Feds outline plan to curb invasive species

Invasive quagga mussels at Lake Powell. Photo courtesy NPS.

Early detection and response, partnerships across jurisdictions seen as critical measures

Staff Report

The spread of invasive species has been identified as the second-leading cause of extinctions among all plants and animals worldwide — and the problem is getting worse in the era of global trade. Just a few months ago, scientists warned that North American amphibians are at risk from an invasive fungus. White-nose syndrome, which has wiped out millions of bats, may have also spread to the U.S. from Europe.

Federal officials now say they have a plan to try and curb the proliferation of invasive species by focusing on early detection and swift response. The measures are outlined in a report released by the Interior Department: Safeguarding America’s Lands and Waters from Invasive Species: A National Framework for Early Detection and Rapid Response.

“Invasive species pose one of the most significant ecological threats to America’s lands and waters,” said U.S. Department of the Interior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Kristen J. Sarri. “Early detection and rapid response actions can reduce the long-term costs, economic burden, and ecological harm that they have on communities. Strong partnerships and a shared commitment to preventing the spread of invasive species can lay the foundation for more effective and cost-efficient strategies to stop their spread.”

Invasive species are defined as those that are not native to a specific location and whose spread causes, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. Invasive species are moved around the world through trade, travel, and transport. Climate change can accelerate the spread and amplify the impacts and costs associated with invasive species. The reverse is also true — invasive species can dramatically reduce the resilience of lands and waters to climate change.

Hundreds of invasive species already exist in the United States, including zebra and quagga mussels, Asian carps and lionfish. If left to spread, invasive species can cost billions of dollars to manage and can cause irreversible harm. For example, highly flammable cheatgrass, a plant native to Europe, fuels more intense wildfires, imperiling livestock, wildlife, fragile habitats and rangelands while also endangering property and posing risk to human life.

Despite prevention efforts, potentially invasive species, such as the spotted lanternfly and the Asian tiger mosquito, which spreads the Zika virus, continue to be a threat. This reality necessitates a national framework for the early detection of and rapid response to invasive species. This report is a first step towards building U.S. capacity to forecast which non-native species pose the greatest risk to the country, bolster current monitoring and response actions underway, and position public and private partners to be prepared to take immediate action when the next invasive species arrives.

“Invasive species that infest marine and freshwater environments are notoriously difficult and costly to control,” said Eileen Sobeck, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Interior has been actively engaged in prevention, early detection, rapid response, control and management and research related to invasive species for nearly 60 years. The Department’s FY2017 budget request includes $105.8 million to address invasive species, approximately $5.4 million above the 2016 enacted level.

The report contains a series of concrete recommendations for Federal action that builds on existing initiatives and calls for the implementation of five recommendations, including:

  • Establishing a multi-stakeholder EDRR Task Force;
  • Convening high-level decision makers to assess funding mechanisms for a nation-wide preparedness and emergency response initiative;
  • Advancing pilot projects targeted for high priority areas;
  • Scaling partnerships across government and with private, non-profit and scientific communities; and,
  • Fostering the development and application of innovative scientific and technical approaches to EDRR.

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