Thank you Mr. Chairman and Committee members for the opportunity to provide testimony on Senate Bill 525. I consider myself fortunate to live and work in Vermont, a small state, but with a tremendous reputation for its natural beauty, environmental integrity, and recreational opportunities. Unfortunately, these qualities are threatened by a large and very real threat - the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species. Nearly sixty species of aquatic non-native plants and animals are known to have taken up residence in Vermont. While not all of these species have become invasive, those that have, such as zebra mussels, water chestnut, Eurasian watermilfoil and purple loosestrife, have significant negative economic and ecological impacts. More than $2 million of local, state and federal funds are spent annually in Vermont to manage and prevent the spread of these species. Approximately one quarter of this goes to managing water chestnut in southern Lake Champlain alone. These totals do not include the costs associated with the degradation of the environment; reduction of lakeshore property values; or the protection of boats, water intake systems and other infrastructure. Currently within the Department of Environmental Conservation there are four staff positions dedicated to the management of aquatic invasive species, and it is fair to say we can not keep up. These invaders continue to displace native species; impede boating, fishing and swimming; and strain state and local budgets.
Despite these problems, Vermont, and the other northeastern states, are relatively fortunate to have had only a fraction of the nonnative species introductions experienced in other parts of the country. This is not to say Vermont doesn’t have major problems from invasive species, we do, but these problems are likely to increase significantly if we do not seize this opportunity to prevent more invasive aquatic species from coming our way. And they are coming, the round goby, the Asian carp, the Eurasian ruffe, the quagga mussel, the spiny water flea. Nonnative species that have all proven to be extremely invasive in other regions of this country are poised to enter water systems of the Northeast. It is imperative that we prevent this from happening, and the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act can help us do it.
As you well know, invasive species do not recognize political boundaries. We in Vermont can’t expect a species to stop at our border. Experience tells us that we also can’t wait for an invasive species to cross into the state before we take action - by then it is too late. We must work with other states throughout the region to build a unified defense. The National Invasive Species Act is helping us to do this. In 2001 the Northeast Aquatic Nuisance Species Panel was formed under authority of the federal Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force. The Panel, with funding assistance from the Task Force, has developed a dedicated network of representatives from all six New England states, New York, and Canada. We meet regularly to share ideas and concerns, and to coordinate the use of our limited resources. For example, the Panel is printing a card to assist boaters, resource managers and other individuals throughout the Northeast in the identification of the extremely invasive plant, hydrilla. Populations of hydrilla have recently been found in a few lakes in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maine. As a further example of regional coordination, the Panel recently held a workshop to develop a model aquatic nuisance species rapid response plan for the Northeast. When completed, the plan will establish a coordinated region-wide early detection and warning system. It will also facilitate the development of state aquatic invasive species rapid response plans that are consistent and coordinated throughout the region.
Additionally, the Northeast Aquatic Nuisance Species Panel and each of the other four regional panels developed under the National Invasive Species Act give the respective regions a strong, unified voice on the national stage helping to level the playing field. The regional panels, via the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force, enable small states like Vermont to have their aquatic nuisance species concerns fairly presented to the federal agencies distributing funds and making critical management decisions in this area.
Provisions of Senate Bill 525 that would lead to effective practices to prevent new introductions of potentially invasive species to this country will have perhaps the greatest long-term benefit for Vermont. For example, although Vermont does not have significant issues directly related to ballast water, it is vulnerable to nonnative species introduced to the Great Lakes via ballast water dumping. Lake Champlain, along Vermont’s western border, is directly connected to the Great Lakes by the Champlain Barge Canal, Erie Canal and Saint Lawrence Seaway systems. The zebra mussel used these routes to enter Lake Champlain from the Great Lakes in 1993. Of direct relevance, provisions in Senate Bill 525 would facilitate the transfer of knowledge gained from the dispersal barrier deployed on the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal to other canal systems throughout the country. This specifically includes the Champlain Barge Canal which connects the south end of Lake Champlain to the Erie Canal system and has been implicated in the introduction of numerous invasive species to Lake Champlain.
The National Invasive Species Act has played a direct role in helping to address aquatic invasive species issues throughout the Lake Champlain Basin of Vermont and New York. Authorized under the National Invasive Species Act, the Lake Champlain Basin Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan was developed and subsequently approved by the federal Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force in 2000. Since then the Task Force has provided $370,000 for the Plan’s implementation. While this represents a relatively small percentage of the total aquatic nuisance species program costs in the Basin, the funds have enabled many significant accomplishments that would have otherwise been unattainable. Specifically, Task Force funding has assisted with the establishment of an Aquatic Nuisance Species Coordinator position for the Lake Champlain Basin, has enabled dedicated enforcement of Vermont aquatic nuisance species laws, has contributed to the Lake Champlain Water Chestnut Management program, has funded the printing of outreach/spread prevention literature, and is helping with the development of an aquatic invasive species rapid response plan for the Lake Champlain Basin.
Senate Bill 525 would significantly raise the authorized funding levels for state and interstate aquatic nuisance species management plans. While the continued development and approval of state management plans is a positive contribution to the nation-wide effort needed to address invasive species, funding levels for such plans have not grown for the last several years. This has resulted in a smaller share for each state with an approved plan. To be effective, the funding for state and interstate plans must grow proportionate to the number of approved plans, not get sliced into smaller and smaller portions. This bill provides the funding authorization to enable this to happen.
Passage of Senate Bill 525 will greatly assist Vermont, and I believe the nation as a whole, in continuing to build on the substantial gains made under the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Species Prevention and Control Act of 1990. I encourage you to support this bill and thank you again for the opportunity to speak with you this afternoon. Time permitting, I will be happy to entertain questions.