Friday, March 10, 2006

Don't Assume the Position

The Ecological Society of America recently released a position paper calling for federal, state and local governments to take action against the introduction and spread of invasive species. They also renew the call for the establishment of a National Center for Invasive Species Management. The author list for the paper is an impressive who's who of invasive species biologists from both the terrestrial and aquatic sides, and the paper itself is, at first glance, also impressive, weighing in at about half a Master's Thesis (43 double-spaced pages not including figures or references). It will take me a while to digest it and add my thoughts to this post. For those of you who cannot wait until then, check out the press release (thanks to Robyn for sending in the link), or if you dare, the full version (.pdf).

Update 3/11/06: I have read the entire position paper and on the whole, I thought the authors did a very good job outlining the key invasive species issues the U.S. should be focusing on. Specifically, they make six recommendations:

  • Target the riskiest pathways for introduction of invasives.
  • Evaluate all species before they can be imported into the U.S. (Sorry "no white list" folks!)
  • Do regular "rapid assessment" surveys in the areas where new non-native species are most likely to be found.
  • Clear the way through government red tape (at federal, state, and local levels) so we can have a true "rapid response" protocol for new invasions.
  • Use a "slow the spread" protocol for problem species that are already established in the U.S., to keep them from spreading to other parts of the country.
  • Create a National Center for Invasive Species Management.
I think these are all excellent suggestions (feel free to say whether you are for or against in the comments). Some additional notes:
  • The authors point out that there is a narrow window for eradicating a newly introduced invader, and our options for action quickly dwindle as a species becomes established.
  • They note that the "...default response in U.S. policy is adaptation – passively adjusting..." It does seem like we spend an awful lot of time saying "We *found*" instead of "We found and *removed*"
  • The authors call for the federal government to take a leadership role on invasive species issues, citing the “grossly insufficient” coordination at the interstate level. This is sadly true. Back in 2003 I presented a poster showing the broad disparity between the invasive plant lists of the states in New England. The data isn't up to date for 2006 but the general conclusion of the study would still be the same - there is not a lot of overlap except for the species that are already well-established throughout the region. The communication problems are not just state-to-state either - virtually every section of the federal government has some involvement in invasive species issues, from the Department of Homeland Security to the USDA to NASA to the Navy to the Army Corps of Engineers. Their roles are so fragmented, they can't possibly keep track of what everyone is working on.
  • The paper includes a discussion of how advance planning could do a lot to prevent the establishment of future invasive species. A lot of work has been done to develop management plans in some states, but what we really need is a coordinated, national effort. Let's make part of that figuring out in advance who has jurisdiction where, how control plans would proceed, and what control methods you would be likely to use (and get them approved in advance!). That way, when a new invasive species is discovered, the ISW won't have to report that you missed your window.
The only real complaint I have about the paper is that it glosses over the economic issues. I would have liked to have seen more input from an economist, perhaps with some comparisons of costs of prevention vs. management.

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