Exotic invasive species are plants, animals, or pathogens that are non-native to the U.S., or regions of the U.S., and that harm, or are likely to harm, the economy, natural resources or human health. Addressing exotic invasive species requires significant coordination and joint actions between federal and state agencies, local governments, and private organizations. Efforts to combat exotic invasives involve prevention, detection of new species, and containing the spread of established species to limit their damage on a region’s natural resources.
In recent years, invasive species have become one of the most prominent threats to our nation’s native fish, wildlife, and natural ecosystems. Invasive species are plants, animals, or pathogens that are not native to a region and earn their invasive title by possessing characteristics that allow them to competitively displace native species and/or disrupt ecosystems with the potential or likelihood to harm the economy, natural resources, or the human health of a given area. Many invasive species “hitchhike” on commodities or items that travelers bring into the country and then escape or are released to natural areas.
Species kept as pets or used as live bait are frequently released and can quickly become invasive to local and regional ecosystems. There are approximately 4,300 invasive species of plants, animals, and microbes present in the United States, and they have been extremely costly with an estimated total cost of $1.2 trillion in damages and control costs over the last 50 years. For instance, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission alone spends nearly $10 million annually on the control of aquatic invasive plant species like water hyacinth and Hydrilla. Feral hogs alone cause an estimated $1.5 billion in crop damages annually. Since the introduction of the Burmese python in 2000, a 2012 study showed populations of raccoons had dropped 99.3 percent, opossums 98.9 percent, and bobcats 87.5 percent since 1997. Marsh and cottontail rabbits and foxes went down 100% and are now extremely rare. In addition, invasive species like zebra mussels, New Zealand mud snails, and Asian carp can reduce or alter the productivity of fisheries, and certain exotic tick species can spread heartwater disease, which is fatal to livestock and several big game species.
As invasive species do not respect jurisdictional boundaries, addressing them requires a high level of coordination and joint action by federal agencies, states, local governments, non-governmental organizations, and private landowners. Historically, efforts to combat invasive species have been significantly hindered by limited federal and state authority to regulate invasive species, a lack of resources to implement state and federal invasive species management plans, and inadequate public education and outreach. The National Invasive Species Council was created in 1999 by executive order to address these deficiencies by increasing communication and collaboration at all levels of the federal government and with state, local, and private partners, as well as with other coordinating groups such as the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force. Recent efforts by these partnerships have emphasized the implementation of actions to prevent species from becoming introduced in the first place, detecting new species early enough to eradicate the species before it spreads and causes harm, and containing the spread of species to limit the damage caused (e.g. current efforts to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes).
Points of Interest
- The National Invasive Species Act (NISA) authorizes $4 million per year to implement State Aquatic Nuisance Species Plans. However, the Act has never been fully funded. In 2013, each of the 38 states with approved management plans received only $24,826 to manage aquatic invasive species, collectively totaling less than 25% of the maximum allowable NISA appropriation.
- According to the National Wildlife Federation, approximately 42% of threatened or endangered species are at risk primarily due to invasive species.
- Virginia passed legislation in 2016 allowing for the integration of aquatic invasive species education through the state’s boating safety education program (VA H 1115).
- Oregon passed legislation in 2019 that Requires boat operators to remove or open devices used to drain water from the boat before transporting it within this state (OR H 2076).
- Montana passed legislation in 2019 requiring decontamination of vessels with ballast or bladders (MT H 608).
- Utah passed legislation in 2020 that requires resident and nonresident boaters to pay a fee before operating boats in waters in Utah that go towards fighting against invasive species (UT H 255).
- South Dakota passed legislation in 2020 that would make the transportation of invasive species a Class 2 Misdemeanor (SD HB 1033).
In the last ten years, there has been considerable progress in invasive species research and policy development, including new methods to monitor, eradicate, and control species, improved outreach and educational campaigns, and the wider use of volunteers for on-the-ground conservation work. In all cases, the most cost-effective control of invasive species is early detection and eradication before they can become established. However, these advances are not useful if they are not supported and implemented. To effectively reduce the impact of invasive species, elected officials must play a critical role in supporting educational campaigns that inform the public about how to stop their spread to environments not currently affected. Furthermore, legislators should urge Congress to strengthen NISA funding while also supporting efforts to work collaboratively across state lines to develop enhanced interstate management plans that help curtail the introduction and spread of invasive species.