New “Plant Pest” Boss Soon to Take Office

Gregory Ibach

 

Gregory Ibach has been appointed USDA Under Secretary of Agriculture for Marketing and Regulatory Programs. He will supervise APHIS.

Mr. Ibach has strong ties to mainstream agriculture. A fourth-generation farmer (cow-calf and rowcrops), he has served as Nebraska’s Commissioner – or Deputy – of Agriculture under three governors – since 1999. His academic background is animal science and agricultural economics.

Mr. Ibach’s nomination was supported by 60 organizations, including the Farm Bureau, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and National Corn Growers.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry held a very friendly hearing on Mr. Ibach’s appointment on October 5, 2017 2017 (video posted at the Committee website)  During the hearing – which was shortened by the need to attend to other Senate business – Senators’ attention focused on the farm conservation programs managed by the other nominee at the hearing (William Northey, nominee for Undersecretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services). In response to several questions about marketing programs, Mr. Ibach said he needed to learn more about an issue.

In his formal testimony, Mr. Ibach noted the breadth of responsibilities under the jurisdiction of the Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs and promised to find a balance between the two duties: representing and promoting the interests of farmers and ranchers; and overseeing some of the entities that regulate them. (Written testimony posted on Committee website — link above.)

“If confirmed, I will help the Secretary achieve his goals through ensuring sensible and effective regulations, responding to our customers in a timely and straight forward manner, focusing on plant and animal health program effectiveness, and fostering safe innovation that is farmer, consumer and environmentally sound.”

I summarize key points of the hearing below.

Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) noted that foreign animal disease threats – such as avian influenza – have threatened agricultural production and asked what Mr. Ibach’s priorities would be for safeguarding animal health. Mr. Ibach said he takes very seriously APHIS’ responsibilities to keep diseases and pests out of the country and to control those that enter. He promised to learn about every program.

Ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) asked Mr. Ibach about budgetary pressures. He responded by saying he would commit to doing the best job possible with available funds and to pursue efficiencies.

Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) was also concerned about disease threats to Minnesota’s large-scale turkey and hog producers.

John Hoeven (R-ND) pressed Mr. Ibach to find a solution to blackbirds as a threat to agriculture. Mr. Ibach said they are a problem in Nebraska, too. He promised to seek a “balanced” approach that preserved wildlife “when appropriate” while protecting farmers from destruction and disease threats.

Senator Leahy (D-VT) submitted questions pertinent to our concerns about tree-killing pests. Noting that Mr. Ibach had spoken about the pest threat to farmers, ranchers, and producers but had made no mention of the forest pests, Senator Leahy asked:

  • What familiarity do you have with APHIS’ work to keep out invasive forests pests that threaten our nation’s forests and the rural jobs and economy those forests support?

Mr. Ibach replied: I am familiar with the work that APHIS does in partnership with states to keep out and eradicate forest pests. In fact, in Nebraska, we have been working closely with APHIS prior to and since Emerald Ash Borer was found in the state for the first-time last year. These pests can absolutely devastate our forests, and if confirmed, I would work to make sure that APHIS’ pest programs, including those to protect the green mountains of Vermont, are effective.

  • Can you tell me how many wood and tree pests APHIS inspectors find every year, which theoretically should not have made it to our shores if importers were using the best available processes and phytosanitary practices to keep American agriculture and natural resources safe? And do you commit to looking into this issue and finding ways to safeguard both American agriculture and our natural resources?

Mr. Ibach replied: I do not have that data, but commit to learning more and working every day to protect American agriculture and natural resources if confirmed.

Senator Roberts said that the Committee would act soon to approve the nominations of Gregory Ibach and William Northey.

 

The Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs sets the tone for APHIS’ efforts.  This person can prompt aggressive protection efforts … or block such efforts by opposition or indifference.  Let’s hope that Mr. Ibach plays the former role!

 

Posted by Faith Campbell

 

We welcome comments that supplement or correct factual information, suggest new approaches, or promote thoughtful consideration. We post comments that disagree with us — but not those we judge to be not civil or inflammatory.

 

CISP Starts Focus on Emerging Wildlife Diseases in Large Collaboration

 

A new CISP effort is underway: we are pleased to announce support for our work on emerging wildlife diseases. Funding for this collaborative effort was provided by the BAND Foundation, a charitable foundation whose mission includes conservation of wildlife and plant species and combatting wildlife diseases. The grant, managed by the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), will provide support through 2017 and 2018. The scope of the project is described in the following AFWA announcement. We will provide more information on the project as it develops.

 ————————————-

Washington D.C. (May 4, 2017) – The Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies is pleased to announce a partnership focused on fish and wildlife health, in collaboration with Bat Conservation International, the Amphibian Survival Alliance, the Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy, the Center for Invasive Species Prevention, and five universities in the United States.

 Disease is rapidly emerging as a major threat to wildlife globally. While wildlife diseases are not new, human actions are dramatically increasing their spread and impact. The partnership between the BAND Foundation and the Association will lead to more effective responses to emerging wildlife diseases.  Three specific emerging pathogens that affect bats (White-nose syndrome (WNS)), salamanders (Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal)) and sea stars (Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD)) are of immediate concern in the United States. These families of animals play vital roles as ecosystem engineers across a range of habitats from agricultural landscapes to forests to intertidal zones. This project provides funding for critical research and monitoring to better understand the diseases that threaten them, aims to catalyze a public policy framework for tackling wildlife disease more broadly and strategically, and seeks to leverage additional dollars to address this critical issue.

 “State fish & wildlife agencies are on the front lines of wildlife disease prevention. This much needed funding will go a long way to prevent and prepare for disease outbreaks through the United States,” said Nick Wiley, President of the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies.

A conference to bring together experts in science and management of various wildlife diseases will be convened in 2018, to help further identify needs and improve communication and responses.

at: file:///C:/Users/Owner/Downloads/PR-%20AFWA%20Partners%20with%20the%20BAND%20Foundation.pdf .

 

Posted by Peter Jenkins

We welcome comments that supplement or correct factual information, suggest new approaches, or promote thoughtful consideration. We post comments that disagree with us — but not those we judge to be not civil or inflammatory.

 

 

Injurious species ruling could lead to more invasions​

 

CISP and I are mentioned in this Newsweek article of April 12 ​about a court ruling that undercut ​ ​the past 28 years of the ​U.S. ​Fish and Wildlife Service’s ​(FWS)​ program of regulating “injurious species” under the Lacey Act at the level of interstate transportation within the 49 continental States.

​​

Dr. Skip Snow, National Park Service Herpetologist, Everglades National Park, examines python captured in the Park; NPS photo

LANDMARK CASE PAVES WAY FOR ANIMALS LIKE PYTHONS TO BE TRADED IN U.S.

​http://www.newsweek.com/landmark-case-paves-way-animals-pythons-be-legally-traded-us-583137 ​
What happened? In 201​3​, in ​DC ​District Court, the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK) brought a suit that, among other arguments, claimed ​the Government (the ​USFWS), lacked statutory authority under the Lacey Act to regulate interstate commerce in large constrictor snakes among the 49 continental States​. The DC District Court agreed and that issue was ​prompt​ly appealed to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals​. Its ​April 7th ​opinion frames the issue like this (pp. 2-3):​

   

When a species is designated as injurious, the Act prohibits any importation of the species into the United States or its ​p​ossessions or territories. 18 U.S.C. § 42(a)(1). The Act additionally bars “any shipment” of the species“ ​​between the continental United States, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or any possession of the United States.” Id.

​    ​

This case concerns the proper interpretation of the latter provision, which we will refer to as the shipment clause. All agree that the clause bars shipments of injurious species between each of the listed jurisdictions—for instance, shipments of animals between “Hawaii” and “the continental United States,” or between “the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico” and a “possession of the United States.” But what about ​shipments between the states making up “the continental United States”—for instance, shipments between Virginia and Maryland? Does the clause prohibit those shipments as well?​

 

The Court ​of Appeals ​answered the last question with a convincing “no”.​ 

 

It is important to note the effect is only on ​interstate commerce (“​IC ​”)​ among the 49 States and it does not change the FWS’ authority to regulate commerce between those named locations, that is, ​Hawaii, DC, PR, the possessions and the 49 States considered as one block​.  Also, the ruling does not ​at all ​affect the FWS’ authority to regulate imports of injurious species from other nations.

 

Was it unexpected? No. The USARK attorneys did outstanding legal work in revealing the early Legislative history ​ of the 1960 Lacey amendments at issue​ and the fact that,​ from 1960 through 1989, the FWS itself interpreted the statute not to allow it to regulate IC. The FWS only began regulating IC in its ​Lacey ​injurious species listings ​in​ about 1989, but it has continued to do that in every listing since 1989, ​under the last 5 Presidential administrations. The long delay in the Court challenge was largely due to lack of enough economic incentive for a regulated industry to bring a lawsuit to challenge ​the FWS changed approach​. It was not until USARK was motivated to raise a vast amount of contributions from its members to pays it large legal fees that a challenge was organized.

 

How broad is the ruling? Sweeping. It is n​either​ limited to the parties in th​e​ case ​n​or ​to the ​snakes involved. The opinion makes clear that the correct legal interpretation by the FWS from now on must be not to regulate IC among the continental 49 States, with this statement on p. 22:

 

   we …. hold as a matter of law that the government lacks authority under the shipment clause to prohibit shipments of injurious species between the continental States.     

 

Will there be more proceedings in the District Court? Likely yes, as USARK had brought other legal arguments claiming that the entire listings of their snakes (including regulation of foreign imports too) was illegal. Now that the pressing issue of the IC restriction ​for injurious species under the Lacey Act ​has been resolved, USARK can still make those arguments back in the District Court. My judgment ​as an attorney ​is those were all weak arguments and ultimately the listing of the snakes and trade restrictions will be upheld as legal by the Courts as far as ​regulating ​foreign imports and the commerce among the listed locations.

 

Is the ruling disallowing IC restrictions likely to have more appeals? No. It is theoretically possible that the Government could seek review from the Supreme Court, but doubtful that the Government will do that or that the Supreme Court would take the case.  Both the District Court Judge and the DC Circuit Court of Appeals (3 Judges) wrote very well-reasoned opinions, and there is no dissenting opinion or conflicting decision from any other Court. Given those circumstances, it is not the sort of case the Supreme Court would take, so the DC Circuit’s opinion should be considered the final word unless Congress changes the law.

 

When does it take effect? Immediately​, unless it is somehow blocked​. While the appeal was from a preliminary injunction, the ruling need not go back to the District Court now as far as the IC issue – that is decided as a matter of law. As the opinion pointed out ​(​pp. 7-8​)​​:​

 

      We reach a definitive judgment on the shipment clause’s meaning in order to “save the parties the expense of future l​itigation​”.​

     ​

What is the effect on existing Lacey Act injurious species listings? All existing injurious species listing regulations that claim to regulate IC must from now on be interpreted not to regulate IC. The FWS may re-issue some new listing regulations to make its lack of authority more clear, but even if the FWS delays in doing that the language in those regulations on regulating IC is now a nullity, that is, ​that language​  should be treated as if it does not exist.

 

It should be noted that ​ for​ the ​now​ 2​8​ different injurious species listing ​ decisions​ (some of which take in large numbers of species ​ totaling ~ 300 or up to ~700 species if the disease regulations are included​) th​e​ impact of this listing will vary greatly.  ​In reality​ only ​5 or 6​listings are significantly harmed ​now ​by the ruling. Most of the Lacey species listed are not in the US yet, ​e.g., Racoon dog, ​so the elimination of the IC restriction will have no effect currently and the continuing regulation of ​importation is all that is needed ​, unless the species does appear somewhere within the ​49 continental States​.

One ​listed species​, zebra mussel, ​is so widespread in the US ​already ​and/or ​its​ movement is generally unintentional s​o​ that the IC restriction has ​generally​ been unenforceable as a practical matter ​ (with some ​important ​exceptions to that)​.

 

One listing — the “all-salmonids pathogens” listing — was by its terms limited to regulating foreign imports and not IC, so it was not affected ​at all ​by the ruling.

 

But, for ​the ​listings ​​of​ the large constrictor snakes, the ​4 ​Asian carps​,​ the Northern snakehead​ and some others​, the Court ruling eliminating IC regulation will greatly weaken Federal control over the ​many ​species ​ within those listings​. ​Several​ of them are already fairly widespread ​in the country ​with captive and/or wild breeding populations to draw stock from. So ​just ​regulating their foreign importation is almost meaningless –  it is IC that is their most important risk. So​,​ we are more likely to see more invasions ​by those species i​n more States due to more ​unregulated ​IC unless that legal gap is filled.

 

Bsal regulation effect:​ The Bsal-prevention salamander ​foreign import ​regulation has been successful in keeping the Bsal pathogen out of the US (it appears​,​ based on monitoring so far), but the IC restriction had provided​ important ​insurance​ in the event that the pathogen is ​in fact ​here but just has yet to be detected. Or if the pathogen were to arrive, the IC restrictions would ​have ​facilitate​d​ a stronger preventative response, ​blocking or ​slowing spread from one State to another. ​Now, ​if the pathogen arrives with ​no IC restrictions in place, interstate trade in ​infected ​salamanders could rapidly spread a potentially devastating, nationwide, ​Bsal outbreak.

 

What is the effect on existing permits for interstate movement of listed species? To the extent the permits relate to foreign imports or movements between Hawaii, DC, ​PR, ​the ​possessions/​

territories or the continental States  considered as a whole​, the permit system is still in effect. As far as permits ​for movements ​within the continental 49 States, it should be expected that the FWS will modify their terms. Until the FWS does that or provides clarification​,​ the permit holders should ​follow​ the terms of their permits.

 

What might Congress do in response? Congress could pass a law filling the gap and returning ​the ​FWS IC regulation ​program ​to the status quo that has exist​ed​ since 1989. Such a law could be quite narrow, targeting only the IC gap, or it could be broader, including an IC gap fix within a broader new law. Or Congress could take no action, leaving the effect of the Court ruling in place.

 

What might State fish and wildlife agencies do in response? Unless it appears that Congress will fill the IC gap quickly, then concerned States may wish to promptly ​adopt ​their own new laws ​/regulations​ restricting commerce into their States of the species involved. This seems ​the ​highest priority for the States most at risk from the species whose IC has been most liberalized by the ruling, that is, the large constrictor snakes, the ​4​ Asian carps​,​ the Northern snakehead and ​the ​salamanders that the FWS listed as potentially carrying Bsal. (Some States already may have such restrictions on the books.)

 

​ Note that Hawaii is well-protected as a specially-designated State and need take no action, as is also true for DC, PR and the territories.​

 

It is too soon to know what the policy responses may be, but the FWS, State agencies and stakeholders likely are evaluating options now. ​

 

We welcome comments that supplement or correct factual information, suggest new approaches, or promote thoughtful consideration. We post comments that disagree with us — but not those we judge to be not civil or inflammatory.

​Posted by Peter Jenkins

 

What the new President & Congress Can Do re: Invasive Species

 White House

 

A new President and Congress take office in January.  And outgoing President Obama recently amended the Executive Order on invasive species.

What might the new leaders do to improve America’s invasive species programs?

Here are a group of actions that I think would improve programs significantly:

  • amend the Lacey Act to strengthen controls over introduction and spread of invasive animals and animal diseases;
  • raise the political profile of invasive species issues by holding more frequent oversight hearings;
  • increase funding for invasive species prevention, containment, and control programs;
  • support proposals to amend the 2019 Farm Bill to strengthen on-the-ground programs, policies, and research aimed at minimizing invasive species introduction, spread, and damage;
  • during the confirmation process, Senators should ask President Trump’s nominees to leadership positions in the Departments of Agriculture and Interior about how they will address invasive species challenges.

Do we need new legislation mandating that federal land-managing agencies do X or Y with regard to invasive species? This was the focus of a hearing in May at which I testified.

Federal land-managing agencies are already authorized and – in some cases required – to act to control invasive species on lands and waters under their jurisdiction.  Some of the existing statutes even authorize the agencies to apply fees paid by people who use the public lands for some purpose (e.g., livestock grazing, recreation) to management of invasive species.

Most of the statutes authorizing invasive species management incorporate that activity into the agency’s broader management goals for protection of wildlife, habitat, natural resources, historic or cultural sites, etc.  For example, the USFS Manual §2900 lists 21 laws and 6 regulations or policies that govern the USFS’ management of invasive species.  Some of these laws apply to all federal land-managing agencies, including:

  • Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 (16 U.S.C. §§1531 et seq.)
  • Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (30 U.S.C. 1201, 1201 (note), 1236, 1272, 1305). §515
  • North American Wetland Conservation Act 1989 (16 U.S.C. 4401 (note), 4401-4413, 16 U.S.C. 669b (note)). §9 [U.S.C. 4408]
  • Sikes Act (Fish and Wildlife Conservation) of September 15, 1960 (16 U.S.C. 670g-670l, 670o, P.L. 86-797), as amended. §201
  • National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 [16 U.S.C. §§470 et seq.]
  • Wilderness Act of 1964 (16 U.S.C. §§1131 et seq.

Other statutes apply only to resource management authorities of the USDA Forest Service; these include:

  • Organic Administration Act of 1897 (16 U.S.C. §§ 473 et seq.).
  • Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act (16 U.S.C. § 661 et seq.).
  • Knutson-Vandenberg Act of June 9, 1930 (16 U.S.C. 576, 576a-576b). §3 [16 U.S.C. 576b]
  • Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act of 1937 (7 U.S.C. §§1010 et seq.)
  • Anderson-Mansfield Reforestation and Revegetation Act of October 11, 1949 (16 U.S.C. 581j (note), 581j, 581k)
  • Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 (16 U.S.C. §§528 et seq.)
  • Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act (RPA) of 1974 as amended by the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) of 1976. §6
  • International Forestry Cooperation Act of 1990 (16 U.S.C. § 4501)
  • Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (H.R. 1904), [16 U.S.C. 6501-6502, 6511-18, 6541-42, 6571-78]
  • Wyden Amendment (P.L. 109-54, Section 434).
For brief descriptions of all these statutes, see the references and links at the end of this blog posting.

Advocates have tried before to legislate a specific requirement that federal agencies combat invasive species.  The Federal Noxious Weed Act of 1974 (7 U.S.C. § 2801 note; 7 U.S.C. § 2814) was amended in 1990 to add §15, “Management of Undesirable Plants on Federal Lands”.  This section requires each federal agency to

1) designate an office or person adequately trained to develop and coordinate an undesirable plants management program for control of undesirable plants on federal lands under the agency’s jurisdiction, and

2) establish and adequately fund an undesirable plants management program through the agency’s budgetary process,

3) complete and implement cooperative agreements with state agencies regarding the management of undesirable plant species on federal lands, and

4) establish integrated management systems to control or contain undesirable plant species targeted under cooperative agreements.

This approach hasn’t worked – no one is satisfied by the federal agencies’ “weed” management efforts.

 

Capitol

What is missing is a political demand for action – and support for necessary staff and funding. Agencies under the secretaries of Agriculture and Interior bear most of the responsibility for managing invasive species.  As long as these officials are not being pressed by key Congressional committees, the media, and key stakeholders to take more aggressive and effective action to curtail species introductions and suppress established populations of bioinvaders, they will continue to focus their attention on issues that do generate these kinds of political pressure.

I am not saying that the principal statutes governing invasive species management could not be improved.  As noted above, several proposals have been put forward to strengthen laws which are the foundation for preventing introduction of invasive species.  I will blog about specific proposals in the new year.

 

Sources

USFS Invasive Species Manual

ANSTF/NISC report “Federal Policy Options Addressing the Movement of Aquatic Invasive Species Onto and Off of Federal Lands and Waters. 2015.  Committee on the Movement of Aquatic Invasive Species both onto and off of Federal Lands and Waters.

Posted by Faith Campbell

We welcome comments that supplement or correct factual information, suggest new approaches, or promote thoughtful consideration. We post comments that disagree with us — but not those we judge to be not civil or inflammatory.

Invaders Put Another Bird at Risk

iwi2_jamespetruzzi_u

i`iwi; photo by James Petruzzi; courtesy of American Bird Conservancy

As noted in an earlier blog (“When Will Invasive Species Get the Respect They Deserve?” May 2016),  invasive species can cause extinctions – especially on islands.  I have posted other blogs about the invasional meltdown in Hawai`i (“Hawaii’s unique forests now threatened by insects and pathogens” October 2015).

A further demonstration of the meltdown is the decision by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to propose listing  another Hawaiian honeycreeper (bird) – the i`iwi (Drepanis (Vestiaria) coccinea) as a threatened species.  Already, some 20 Hawaiian forest birds are protected under the Endangered Species Act.  Many, although not all, are threatened by the same factors as the i`iwi.

The proposal, which summarizes an extensive supporting report, is available here.  USFWS is accepting comments on the proposal that are submitted to the USFWS’  website before November 21.

The proposal documents the tragedy of Hawai`i. The i`iwi was once almost ubiquitous on the islands, from sea level to the tree line. Today the bird is missing from Lanai; and reduced to a few individuals on Oahu, Molokai, and west Maui. Remaining populations of i`iwi are largely restricted to forests above ~ 3,937 ft (1,200 m) on Hawaii Island (Big Island), east Maui, and Kauai.

In the past, hunting for the bird’s striking red feathers and agricultural conversion doubtless affected the i`iwi’s populations. Since the early 20th Century, though, the threats have all been invasive species.

The USFWS has concluded that the principal threat is disease: introduced avian malaria  — caused by the protozoan Plasmodium relictum and vectored by introduced mosquitoes (Culex quinquefasciatus). A second disease, Avian pox (Avipoxvirus sp.), is also present but scientists have not been able to separate its effects from those of malaria. Both vectored by the southern house mosquito.

I`iwi are very susceptible to avian malaria; in lab tests, 95% of birds died.

iiwi_hakalaunwr5_danieljlebbinabc_u

I’iwi on `ohi`a blossom at Hakalau NWR; photo by Daniel J. Lebbin; courtesy of American Bird Conservancy

I`iwi alive now have survived because they live in forests at sufficiently high elevations; there, cooler temperatures reduce the numbers of mosquitoes, and thus transmission of the disease.  However, the birds must fly to lower elevations in certain seasons to find flowering plants (the i`iwi feeds on nectar) – and then becomes exposed to mosquitoes.

Worse, climate change has already caused warming at higher elevations, and is projected to have a greater impact in the future.  The rising temperatures predicted to occur – even if countries meet their commitments from the December 2015 meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – will result in upslope movement of mosquitoes. As a result, according to three studies reviewed by the USFWS, the i`iwi will lose 60 – 90% of its current (already limited) disease-free range by the end of this century, with significant effects occurring by 2050.

I`iwi occur primarily in closed canopy, montane wet or montane mesic forests composed of tall-stature `ohi`a (Metrosideros polymorpha) trees or in mixed forests of `ohi`a and koa (Acacia koa) trees. The i`iwi’s diet consists primarily of nectar from the flowers of `ohi`a  and several other plants, with occasional insects and spiders.

 

hakalau-forest01a

Hakalau National Wildlife Refuge; USFWS photo

The i`iwi’s dependence on `ohi`a creates another peril, because `ohi`a trees are vulnerable to alien diseases – both ohia rust and, especially, rapid ohia death or Ceratocystis ohia wilt. (Read descriptions of both diseases here.  As of September 2016, rapid ohia death has been found only on Hawai`i – the “Big Island”. However, 90% of all i`iwi currently reside on the Big Island! Worse, in future the relatively large area of high-elevation `ohi`a dominated forest on the Big Island was expected to be the principal refuge of the i`iwi from the anticipated climate-driven up-slope movement of malaria. However, as just noted, the Big Island’s trees are now being killed by disease. If rapid ohia death continues to spread across the native `ohi`a forests – on Hawai`i and potentially on the other islands – it  will directly threaten i`iwi by eliminating the limited, malaria-free native forest areas that remain for the species.

Rapid `ohi`a death (ROD) is caused by two distinct strains of the widely introduced pathogen Ceratocystis fimbriata.  It was first detected in the Puna District of Hawai`i in 2012. The disease has since been detected across a widening area of the Big Island, including on the dry side of island in Kona District (See map here.  The total area infested has increased rapidly, from ~6,000 acres in 2012 to 38,000 acres in June 2016.  Since symptoms do not emerge for more than a year after infection, the infested area is probably larger.  ROD kills `ohi`a in all size and age classes. There is no apparent limit based on soil types, climate, or elevation. O`hi`a growing throughout the islands appears to be vulnerable, from cracks in new volcanic areas to weathered soils; in dry as well as mesic and wet climates. The pathogen is probably spread by spores sticking to wood-boring insects and – over short distances – wind transport of insect frass.

Federal and state agencies are spending $850,000 on research on the disease, possible vectors, and potential containment measures.  Additional funds would be needed to implement any strategies, and to expand outreach  to try to limit human movement of infected plants or soil.

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture adopted an interim rule in August, 2015  which restricts the movement of `ohi`a plants, plant parts, wood, and frass and sawdust from Hawai`i Island to neighboring islands. Soil was included in the interim rule with an effective date of January 1, 2016. In March 2016, HDOA approved permit conditions for movement of soil to other islands. The interim rule is expected to be made permanent at a meeting of the Board of Agriculture on 18 October.

Other invasive species threatening the i`iwi are feral ungulates, including pigs (Sus scrofa), goats (Capra hircus), and axis deer (Axis axis).  All degrade `ohi`a forest habitat by spreading nonnative plant seeds and grazing on and trampling native vegetation. Their impact is exacerbated by the large number of invasive nonnative plants, which prevent or retard regeneration of `ohi`a forest. Drought combined with invasion by nonnative grasses have promoted increased fire frequency and the conversion of mesic `ohi`a woodland to exotic grassland in many areas of Hawaii.

The feral pigs pose a particular threat because by wallowing and overturning tree ferns (Cibotium spp.)  they create pools of standing water in which the mosquitoes breed.  The US FWS has concluded that management of feral pigs – across large landscapes – might be a strategic component of programs aimed at managing avian malaria and pox.

One possible source of hope: research into genetic manipulation of the mosquito disease vector by using tools from synthetic biology and genomics (see draft species status report . Considerable research is probably necessary before such a tool might be implemented.

Threat of Plant Pest Threat to Endangered Animals is Not Limited to Hawai`i

The USFWS is struggling to deal with the threat posed by plant pests to listed species. In San Diego, California, FWS personnel are trying to decide how to address the threat posed by the Kuroshio shot hole borer (read description here  to willows which constitute essential riparian habitat for the least Bell’s vireo.

Numerous cactus species that have been listed as endangered or threatened might be attacked by two insects from Argentina, the cactus moth and Harissia cactus mealybug (see my blog from October 2015; or read descriptions here .

 

Endangered Species Agencies Need to Coordinate with Phytosanitary Agencies

A growing number of species listed under the Endangered Species Act are being threatened by damage to plants from non-native plant insects and pathogens. This growing damage affects not just listed plants – such as the cacti mentioned in this and the October blogs; but also plants that are vitally important habitat components on which listed animals depend. The USFWS needs to engage with other federal and state agencies and academic institutions which are working to prevent introduction of additional plant pests, slow the spread of those already in the United States, and develop and implement strategies intended to restore plant species that have been seriously depleted by such pests. The USFWS should, therefore, work more closely with USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Forest Service. USFWS must, of course, continue to work with experts in wildlife and wildlife disease.

Similarly, state wildlife agencies also need to coordinate their efforts with their counterparts in state departments of Agriculture and divisions of Forestry.

Many agencies in Hawai`i play crucial roles in protecting the Islands’ unique plant and animal communities:

  • U.S. Department of the Interior: Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, United States Geological Service Biological Resources Division
  • US. Department of Agriculture: APHIS, Forest Service, Agriculture Research Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture
  • US. Department of Homeland Security Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.
  • Hawai`i State Department of Agriculture and Department of Land and Natural Resources

Hawaiians of all types – federal and state employees and agencies, academics, and conservationists – deserve our thanks for promptly taking action of rapid ohia death.  All parties should make every effort to obtain the remainder of the funds needed to carry forward crucial research on ROD and avian malaria.  Those of us from the mainland need to support and help their efforts.

 

Posted by Faith Campbell

CISP files multi-species listing petition with US Fish & Wildlife Service – per Lacey Act

 

 

alburnus_alburnus_01_by-dpc

Alburnus alburnus photo by David Perez

Update as of December 7, 2016: the Petition was amended to delete one species red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkia), for which we decided it needed more analysis.  We will consider whether to re-propose it for an “injurious species” listing and/or other measures later

Last Friday morning, I delivered a Petition to the Secretary of the Interior’s office the roots of which go back 15 years to 2001. The title: Petition: To Amend 50 CFR §16.13 to List 43 High Risk Fish, Crayfish, and Mollusk Species as Injurious Species under the Lacey Act. (For a copy of the petition, use the “contact us” button on the CISP webpage.) I was really excited to file this on CISP’s behalf because it is the logical expansion of a more proactive approach to preventing introductions of invasive, disease-carrying, or otherwise “injurious” non-native animals that we don’t want running around in the United States. We already have scores of invaders (starlings, red lionfish, Burmese pythons, feral hogs, Asian carps, zebra and quagga mussels, tegus and on and on). We need to start doing multi-species listing proposals in order to change what has been an extremely slow process into one that works at a pace that can actually protect our nation’s resources – and people – from the risks of this age of vast globalized trade in live fish and wildlife.

 

Back in 2001, the National Invasive Species Council adopted its first Management Plan. One element in it was to adopt a science-based screening method aimed at identifying the highest risk non-native animals that we should keep out of the country.  This was to have been completed by about 2006.  I was appointed long ago (so far back I can’t remember the year) to the committee tasked with this responsibility.  The Committee went through fits and starts and sometime in the mid-2000s just crashed into nothingness and stopped meeting.  But, a dedicated U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) biologist in the Midwest Region — Mike Hoff — kept at it for years on a shoestring budget and around 2011 he got some real funding and was able to get his animal screening project staffed. Lo and behold, they started developing lists of high-risk species based on robust scientific predictions. I won’t go into the models he used and the peer-review he had to go through. Suffice it to say that process took about 3 more years before Mike Hoff and his colleagues could convince the FWS to actually start publicly posting the results of their screening work. But, starting in 2014 they posted several and in late 2015 they posted them in earnest. Now there are 150 Ecological Risk Screening Summaries (ERSSs) on the bureau’s website.

 

Out of the 150 species, 63 pose a “high” overall risk of invasiveness/injuriousness.  For funding and historical reasons most are aquatic species that could invade in the Great Lakes region, but even so it is a great beginning. The 63 species include 46 fishes, 8 crustaceans, and 9 mollusks. One fish on the website (mrigal, Cirrhinus cirrhosus) appears to be labeled “high risk” in error and one of the mollusks (zebra mussels, genus Dreissena) is already listed under the Lacey Act. Also, Interior already has formally proposed that 11 of the 63 species on the website should be listed as “injurious”. That is, almost exactly one year ago the agency proposed to add 10 of the non-native fish and one crustacean. Thus, those 11 are not included in this new Petition. The FWS needs to take action on them soon.

 

UPDATE: On Sept. 29th the FWS finalized its rule listing all 11 of those species. The regulation and the detailed FWS explanation for it published in the Federal Register set a strong precedent and a useful template for listing the 43 species in the Petition as well.

 

Now this Petition, which I co-wrote with my CISP colleague Phyllis Windle, PhD., should be the USFWS’ next multi-species listing. The 43 “high risk” species proposed in it are listed at the end of this blog. The Petition excludes 7 species with posted ERSSs that were “high: overall,” but were below a high rating for either their history of invasiveness or climate match. As a result, the 43 below represent the highest range of the FWS’s identified high risks. Species like the Devil firefish, virile crayfish and the bleak – just their names makes me not want them here – pose unacceptable risks.

 

While the voluntary program promoted by the FWS on its webpages along with the ERSSs is a commendable hope, a “please do not import” approach cannot be relied upon. Administrations and websites change and some industry outliers won’t follow voluntary measures anyway – some even see them as creating a business opportunity. As I have watched (and supported), Mike Hoff and the FWS invested a significant amount of funds and staff time over the last 10 years to develop this screening process and research and write the scores of posted ERSSs. Other experts were involved in designing the process and providing peer reviews at different stages. It would be a significant waste of taxpayer resources were the FWS not to follow through and take regulatory action for species posing a clearly high risk. None offers an essential benefit that outweighs its harm to the United States. Minimal to zero stakeholder opposition is expected to prohibiting them. So what are we waiting for? The listing Petition needs to get posted in the Federal Register for public comment and action started as soon as possible. This one is virtually a “no brainer”.

 

The proposed list additions are below. For a copy of the full Petition, use the “contact us” button the the CISP webpage.

 

Mollusks

(A) Bithynia tentaculata (faucet snail).

(B) Corbicula fluminea (Asian clam).

(C) Dreissena rostriformis bugensis (Quagga mussel).

(D) Limnoperna fortune (golden mussel).

(E) Potamopyrgus antipodarum (New Zealand mudsnail).

(F) Sinanodonta woodiana (Chinese pond mussel).

 

Fish

(A) Acanthogobius flavimanus (yellowfin goby).

(B) Alburnus alburnus (bleak).

(C) Alosa pseudoharengus (alewife).

(D) Cichlasoma bimaculatum (black acara).

(E) Coregonus lavaretus (powan).

(F) Ctenopharyngodon idella (grass carp).

(G) Cyprinella lutrensis (red shiner).

(H) Cyprinus carpio (common carp).

(I)  Gymnocephalus cernua (ruffe).

(J)  Hypomesus nipponensis (wakasagi).

(K) Ictalurus furcatus (blue catfish).

(L)  Misgurnus anguillicaudatus (Oriental weatherfish).

(M) Morone americana (white perch).

(N) Neogobius melanostomus (round goby).

(O) Odontesthes bonariensis (Argentinian silverside).

(P) Oreochromis aureus (blue tilapia).

(Q) Oreochromis mossambicus (Mozambique tilapia).

(R) Oreochromis niloticus (Nile tilapia).

(S) Parachromis managuensis (Jaguar guapote).

(T) Poecilia reticulate (guppy).

(U) Pterois miles (Devil firefish).

(V) Pterois volitans (red lionfish).

(W) Pterygoplichthys pardalis (Amazon sailfin catfish).

(X) Pterygoplichthys multiradiatus (Orinoco sailfin catfish).

(Y) Pterygoplichthys disjunctivus (vermiculated sailfin catfish).

(Z) Pylodictis olivaris (flathead catfish).

(AA) Rhodeus ocellatus (rose bitterling).

(BB) Sarotherodon melanotheron (blackchin tilapia).

(CC) Scardinius erythrophthalmus (rudd).

(DD) Tilapia mariae (spotted tilapia).

(EE) Tilapia zillii (redbelly tilapia).

 

Crayfish

(A) Oronectes limosus (spiny-cheek crayfish).

(B) Oronectes propinquus (northern clearwater crayfish).

(C) Oronectes rusticus (rusty crayfish).

(D) Oronectes virilis (virile crayfish).

(E) Pacifastacus leniusculus (signal crayfish).

(F) Procambarus clarkia (red swamp crayfish).

 

Posted by Peter Jenkins

When will invasive species get the respect they deserve from conservationists?

i`iwi birdblogger i`iwi in Hawai`i

photo from www.TheBirdBlogger.com; used with permission

 

Evidence is growing that invasive species are among THE major threats to conservation goals worldwide.

In 2015 the IUCN called invasive species the second most significant threat to those World Heritage sites around the world that have outstanding natural values. (Poaching is the greatest threat.) My October 21, 2015 blog showed that the IUCN report actually underestimated the impact of invasive species. I listed briefly the principal invaders in several U.S. National parks. Earlier blogs criticized the National Park Service for failing to regulate the movement of firewood (August 2015) and described the invasive threat to Hawai`i (earlier in October 2015).

Now a second study shows invasive species are a principal driver of species extinction. The authors assessed the prevalence of alien species as a driver of extinctions among plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals (which are the best-studied taxa) post-1500 AD. Overall, 58% of extinct or extinct-in-the-wild species had been driven to extinction at least in part by invasive species. Invasive alien species are the second most common threat overall. Indeed, invasive species are the most common threat for vertebrate extinctions (62% of extinct or extinct-in-the-wild species faced threats from invasive species). Invasive species ranked fourth as a cause of extinction for plants: 27% of listed plant species were threatened by invasive species.

For those species with just a single driver of extinction, invasive species is the cause for 47% of mammals, 27% of birds, 25% of reptiles, and 17% of plants. In no case were invasive species identified as the sole threat to an amphibian species – although invasive species are their second highest threat.

Although the paper lists invasive species as second, their threat was virtually identical to that of “overexploitation”, the threat ranked first. That is, 124 out of 215 species studied were threatened at least in part by invasive species; 125 were threatened by overexploitation.

Other principal threats were overexploitation, agriculture, aquaculture, and – in the case of plants – residential and commercial development. Categories related to habitat loss ranked surprisingly low. Only 61 of the 215 cases listed agriculture and aquaculture as threats.

The authors reflect on whether invasive species are not themselves causal agents of extinction, but rather symptoms of the real causes, especially habitat destruction. They conclude that that is unlikely.

Instead, they suggest that invasive species impacts might often be underestimated, as many interactions – especially those between alien parasites and native hosts – are very hard to detect.

Not surprisingly, 86% of island endemic species had invasive species as one extinction driver. Nevertheless, continental organisms are also threatened — 14% of alien-related extinctions have been of species with mainland populations. These include eight amphibians, five birds, and six mammals. Most of these invader-threatened mainland organisms are from the Americas

Among the approximately 30 alien taxa named as extinction drivers are rats, cats, and trout as threats to other vertebrates such as birds and mammals. All three were also ranked highly as damaging invasives in the earlier IUCN report on World Heritage sites. Diseases – especially chytridiomycosis and avian malaria – were causal agents of extinction for amphibians and birds. Several herbivores – especially goats, sheep, and European rabbits – and alien plants were drivers of extinction for plant species.

Of course, outright extinction is not the only damage to biological diversity caused by invasive species. American chestnut, Fraser fir, and redbay are not extinct, but their ecological role has been virtually eliminated as the vast majority of these forest trees die off. Other tree taxa are on same road – ash and eastern hemlocks across wide expanses of their ranges; tanoaks; whitebark pines …

Invasive species pose major threats to biological diversity and other conservation goals. These damages are on top of the acknowledged threat of invasive species to agriculture, forestry, or economic groups. (See, for example, Lovett et al. 2016 discussed in my previous blog.) The role of invasive species in extinction described in this new paper suggest a long-standing bias among conservationists’ priorities. Too often, we have focused on species threatened by overexploitation – which is such easier to see and involves an obvious “villain”.

Nevertheless, a host of practical suggestions have been put forward to address the root causes of species introductions and spread. Often, these ask some or many of us to stop doing what we have been doing. But much meaningful conservation action requires someone to accept limits or to make sacrifices.

Will the conservation community – including grant-making foundations, federal and state agencies, and the many conservation non-governmental organizations ranging from the IUCN to local groups – now take up the challenge of implementing suggested actions and actively advocating for the funding needed for practical steps that will begin to bring this threat under control?

 

Sources

Bellard C, Cassey P, Blackburn TM. 2016 Alien species as a driver of recent extinctions. Biol. Lett. 12: 20150623. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2015.0623 http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org /

 

Lovett,G.M., M. Weiss, A.M. Liebhold, T.P. Holmes, B. Leung, K.F. Lambert, D.A. Orwig , F.T. Campbell , J. Rosenthal, D.G. McCullough, R. Wildova, M.P. Ayres, C.D. Canham, D.R. Foster, S.L. LaDeau, and T. Weldy. 2016. Nonnative forest insects and pathogens in the United States: Impacts and policy options. Ecological Applications, 0(0), 2016, pp. 1–19. DOI 10.1890/15-1176.1

Available at www.caryinstitute.org/tree-smart-trade

 

Posted by Faith Campbell

Feral Hogs: numbers climbing, threats to soils & ecosystems increasing, no control in sight

Introduced wild hogs (Sus scrofa) threaten ecosystems across the continent and on islands ranging from Hawai`i to the Caribbean.

large_hog_damage (MO)  feral hogs in Missouri

Pigs are the ultimate survivors – highly adaptable and prolific. Most of the damage is done by their rooting for plant parts and invertebrates in the soil, and by wallowing to cool themselves and fend of biting insects. Depending on soil type (density, moisture level, compaction), pigs may root to depths of three feet below the surface (USDA APHIS EIS).

Feral hogs consume primarily plant matter. They prefer hard mast – e.g., acorns, beechnuts, chestnuts, or hickory nuts. Pigs can be formidable competitors with native wildlife for this nutritious food. Feral hogs also eat algae, fungi, invertebrates such as insects, worms, crustaceans, and bird and reptile eggs. In addition, they feed on small animals, including reptiles, fish, amphibians, ground-nesting birds, and young of wild game and domestic livestock. They even feed on larger animals – although it is not clear whether they kill such animals or only scavenge their carcasses (USDA APHIS EIS).

Since pigs lack sweat glands, they wallow in water and mud to cool off. Some wallow sites are used for years. Adjacent areas are usually denuded of vegetation and the soils are compacted. Wallows are commonly located in or adjacent to riparian or bottomland habitats (USDA APHIS EIS).

Despite the apparent damage, only a few studies address the feral hogs’ impacts on soil structure, chemistry, bulk density and nutrient cycling. The conclusions of those studies are mixed (USDA APHIS EIS).

In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, feral pigs are reported to “plow up” areas in search of bulbs, tubers and wildflowers and to consume small mammals, snakes, mushrooms, bird eggs, and salamanders. (The Smokies are a center of endemism for salamanders.) Wallows are said to contribute significantly to stream sedimentation, thereby harming aquatic life.
Furthermore, feral hogs contribute to both human and animal disease. Their feces contaminate water and soil with coliform bacteria and Giardia which are both a threat to human health. Some of the wild pigs also carry Pseudorabies, a disease that is almost always fatal to mammals, including such important wildlife species as black bear, bobcat, elk, white tailed deer, red fox, grey fox, coyote, mink, and raccoon. Pseudorabies from wild boar can survive in humid air or water for up to seven hours and in plants, soil, and feces for up to 2 days.

Unfortunately, the United States’ population of introduced wild pigs has dramatically increased since 1990. People are to blame. map

States with feral hog populations; provided by John Mayer, US Department of Energy, Savannah River National Laboratory

According to John J. Mayer, the number of states with established wild boar populations has risen from 19 in the 1990s to 37. The total number of feral hogs has risen from an estimated 1 to 2 million animals to a range of 4.4 to 11.3 million (Mayer).

The overwhelming majority of the feral hogs is found in only 10 states –AL, AR, CA, FL, GA, LA, MS, OK, SC, TX. Texas has the largest numbers, 30 to 41% of the U.S. total, depending on whether one is counting the states’ animals by mean, maximum, or minimum estimates.

Why have people transported feral pigs to so many new places over the last 20 years? Largely because hunters wanted an exciting game animal to pursue (USDA APHIS EIS; Mayer). In Tennessee, populations of feral swine (probably released by farmers to forage for themselves) were relatively stable and confined to only a few counties from the 1950s through the 1980s. However, since a statewide, year-round, no bag-limits hunting program was instituted in 1999, pig populations have expanded rapidly. In 2011, nearly 70% of counties had pockets of feral swine (USDA APHIS EIS).

But hunting is not an effective means of controlling the animals’ populations and damage. Mayer reports that sport hunters remove about 23% of a wild pig population annually. Models demonstrate that 50 – 75% of a wild pig population must be removed annually, year after year, in order to reduce or eradicate that population (J.J. Mayer pers. comm]

Mayer says there are currently no effective management tools or options to reduce or control feral hog populations in most situations. I note that the Hawaii Volcanoes and Haleakala National parks have been able to eradicate feral pigs through determined efforts.

Missouri is one state that is tackling feral hogs aggressively. In January, the Missouri Conservation Commission approved changes to the Wildlife Code of Missouri  that would prohibit the hunting of feral hogs on lands owned, leased, or managed by the Missouri Department of Conservation. A public comment period on the proposed regulation change will run from April 2 through May 1. After considering the citizen input and staff recommendations, the Commission will reach a decision whether to finalize the new regulation – probably in September. (Missouri has quite extensive material on feral hogs posted here
Meanwhile, the Missouri Department of Conservation has reached out to several partners to strengthen its increase the number of feral hog traps it can place and enhance communication to the public. These partners include such agricultural organizations as the Missouri Farm Bureau and Missouri Pork Producers; and such conservation organizations as the National Wild Turkey Federation and two quail associations.

New York has gone farther; it has adopted a policy of eradicating Eurasian wild boar from the state. To achieve this goal, the state in October 2013prohibited importing, breeding, or releasing Eurasian boars. As of September 2015, it has been illegal to possess, sell, distribute, trade or transport Eurasian boars in New York. Hunting or trapping of Eurasian boars is illegal except for law enforcement officers, farmers, and landowners authorized by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The hunting ban was adopted in order to minimize breakup of sounders so as to facilitate eradication trapping by trained conservation officers. For more information, visit the DEC website.

Sources
Mayer, J.J. 2014. Estimation of the Number of Wild Pigs Found in the Unted States. August 2014 SRNL-STI-2014-00292, Revision 0.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
Final Environmental Impact Statement. Feral Swine Damage Management: a National Approach May 27, 2015
https://www.aphis.usda.gov/regulations/pdfs/nepa/2015%20Final%20EIS%20Feral%20Swine%20Damage%20Management%20-%20A%20National%20Approach.pdf
Posted by Faith Campbell

Fed up by lack of action on invasive species? Let’s pressure the right targets!

CapitolOn December 1, the House Oversight Committee, Subcommittee on Interior, held a hearing on invasive species. This hearing was apparently held at the request of the ranking Democrat, Brenda Lawrence of Michigan. Ms Lawrence is most concerned about aquatic invaders in the Great Lakes. Chairwoman Cynthia Lummis is from Wyoming, so her focus is on invasive plants on western rangelands.
Chair Lummis opened the hearing, but left promptly. Other subcommittee members who were present for varying lengths of time were Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Ken Buck (R-CO), Gary Palmer (R-AL), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), and Stacey Plasket (D-USVI) ; from full committee: Will Hurd (R-TX).

The witnesses were the newly appointed executive director of the National Invasive Species Council (NISC), Jamie Reaser; the president of the Reduce Risk from Invasive Species Coalition (RRISC), Scott Cameron; Dr. George Beck of Colorado State University, representing the Healthy Habitats Coalition (HHC); and Dr. Alan Steinman, expert on aquatic invaders from Grand Valley State University in Michigan.
This hearing followed those in past years that had been stimulated by the HHC. Both HHC and Congressional members expressed great frustration that the federal government is not putting sufficient effort into stopping or reversing the spread of invasive plants on western rangelands.
The December hearing – like its predecessors – focused the criticism on NISC. I think this focus is misguided. NISC has no independent authority or power; it was created to coordinate agencies’ actions, not to substitute for them. Its staff lack sufficient rank to tell agencies what to do.
In § 4 of Executive Order 13112, NISC’s duties are listed as providing national leadership through (a) overseeing implementation of this order, seeing that Federal agencies’ activities are coordinated, complementary, cost-efficient, and effective, …; (b) encouraging planning and action at local, tribal, State, regional, and ecosystem-based levels …; (c) developing recommendations for international cooperation …; (d) developing, in consultation with the Council on Environmental Quality, guidance to Federal agencies pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)…; (e) facilitating development of a coordinated network among Federal agencies to document, evaluate, and monitor IAS impacts …; (f) facilitating establishment of an … information-sharing system …; and (g) preparing a national Invasive Species Management Plan every two years.
NISC has fallen far short of these requirements. It has not succeeded in developing guidance on NEPA – at least in part because CEQ has not cooperated. Most glaringly, NISC has issued only two Management Plans over 15 years — the most recent in 2009. All Members at the hearing complained to Reaser about this failure. Members see the Plan as key to setting priorities and ensuring that funds are well-spent.

All Members seemed to think that NISC actually should carry out on-the-ground activities and direct agencies’ priorities. Some want NISC to overcome federal agencies’ alleged foot-dragging in helping local groups eager to attack local problems, or to pressure Native American tribes to cooperate.

While I share the critics’ frustration about federal agencies’ inaction, I believe the productive approach is to apply pressure on – and where deserved, support for – those who have the authority and power to act, but who often choose not to. VilsackThese are:
• heads of agencies and departments, especially the secretaries of Agriculture and Interior and their Under and Assistant secretaries;
• the President;
• budget staffs of these and other relevant agencies;
• the Office of Management and Budget;
• Members of the Congressional appropriations committees.

If these people think that dealing with invasive species is politically important, they will do so. If they don’t hear from their constituents about invasive species, they will focus on other issues.

At the hearing, Scott Cameron, of RRISC, said that what is missing is commitment at the Assistant/Under Secretary Level. Such a commitment would both drive coordination among agencies at headquarters and provide “cover” for regional staff trying to work together. He feels that a new Management Plan is useful but not sufficient. Scott made several recommendations intended to raise the political visibility of invasive species issues:
1) NISC submit annual work plan to Congress – he thought this would get political level attention in the departments;
2) NISC serve as forum to coordinate with regional governors’ associations;
3) NISC create national network of regional early detection/rapid response efforts;
4) NISC serve as forum for regional officials of land-managing agencies to coordinate and work together – this might succeed in getting attention of agency leadership and OMB;
5) NISC ensure coordination of priorities and approaches by member agencies at headquarters level; and
6) NISC evaluate best practices by other governments, propose their adoption by the United States.

Dr. Beck, of HHC, reiterated his constituency’s complaint that there has been little progress on invasive species problems despite three decades of effort. He blamed the lack of leadership by NISC – without saying how staff can “lead” the political appointees who head agencies! He called – again – for abolition of NISC and transfer of its $1 million budget to “on the ground” programs. Beck also decried inconsistencies in agencies’ budgets, lack of collaboration with states and local groups in setting priorities, and NEPA having become an excuse to avoid taking action.

HHC has promoted introduction of bills in both the House and Senate – H.R 1485 & S. 2240 – which would require:
• strategic planning;
• cooperation with states;
• categorical exclusion from NEPA review for efforts to protect high-priority sites;
• 5% annual reduction in weed species’ extent; and
• allocation of agencies’ invasive species funds according to the following formula: 75% for on-the-ground activity; 15% for combined research and outreach; 10% or less for administrative costs.

Of these recommendations, I think the proposed dropping of environment reviews of invasive species management programs – especially in “high priority” sites of high ecosystem values – would be a disaster. Management programs have environmental impacts, too; and some approaches cause more harm than good. For example, use of herbicides to eliminate knapweeds has sometimes resulted in takeover of the site by non-native annual grasses that are even more difficult to control.

EAB profile reverse

Also, I think the proposed funding allocation is very unwise. Research and outreach often contribute enormously to control or containment of invasive species. I have been unable to get straight answers from the USDA Forest Service about how such an allocation would affect their programs – which are divided among three separate entities – Research, State and Private Forestry, and National Forest System.

HHC is very active in promoting its position – and those of us who think differently are not yet being heard in Congress.

I think there is room to work with members of the House Oversight Committee to focus more attention on the agencies’ political leadership – where it belongs and where pressure might have an effect. Rep. Lawrence seems interested in continuing efforts. Rep. Hurd of Texas asked about steps to prevent plant pest introductions (none of the witnesses knew about APHIS programs). Furthermore, a second Michigander, Rep. Dan Benisheck, and a Californian, Rep. Mike Thompson, co-chair the Invasive Species Caucus. Although none of them has yet expressed concern about tree-killing pests, given where they are from they might be persuaded to engage.

At present, the only Congressional champion for effective invasive species programs – especially as regards tree-killing pests – is Senator Leahy of Vermont. He has helped prevent further cuts in budgets for APHIS and USFS. We need more friends in Congress.

I urge you – and your friends! – to contact your Representatives and Senators to explain how invasive species are damaging important ecological and economic resources in your state. Ask them to work with their colleagues to support and improve federal programs aimed at preventing new introductions, containing species already introduced, and developing effective methods to reduce pests’ impacts and restore native forests.

Posted by Faith Campbell

New IUCN report notes invasive species threat to World Heritage Sites – Including U.S. National Parks

The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has just released a report, IUCN World Heritage Outlook 2014 (for press release, click here; for the full report, click here)
that names invasive species as the second most significant threat World Heritage sites with outstanding natural values. (Poaching is the greatest threat).

World Heritage sites have “outstanding universal values” – either natural or cultural. Natural sites are areas either of exceptional beauty or representative of major stages of Earth’s history, significant ongoing ecological processes, or significant habitats for biodiversity and threatened species.

The 2014 assessment examined 229 natural World Heritage sites and found that 104 are affected by invasive species. Unsurprisingly, island sites are especially heavily impacted. Two-thirds of the affected island sites (24 out of 36) are in the tropics.

The most widespread or common invaders are plants; they are named in 55 of the 104 affected sites. Invasive vertebrate animals affect at least 12 sites. These frequently include fish (mostly trout), cats, and rodents (especially rats).

The report calls for effective management strategies to protect the World Heritage sites. Such strategies include well-defined plans as well as strict bio-security measures, including limiting materials entering the site or the eradication of problem-causing species. Ideally, these actions involve local communities. Among the 104 natural World Heritage areas affected by invasive species, 87 have management projects addressing at least some invasive species or related issues.

According to the report, future invasive species management will be even more challenging, especially because of climate change. Climate change, itself, could become the biggest threat to natural sites in future.

30 dead swt bay 

dead sweetbay in Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida

The United States has 21 World Heritage sites. Nine were chosen for their outstanding natural values. These include the following National parks: Everglades, Grand Canyon, Great Smoky Mountains, Hawaii Volcanoes, Redwood, Yellowstone, and Yosemite National parks; and – jointly with Canada – Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek and Waterton-Glacier National parks.

Several of these natural wonders are well known to be threatened by invasive species – including some tree-killing insects and pathogens.

Everglades National Park. In Everglades, pythons have decimated populations of small to medium native mammals. Lionfish are killing vast numbers of fish in the shallow bay. Numerous invasive plants, especially Australian pine, Melaleuca, Brazilian pepper, and old world climbing ferns transform the natural sawgrass prairie and mangroves. Some, e.g., Melaleuca, are under control thanks to persistent effort over decades.

Laurel wilt has almost eliminated swamp bay trees from the hammocks. Bromeliad weevil has killed many bromeliads in 12 genera (of the 16 present in Florida).

t-utriculata-mrsp

Tillandsia utriculata bromeliad in Florida

Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The outstanding biological diversity of the forested Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been severely undermined by chestnut blight, hemlock woolly adelgid, balsam woolly adelgid; and is now under attack by more recent invaders, including beech bark disease, emerald ash borer, and thousand cankers disease of walnut. Descriptions of all these pests are available here. At ground level, feral hogs damage plants, soil-dwelling invertebrates and small vertebrates, even birds. Rainbow trout compete with native trout in the streams. More than 380 non-native plants compete with the native species. The Park’s website features another invader, the Asian jumping worm (Amynthas agrestis), which has been introduced through bait.

The Great Smoky Mountains are the center of biological diversity for salamanders which are likely soon to face danger from the “Bsal” pathogen – unless the Fish and Wildlife Service acts to restrict imports of salamanders by the pet trade. See how CISP tries to counter this threat.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. As I wrote in my blog of October 7, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is fighting feral hogs, goats, and a plethora of invasive plants (the Park’s flora contains nearly twice as many exotic flowering plants as native species). The Park’s birds are threatened by two non-native diseases, avian pox and avian malaria. As noted in the earlier blog, Hawaii Volcanoes has also been invaded by koa wilt and `ohi`a rust; and is about to be invaded by `ohi`a wilt.

Web-based information from several parks in the western part of the continent focuses on the threat from invasive plants: Grand Canyon, Olympic, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. Redwoods National Park notes the damage caused by sudden oak death to its principal hardwood species, tanoak. Yellowstone National Park has a website describing its whitebark pine forests and mentioning that up to 30% of the taller whitebark pines have been attacked by white pine blister rust; I could find little information about the disease’s impact on the Park’s limber pines, which are also susceptible.

Yosemite National Park has a website with a table listing 16 non-native insects and pathogens that could threaten trees in the park. White pine blister rust is already present in the Park’s sugar pines. I am pleased to see that the website features goldspotted oak borer and the risk of pest introduction via firewood. I just wish Yosemite actually prohibited visitors from bringing firewood into the Park! And carefully restricted commercial suppliers! I addressed Yosemite’s failure to protect itself in my blog of 10 August.

The National Parks Conservation Association is the principal NGO that advocates for protection of the National parks. It issued a report in 2008 that found invasive species were a limited concern in 90% of the parks evaluated, a widespread or chronic concern in 38%. In Hawaii Volcanoes specifically, the natural resources were ranked in “poor” condition due primarily to non-native plants and animals.

Many individual parks have “Friends” groups ….

I ask these groups to help the National parks counter invasive species. To be effective, they need to go beyond the many volunteer “weed pulls” and outreach programs educating park visitors who might transport invasive species (for example, boaters and fishermen who can spread New Zealand mudsnails, rock snot, and invasive mussels; and campers who carry firewood that can transport pests). I ask them to also lobby for policies that would prevent invasions and for increase funding for the parks’ resource management programs (the programs that tackle invasive species). I suggest specifically that supporters of National parks advocate for improvements in programs run by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  These agencies, more than any other, determine whether prevention succeeds or fails.

 

Posted by Faith Campbell