TESTIMONY OF LORI WILLIAMS,

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INVASIVE SPECIES COUNCIL

BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES, WILDLIFE, AND WATER,

SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS

6-17-03

 

Introduction

 

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the National Invasive Species Council’s efforts to deal with the problem of invasive species and comment on S. 525, the “National Aquatic Invasive Species Act of 2003”.  The Council’s mission is to enhance coordination and improve the effectiveness of federal efforts, by working cooperatively with affected stakeholders, to prevent and reduce the damage caused by invasive species to the economy, the environment and in some cases animal and human health.  

 

Today, as requested by the Subcommittee, I will briefly outline the role and activities of the Council and present and summarize the views and concerns of the Council member departments regarding S. 525, a bill to reauthorize the National Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990. 

 

Last summer, efforts to eradicate the snakehead fish in Maryland put the problem of aquatic invasive species on the front page.   The threat  that this voracious, predator, discovered in a small pond, could easily have spread to the Chesapeake Bay if quick action was not taken by the State of Maryland and local officials, graphically demonstrated the risks of invasive species and their potential destructive capacity. The apparent success of Maryland officials in eradicating the snakehead and Fish and Wildlife Service moving swiftly to regulate the fish under federal law has unfortunately been, in the past, the exception rather than the rule.  Too often invasive species have become well-established and difficult if not impossible to eradicate or contain by the time action is taken. 

 

The rate of introduction of invasive species has increased significantly because of increases in travel, trade, and tourism.  Invasive species have caused billions of dollars of economic damage.   Invasive species are the second leading factor in the listing of species as endangered or threatened.  In some cases they are known to degrade ecosystems and harm animal and human health.   Invasive species do not respect jurisdictional or bureaucratic boundaries.  They impact federal land and water resources, states, tribal interests, and private landowners, as well as, other nations.  Therefore, an effective response to these biological invasions must be coordinated, inter-departmental, and multi-jurisdictional. 

 

The Council is charged with coordinating federal activities relating to all invasive species, including aquatic and terrestrial species.  Although our focus today is on aquatic invasive species, many of the issues and proposed solutions are common across all types of invasive species.  A comprehensive approach including prevention, early detection and rapid response, research, control, education and outreach, and international cooperation are key elements in any strategy to address this complex issue and are included as components of the National Invasive Species Management Plan (discussed below).

 

Overview of the National Invasive species Council (Council)

 

The Council was created by executive order in 1999, Executive Order 13112, (E.O.) not only to address the growing problem of invasive species but the need for coordination among federal programs and the lack of a comprehensive federal plan to deal with the issue.  The Council is co-chaired by the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce and includes the Secretaries of the Treasury, State, Health and Human Services, Defense, Transportation, and (most recently) Homeland Security, as well as, the Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Agency for International Development.  The E.O. also provides for an Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC), which includes a wide variety of nonfederal experts and stakeholders to advise the council and provide nonfederal perspective and input.  The key tasks of the Council, in addition to extensive coordination on invasive species programs and budgets are:

1)     drafting and guiding implementation of the National Invasive Species Management Plan; (executive summary attached)

2)     working with Department of State to enhance international cooperation to prevent and control invasive species;

3)     building partnerships with local, state, and tribal governments;

4)     organizing and providing enhanced public access to invasive species information; and

5)     enhancing public education and outreach on invasive species issues.

The Council operates with a small staff -- currently four staff with plans for seven positions -- and depends on the work of departmental liaisons, agency staff and detailees.  The Council has no separate legal and regulatory authority and works through the member departments and agencies to address invasive species issues on a cooperative basis with significant stakeholder involvement. 

 

Early in 2001, the Council issues the first edition of the National Invasive Species Management Plan.  The Plan, which includes 57 action items, is a comprehensive blueprint to address invasive species.  Recent accomplishments include: drafting guidelines for early detection and rapid response systems;  listing significant pathways for introduction of invasive species; establishing (working with USDA’s National Agricultural Library)  an invasive species website that provides information about all federal invasive species programs; enhancing international cooperation by co-sponsoring international invasive species regional workshops, and beginning work on a North American invasive species strategy.  In addition, the Council has proposed modifications to the Executive Order (now under review) to enhance the role of states and tribal interests with the Council.  Finally,  the Council has completed the first,  performance-based invasive species crosscut budget for FY 2004 in order to leverage federal invasive species programs and resources in three targeted areas, and proposes to further strengthen budget coordination in FY 2005.

 

 

Relationship between the Council and ANSTF

 

While the Council coordinates invasive species issues at the departmental level for all types of invasive species, the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force (ANSTF) provides agency-level coordination solely for aquatic species.  To avoid any duplication of effort, the Council is mandated under E.O. 13112 to coordinate with the ANSTF.  Currently, NOAA assists this coordination by having Deputy Assistant Secretary Tim Keeney serve as their representative to both the Task Force and the Council.  The Council and ANSTF are considering further ways to consolidate and combine similar activities in the area of prevention to ensure continued close cooperation and leverage scarce resources.

 

General comments on S. 525

 

S. 525 would reauthorize the Non-indigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act of 1990.  In my remarks, as requested by the Subcommittee,  I will provide a brief overview of the federal agencies general comments and concerns regarding the reauthorization bill.  Following my testimony agency and departmental officials will provide additional comments related to their specific concerns.

 

We support the reauthorization of aquatic invasive species legislation as an important component of addressing aquatic invasive (nuisance) species.  S. 525 wisely address the full array of aquatic pathways (such as hull-fouling, live bait, etc.) in addition to the critical problem of ballast water.  There is broad support among Council members for the bill’s comprehensive approach to dealing with aquatic invasive species problem that is similar to the approach taken in the National Invasive Species Management Plan.  In addition to emphasizing prevention, it recognizes the need to include a variety of approaches, including early detection and rapid response, research and monitoring, control, and education.  The bill also recognizes the important coordination provided by the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force for solely aquatic issues and the broader level of coordination provided by the Council.   

 

The bill would, for the first time, address planned or intentional introductions of invasive species in the aquatic arena by calling for the development of a screening process.  This process would evaluate whether a species being proposed for introduction into the U.S. for the first time is likely to become invasive.  Screening is also an element of the Management Plan and is critical to prevention efforts. 

 

The bill recognizes and supports important state and regional efforts through state aquatic nuisance plans and regional panel activities.  Partnerships and multi-jurisdictional efforts are essential for prevention and control activities.  The bill also proposes an appropriate role for the Council in providing overall guidance on policy (regarding screening), as well as close coordination on policy formulation with ANSTF.

 

Concerns

 

Addressing the issue of ballast water, the bill appropriately supports federal efforts to make ballast water standards mandatory.  Other the provisions of the bill dealing with ballast water are problematic in a number of ways that will be addressed in more detail by the Coast Guard and other agencies.  Most importantly, while recognizing the importance of dealing with this issue and the frustration with progress to date, it is critical that any treatment standard adopted for any ballast water be biologically meaningful, based on science and enforceable. It has not been demonstrated that a standard based on a kill-rate meets these standards, as is currently proposed in S.525.

 

In general, there is concern that some of the provisions of S. 525 are administratively burdensome and inflexible.  DOC notes in their testimony that 31 separate deadlines for administrative action within a short time frame (18 months) are included in the bill.  In addition, numerous reporting requirements raise concerns that scarce resources will be taken up filling out reports.  Some of the bills provisions (in the areas of rapid response and screening for example) are overly prescriptive and do not allow the agencies and the Council the flexibility needed to develop and test new methods and provide for adequate stakeholder input  -- given the complexity of some of the issues and policies involved.  Reporting requirements for the states may also be burdensome or create possible barriers to rapid action (such as the requirement that every state have a rapid response contingency plan in place  -- including a provision dealing with education -- before being eligible to receive response matching funds). 

 

The language regarding dissemination of information should be clarified.  While the Council can and should assist with the coordination and dissemination of information, the action agencies should remain responsible for dissemination of the information that they are charged with collecting.  Several agencies involved in this effort have particular expertise and infrastructure to disseminate information not available to a coordinating body such as the Council.

 

Along these lines we note that new spending authorized by S. 525 is not currently included in the President’s FY 2004 Budget and thus the proposal must be considered within existing resources and priorities. New requirements included in the bill, such as those for education programs, should be integrated into existing efforts.

 

As with any comprehensive and complex legislative proposal there are areas that need improvement.  The other federal representatives on the panel will provide additional detail and discuss their specific concerns.  The Council is ready to assist the committee with addressing these general concerns and additional technical issues to improve the legislation. 

 

I thank the Subcommittee for addressing this important and complex issue.  Working together is our only means to prevent and mitigate the extensive damage caused by invasive aquatic species.  Thank you and I will be pleased to answer any questions.