Statement of Mr. Sebastian Hargrove

Government Relations Associate, The Nature Conservancy of Idaho

 

before the

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works

Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Water

 

June 17, 2003

 

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today in support of S. 525, the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act or NAISA.  I am appearing here today on behalf of The Nature Conservancy. I will cover three major points in my comments today:

 

1)     the threat aquatic invasive species pose to the nation’s economy and environment, including the inland West;

2)     use of NAISA as an effective tool for addressing this threat; and

3)     improvements that can be made to the bill through a few technical and substantive amendments.

 

I. Introduction

 

The Nature Conservancy is dedicated to preserving the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on earth by protecting the land and water they need to survive.  The Conservancy has more than 1 million individual members and over 1,900 corporate associates.  We currently have programs in all 50 states and in 30 nations.  To date our organization has protected more than 12 million acres in the United States and abroad, and has helped local partner organizations preserve millions of acres in other nations.  The Conservancy itself owns a network of more than 1,400 preserves in the United States – the largest private system of nature sanctuaries in the world.  Our conservation work is grounded on sound science, strong partnerships with other landowners, and tangible results at local places.

 

The Conservancy determines where and how to do its work through a planning process that identifies areas in the country containing the most viable and important examples of plant and animal communities. This process further identifies the principal threats to the integrity of the sites such as land conversion, non-point source runoff, or repression of natural fire regimes.  An overwhelming 94% of our sites have identified invasive species as the most significant threat to the integrity of biodiversity. 

 

II.              The Threat of Aquatic Invasive Species

 

Non-native, invasive species cause significant economic and ecological damage throughout North America.  Recent estimates state that invasive species cost the U.S. approximately $130 billion per year and that 42% of the species on the Threatened and Endangered Species Lists are at risk primarily because of invasive species. Once established, invasive species displace native species, impede municipal and industrial water systems, degrade ecosystems, reduce recreational and commercial fishing opportunities, and cause public health problems. 

 

Aquatic invasive species are a particular problem because they readily spread through interconnected waterways and are difficult to treat safely.  Hundreds of exotic species arrive in U.S. waters every day through a variety of pathways such as ballast water, boat hulls, aquaculture and others.  Our interest is to prevent these new arrivals, or to rapidly detect and eradicate if prevention is not possible.  

 

To illustrate the immediacy of the threat of aquatic invasive species, I would like to recount what happened in Spokane, Washington two years ago yesterday on June 16, 2001. On that mild June day, a trailered 40-foot sailboat pulled into the State of Washington port of entry on Interstate 90, just a few miles west of the Idaho border.  State inspectors, alerted to the danger of aquatic invasive species, examined the boat closely and found live zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) encrusted on the rudder flaps, screens, and engine cooling system. Zebra mussels are a scourge of the Great Lakes and many eastern watersheds, where they have severely disrupted native ecosystems and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and control costs.  Officials quarantined and cleaned the boat before allowing it to enter Washington waters.

 

This story illustrates two key points. First, aquatic invasive species are not only a problem for the coastal and Great Lakes states; the waters in the inland West are at risk from zebra mussels and a host of other aquatic invasive species. Second, the modest investment that Washington State made in training its employees to prevent aquatic invasive species paid big dividends. But Washington’s prevention program is the exception rather than the rule. We can only assume that no inspectors in other states found these zebra mussels as the sailboat traveled west across the northern tier of the U.S. If the boat had put into Lake Coeur d’Alene or Payette Lake in Idaho, we could have zebra mussels established in the upper Columbia River Basin, with potentially devastating impacts on recreation, hydropower, and irrigation.

 

This story is not an isolated example of the risks posed by aquatic invaders.  Idaho communities already spend a quarter of a million dollars annually to control Eurasian water-milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) in some of Idaho’s most important recreational waters, including Payette and Hayden lakes.  This fast-growing weed is choking our shorelines and spreading fast.

 

You might also be surprised to learn that the first known infestation of New Zealand mudsnails (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) in the United States occurred not in one of our major port cities, but hundreds of miles inland on the Snake River, near Hagerman, Idaho. These invasive mollusks grow in dense mats and have now spread up the Snake and into the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park, with unknown consequences for native fish populations.  The danger is clear.  We need to get prepared, and NAISA is an essential step in that direction.

 

III. S. 525 - The National Aquatic Invasive Species Act

 

The National Aquatic Invasive Species Act of 2003 will dramatically upgrade our nation’s invasive species program in two very important ways. 

 

First, NAISA will create new tools to protect and manage inland waters.  Efforts to date have been targeted at severe problems in the Great Lakes and on the coast.  However, aquatic invasive species – such as giant salvinia, purple loosestrife, and zebra mussels – threaten inland waters as well. NAISA will provide tools and coordination to manage these threats in a broader geographic area. 

 

Second, NAISA will implement the framework recommended by the National Invasive Species Council for an effective invasive species management program.  This framework calls for a program - coordinated between all levels of government and with the private sector - that includes:

 

·       Prevention,

·       Public Outreach and Education,

·       Early Detection and Rapid Response,

·       Research and Risk Analysis, and

·       Control and Management.

 

S. 525 will provide critical tools for states like Idaho and their partners in the battle to manage aquatic invasive species.  It is particularly noteworthy that NAISA adopts the most cost-effective approach by focusing on three areas where we all need to improve: prevention, early detection, and rapid response.  The bill will cover all waters of the U.S., including inland lakes and streams.  Critical elements of the bill include:

 

·       Grants for State Management Plans - Section 501 provides for state level planning for aquatic nuisance species and authorizes federal grants for development and implementation of those plans;

·       Prevention of Introductions by Vessels - Section 101 will expand and strengthen existing programs governing ballast water management – the Conservancy supports including a role for the U.S.E.P.A. in establishing standards;

·       Priority Pathway Management - Section 201 will establish a system to help more effectively target prevention efforts by identifying high-risk pathways for aquatic invasive species introductions;

·       Pre-screening of Intentional Introductions - Section 202 establishes a system for pre-screening species newly in trade to limit importation of high-risk species and help better target prevention efforts;

·       Early Detection and Monitoring - Section 301 directs the existing Aquatic Nuisance Species Task force to coordinate with states, local, and tribal governments to establish an early detection monitoring network;

·       Rapid Response - Section 302 establishes a critical $30 million rapid response fund for states, establishes regional interagency rapid response teams at the federal level to provide assistance upon request to states in implementing rapid response strategies;

·       Information, Education, and Outreach - Section 306 establishes public and industry outreach programs to identify high-risk pathways for introduction (such as marinas), information on techniques to check and clean recreational vessels, information on how to properly dispose of live, non-native aquatic organisms in trade, and directs outreach to maritime, horticultural, aquarium, aquaculture, and pet trade industries to promote cooperation to prevent new introductions; and,

·       Research – Title 4 establishes a competitive, peer-reviewed research program to support prevention, early detection and rapid response efforts, and evaluate effectiveness of existing programs.  This section also supports research on control and eradication methods and technology to support effective stewardship on the ground.

 

We support NISA reauthorization, and feel that this bill is an excellent starting point.  It embodies many principles that will move the nation forward in a constructive manner and set a standard globally.

 

III.            Recommendations

 

The Conservancy has recommended a few technical and substantive changes to the bill to better facilitate work on the ground.  We would be happy to work with the Committee on these amendments.  In short, we recommend the Committee consider the following suggestions:

 

The legislation should recognize and clarify that treatments should have a long term, net-positive effect on an ecosystem.  We should not rule out some rapid response or other control, management, or restoration efforts because they may have discrete, short-term adverse impacts to nontarget species, if that risk is balanced against the ability to prevent greater harm in the long term.  The Conservancy is committed to working to develop effective, benign methods for treating aquatic invasions.  But, as we have seen in the effort to control an invasion of Spartina anglica in North Puget Sound in Washington - large populations of spartina are at present only effectively controlled by a combination of mechanical treatment and herbicide application.  The Conservancy is working with partners to test mechanical control techniques on smaller patches.

 

With regard to the cost-sharing provisions for grants, the Conservancy recommends that the Committee expand upon the current language to allow any match required for activities under the Act to be met with in-kind activities.  In addition, the legislation should be clarified to state that the federal share of grants to fund rapid response contingency strategies should be at least 50% or 75% - depending on the nature of the activity. 

 

Passage of NAISA will provide important financial and technical help to states such as Idaho that are just beginning to address aquatic invaders.  Idaho, like many states, has established an invasive species council that will address all invaders, including New Zealand mudsnails, Eurasian water-milfoil, and zebra mussels, but we need strengthened leadership, better coordination, and more resources. NAISA goes a long way toward providing the states the tools they need to tackle aquatic invaders. The Conservancy would be pleased to work with the Committee to strengthen the provisions dealing with inland states.

 

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important legislation.  I would be happy to answer any questions.