Invasive Species Solutions

Basic Invasive Species Solutions

We can stop the entry of invasive species. Real solutions—based on good science—are available, and they have bipartisan support. The best way to stop potential or already-invasive species is to block them from coming into the country in the first place. That means paying closer attention to the major pathways of introduction: the global shipping industry and legal, intentional imports of live plants and animals. But the United States lacks an effective system to limit these means of entry. We know how to prevent invasive species and we know that this is cost-effective for the nation. Now we need dramatic reforms in federal policy to accomplish this.

The impacts of invasive species go well beyond a local site or single state. Countless expert reports from public and private groups have brought attention to these impacts and called for federal action to address invasive species problems. To date, progress has been woefully inadequate. However, there are opportunities to act:

Screening intentional imports

Right now the United States does not require that living organisms being proposed for import be checked, or “screened,” for invasiveness beforehand. This is a common sense solution and federal agencies should perform routine pre-import screening.

For animals, this can be done by revising the Lacey Act, which currently provides authority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to name groups of non-native animals as “injurious species” and thus restrict their import. However, under the current system it does not require that animal species being proposed for import be screened for either invasiveness or their likelihood of carrying disease. This creates unacceptable threats to native wildlife, to the economy, and to human health. Legislation to update the Lacey Act could reverse current methods, requiring an active screening process for all proposed live imports of non-native animals.

For plants, the U.S. Department of Agriculture should strengthen and speed up its revision of regulations for importing plants. Intentional horticultural and nursery imports are a top pathway for the introduction of weeds of natural areas. Other nations have significantly reduced weedy introductions—and have reaped major economic benefits—by adopting risk screening protocols. The United States urgently needs a similar approach.

Preventing inadvertent introductions

Inadvertent introductions, like the organisms that hitchhike with others, are best prevented using a pathway-based approach. (“Pathways” can be described by their geographic routes and corridors [like the pathway which bring imports from China], their means of transport [like the ballast water pathway], or their economic purpose [like the pet trade pathway].)

For non-native plant pests and diseases, the government should revise the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Quaratine—37 regulations to better keep out plant pests and diseases. Horticultural introductions (imported non-native plants, cuttings, seeds, etc.) are a principle pathway for the introduction of plant pests and diseases that are already causing severe ecological and economic damage to American agriculture and forests. The quarantine needs to be strengthened to prevent further introduction and subsequent movement within the United States of these devastating non-native insects, other plant pests, and plant diseases.

For ships’ ballast water, the United States congress should reauthorize the National Invasive Species Act and pass a stringent Ballast Water Management Act. Ballast water is the primary pathway for introducing invasive aquatic organisms unintentionally into U.S. waters. An important step in addressing ballast water is to enact and implement new legal authority that would require ships to treat their ballast water before it is discharged into new waters.