WASHINGTON, DC, December 19, 2003 (ENS):
Efforts by the U.S. government to stem the tide of harmful,
nonnative invasive species are woefully inadequate,
experts say, and this failure to combat the second largest
threat to biodiversity is costing the nation some $137
billion annually and causing untold and irreversible
"You do not have to be a scientist to recognize
the damage these invaders inflict on our farms, forests,
fisheries, and human health," says Dr. David Lodge,
an invasive species expert and professor of biology
at the University of Notre Dame.
Lodge is one of 750 scientists and experts who have
signed a letter urging the U.S. Congress and the Bush
administration to move immediately to prevent the further
introduction and spread of these biological invaders.
More than 100 citizens groups have signed an identical
letter - the campaign has been spearheaded by the National
Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species, a group
of a dozen regional and national conservation organizations.
The flood of frustration with the government's failure
to deal with invasive species comes 10 years after a
landmark report on the problem by the Office of Technology
Assessment (OTA), an arm of the U.S. Congress.
The OTA report - "Harmful Non-Indigenous Species
in the United States" - was the first comprehensive
look at the scope of the problem, identifying gaps in
federal and state laws and regulations.
But the government's response to the warnings in the
OTA report have fallen far short of the mark - a failure
reported to Congress this June by its investigative
arm, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO).
The federal government's plan for dealing with invasive
species "lacks a clear, long term desired outcome
and quantifiable measures of performance," testified
Barry Hill, director of Interior issues for the GAO's
Office of Environment and Natural Resources.
The problem is a daunting one. Invasives enter the United
States by a variety of pathways - insects arrive in
wood packaging, plants are introduced through the nursery
or aquarium trade and aquatic species slip into the
country within the ballast water of ocean vessels.
Some 50,000 invasive species are estimated to have
Many can not survive in the United States or settle
in without disrupting natural ecosystems, but some are
The Interior Department estimates that up to 46 percent
of threatened and endangered species owe their listing
in whole or in part to the uncontrolled spread of invasive
Florida spends more than $45 million every year to
battle invasives such as predatory catfish and Australian
melaleuca but new problems continue to arise. The state's
agricultural industry is estimated to lose some $180
each year because of invasive species.
Invasive weeds such as cheatgrass and knapweeds have
settled on some 125 million acres of the American West.
And some 145 aquatic invasive species have found a
new home in the Great Lakes - and at least nine harmful
invaders have been discovered in the past decade. Many
inland states are now struggling with rising populations
of invaders, such as the zebra mussel, which can crowd
out native species and dominate aquatic ecosystems.
The concern is not just for the economy or the nation's
biodiversity - West Nile virus is the result of a foreign
"Existing policy and sheer luck have brought us
some successes so far - brown tree snakes have been
kept out of Hawaii and citrus long-horned beetle infestations
have been wiped out - but the constant stream of new
invasions shows that this is not enough," said
Dr. Gabriela Chavarria, policy director at the National
"The bottom line is that we need to improve our
policies so that 10 years from now, we report fewer
failures like West Nile virus and more successes like
the brown tree snake," Chavarria said.
The experts call on federal agencies to push forward
with major research and education campaigns and to begin
immediate screening of organisms for potential invasiveness
before they are imported.
They ask Congress to immediately pass the National
Aquatic Invasive Species Act, to fund programs to detect
and respond to newly arriving non native species and
to work with the White House to better coordinate the
efforts of the federal government and establish a national
center on invasive species.
The National Aquatic Invasive Species Act authorizes
some $170 million a year to answer some of the funding
shortfalls, outlines early detection monitoring and
rapid response plans, and sets up a timeframe for ballast
But the bill is stuck in committee and federal agencies
are not faring much better with their attempt to regulate
ballast water - far and away the greatest source of
In September the Bush administration announced that
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will
not regulate ballast water discharges from ships and
will leave the regulatory oversight to the U.S. Coast
Environmentalists are keen to have the EPA regulate
ballast water discharges - the EPA estimates ships discharge
21 billion gallons of ballast water into U.S. waters
Currently the Coast Guard only requires vessels in
the Great Lakes and the Upper Hudson and St. Lawrence
Rivers to carry out an open ocean exchange of ballast
- a practice many acknowledge the practice does little
to remove or kill invasive species.
Newly proposed regulations would extend that requirement
to all vessels entering U.S. waters after operating
beyond the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.
The Bush administration has also touted an initiative
to boost interagency coordination for the 23 federal
agencies that have invasive species programs, but critics
say action is long overdue.
Dr. Phyllis Windle of the Union for Concerned Scientists,
says the Christmas season has brought yet another alien
invader already causing an economic ripple - and threatening
Nonnative wood boring beetles have been found in potpourri
imported from India at stores in Florida, Massachusetts,
North Carolina, West Virginia and New Jersey.
The species have decimated pine tree populations in
India and are similar to the bark beetle that has ravaged
forests in the western United States. The U.S. government
has recalled the products in question but retailers
have been importing the potpourri and scented pine cones
"This latest episode is further evidence that
U.S. policy is still no match for the dangers we face,"
said Windle, senior scientist with UCS, an independent
nonprofit alliance of more than 100,000 concerned citizens
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2003. All Rights