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Great Lakes Article:

Congress must join fight against invasive species
Gazette Xtra
Published June 28, 2007

A staggering $120 billion.

That's the annual estimated cost in damage and efforts to control aquatic and terrestrial invasive species nationwide.

We read more stories about invasive species each year. Yet comprehensive legislation to fight invasive species sits dormant in Congress.

Invasives displace native species; disrupt ecosystems; hamper recreation such as swimming, fishing and hiking; and take an economic toll on commercial, agricultural, forestry and aquacultural resources.

Garlic mustard, purple loosestrife and zebra mussels are only a few of those attacking Wisconsin's landscape and waters. The zebra's cousin, the quagga mussel, threatens Lake Michigan. The quagga's sharp shells can turn away beachgoers. Like zebras, quaggas also form large clusters that clog utility pipes and increase maintenance costs.

"The United States is under attack from invasive species, and it's time for Congress to take a stand to protect America's fish and wildlife, economy and way of life," says Corry Westbrook of the National Wildlife Federation.

Commendably, the federation and wildlife agencies from all 50 states, including the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, united last week to call on Congress to slam the door on invasives.

The good news, says Westbrook, is that solutions are available for combating such species and ensuring that people continue to have abundant fishing and hunting opportunities for generations to come.

"It all hinges on whether Congress will exert leadership on this issue."

Sure, Congress has plenty of big issues on its plate. They include Iraq, skyrocketing health care costs and immigration reform.

But as Westbrook notes, Congress has failed to act on legislation to fight invasive species four years in a row. And continued failure to act will only make matters worse.

"The longer we wait, the worse the problem of invasive species gets and the more expensive the solutions become," Westbrook says. "The time to act is now."

The federation and state agencies sent a letter to Congress detailing the urgency and reminding members that many aquatic invasives arrive in the ballast water of ships and spread throughout our country.

The 109th Congress failed to pass bipartisan legislation such as the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act. But Alaska, California, Maryland, Michigan and Washington have all passed ballast water legislation. Wisconsin is expected to join them this year. Meanwhile, the National Wildlife Federation is leading a group of conservation organizations that last Thursday announced plans to sue the shipping industry to stop it from discharging contaminated ballast water in the Great Lakes. Already, more than 180 invasive species live in these lakes.

Comprehensive federal legislation could make state efforts more effective, prevent further distribution of aquatic invasives, proactively and effectively monitor and manage infestations and coordinate federal and state policies.

Congress should get on board before another ship dumps its ballast here, before another invasive species costs us billions more.


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