Experts say more funding, coordination needed to battle infestations

Posted: May 22, 2013

Written by

Laura Petersen, E&E Daily

Invasive weeds will infest more than 100 million acres of public lands by 2017 if the federal government does not pick up its pace tackling the problem, a weed scientist warned lawmakers yesterday.

Federal agencies treated 3.2 percent of public land infested with invasive weeds in 2009 -- far less than the 12 percent to 16 percent increase in infested acres that year, said George Beck, a professor of weed science at Colorado State University and vice chairman of the Healthy Habitats Coalition, a group focused on local natural resource management and particularly invasive species.

At that rate, coupled with adding new parcels to the public trust, the number of infested acres will double in just four years, Beck told the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation.

"This is a plan that decidedly will never be successful and will continuously produce more and more infested acres, thus preventing realization of land management goals and objectives," Beck said in his prepared testimony. The government must aim much higher, restoring 15 percent of infested areas per year, if it is to get ahead of the infestation, he said.

Jason Fearneyhough, director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, agreed: "There simply needs to be more on-the-ground management and effort."

While the seemingly endless wave of invasive species is daunting, it is actually manageable, Beck said. The main problem is funding, he said. Working across lands owned by many different entities also can be difficult.

A panel of experts mostly from Western range states shared their successes and continued struggles with invasive species, including cheatgrass, emerald ash borers and quagga mussels. The best approach is to start with prevention, then early detection and rapid response, they said. If that doesn't work, they added, the next moves are treatment and finally restoration.

While all agreed that partnerships across jurisdictions are essential to prevent, detect and knock back invaders, the biggest obstacle is conflicting policies and funding levels at different agencies. That has stalled a multistate plan to stop cheatgrass, a weed that has take over millions of acres of prairie, Fearneyhough said (Land Letter, March 3, 2011).

A potential agreement is "sitting on a shelf," Fearneyhough said. "The opportunity still lies there. We need a mechanism to get it off the shelf and get it on the ground."

The National Invasive Species Council sets priorities across jurisdictions, but many witnesses said coordination among agencies, states and local groups needs to be improved.

Randy Dye, president of the National Association of State Foresters, said he wouldn't give up on the council but wanted to see a mechanism to allow states to determine the best approach to tackling their particular invasives.

When asked if any particular federal policies were making it difficult to tackle invasive species, most witnesses demurred, much to the surprise of Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), who said they must be the only people in America without a ready answer. Fearneyhough said it wasn't that one policy was in the way; rather, several policies conflict.

He said the permitting process for applying herbicides should be streamlined so each agency doesn't have to approve the agent for use after it has been approved by U.S. EPA.

"It would be great if ... once approved by one federal agency, everyone else accepts that and we can get it on the ground," he said.

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