based strategies to control
"nuisance" species. Invasive species contribute
about $140 million to the refuge system backlog, Rahall said. Finally, the
Act provides funds for a rapid response system, designed to eradicate
invasives before they take hold ( Environment & Energy Daily, March 15).

Supporters of the bill cite as an example of the kind of invasive species
catastrophe they hope to avoid that created by the pipe-clogging zebra
mussel, which has migrated from the Great Lakes, where it was first
introduced from ship traffic, to West Virginia, causing billions of dollars
in damages and repair costs along the way and contributing to the endangered
species listings for five species.

"We often focus on the harm done to the environment by poorly planned
industrial developments, yet just as culpable are invasive species, space
invaders, that crowd out and destroy natural
fish, wildlife and their habitats," Rahall said.

The bill authorizes a total of $90 million for the programs for FY '03 and
"such sums as may be necessary" for FY '04 through FY '08.

Current programs criticized

Although there are over 20 federal laws, international agreements and a 1999
executive order that address the issue in some way, no comprehensive
national system is in place for detecting and responding to the influx of
invasive species, and jurisdictional issues, limited technology and
insufficient resources have made implementation of existing programs
difficult, several reports say. A host of federal agencies oversee various
efforts to control invasive species, including the Department of
Agriculture, the Department of Interior, the Department of Defense and the
State Department.

A 1993 report by the Office of Technology Assessment concluded that "federal
laws leave both obvious and subtle gaps in the regulation of harmful NIS
(invasive species)" and a 1996
study by The Nature Conservancy found that those laws are often not
adequately enforced. More recently, an analysis by Cornell University
researchers concluded that "although federal policies and practices may help
reduce accidental and intentional introduction of potentially harmful exotic
species, there is a long way to go before the resources devoted to the
problem are in
proportion to the risks."

"The status quo is not working," said Rahall at a March 14 hearing on the
bill. "A new approach is desperately needed or we risk losing our fish and
wildlife heritage."

Don Huber, a professor of plant pathology at Purdue University and the lead
author of a newly released report on the agricultural and environmental
impacts of invasive pest species, said
current programs are hindered by a lack of resources. "Some of the
legislation we have really constitutes an unfunded mandate, so that
resources are really lacking from a response aspect as well as detection
aspect," said Huber.

But international trade agreements also provide a barrier to stemming the
flow of invasives into the United States, he said. "We have to be able to
document an economic impact before a species
is restricted," he said. "Otherwise they (other countries) can say, 'you're
using this pest as a barrier to free trade.'" The U.S. Trade Representative
should be brought into the invasive species loop, he said.

Ecological threat

About 35 to 46 percent of the plants and animals on the endangered species
list got there with the help of invasive species that out-compete native
species for resources, directly prey on
native plants and animals or spread diseases and parasites. Invasive
insects, diseases and plants can kill trees, decrease forage in rangelands,
and increase susceptibility to high-intensity
wildfires. The Bureau of Land Management estimated in 1996 that up to 4,600
acres of public lands in the West are affected by invasive plant species
each day.

The exact number of introduced species nationwide is unknown -- estimates
range from 5,000 to 50,000. About ten percent of non-native species are
invasive, covering over 100 million
acres with the affected area increasing by 8 to 20 percent each year, said
Gabriela Chavarria of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Invasive species range from nutria, a South American rodent that consumes
soil-stabilizing wetland plants; to the brown tree snake, which has driven
ten of Guam's twelve native forest bird
species to extinction; to the gypsy moth, which defoliates hardwood forests.

Many arrive in ships and planes through trade and travel. Most aquatic
invaders, such as zebra mussels, first show up in well-traveled commercial
waterways such as the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay or San Francisco Bay,
where arriving ships discharge exotic flora and fauna along with their
ballast water.

"Invasive species have been a serious problem, and usually it hasn't been
addressed until a species has established itself quite well," Huber said.

"Failure to act is not an option because it may well doom various ecosystems
throughout the country," warned Gilchrest at the March 14 hearing.

But a legislative solution may only go so far. According to a recently
released report by the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology
(CAST) co-authored by Huber, "Public indifference, lack of knowledge and
opposition to governmental 'interference' greatly complicate response

"Any action for containment and control requires a lot of public support.
That hasn't always been available in the past," Huber said.

For example, an eradication program to rid Florida of citrus canker involved
cutting down citrus trees in residential areas, which did not go over well
with homeowners.

In some cases, public concern goes beyond aesthetic objections. In
California, residents and organic farmers strongly opposed insecticide
spraying to control the Mediterranean fruit
fly, an invasive species that was decimating the state's fruit crops.

John Kostyack, who oversees the National Wildlife Federation's species
restoration program, said chemical controls should be looked at as a last
resort. "There should be a presumption against it," he said. "But we can't
rule it out, because there are times when there are no other alternatives."

Huber said pesticide risks pale in comparison to the risks of allowing
invasives to go unchecked. "There's a real big gap there between the risk
from the pesticide and the risk from the pest," he said, adding that
biological controls are used as often as possible instead of chemical

The CAST report makes several recommendations, including improving public
education about invasive species:
Adopt "balanced, coherent, and realistic" approaches to protecting natural
resources, such as providing pest control assistance in source countries;
Concentrate efforts on the highest-risk species;
Improve research efforts;
Emphasize voluntary compliance over enforcement;
Encourage private control efforts;
Establish risk tolerance levels for introductions;
Maintain emergency response capability; and
Develop a process for periodic evaluation of risks and regulatory programs.

-- April Reese

Jay DeLong
Olympia, WA
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