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Great Lakes Article:

Report Urges Foreign Species Action
John Heilprin
Associated Press Writer
Posted 10/11/2002

WASHINGTON (AP) -- When alien northern snakeheads surfaced in a Maryland pond this year, wildlife officials moved in quickly to wipe out the breeding population with poison.

That apparent success typifies what some in Congress and environmentalists are now saying is needed to counter invasive species in the nation's wildlife refuges: an army of 5,000 volunteers trained to hit the ground in "strike teams."

A report being released Thursday says 8 million of the 94 million acres in the national wildlife refuge system are infested with nonnative plant and animal species.

The report by the National Wildlife Refuge Association urges Congress to spend $30 million a year over five years to train volunteers for 50 rapid response strike teams.

Evan Hirsche, the association's president, says the snakehead case shows the importance of being able to act practically overnight.

"Once you've got a heavy infestation of an invasive, whether it's an animal or a plant ... it's awfully hard to completely eliminate them," he said. "On the other hand, if you've got eyes out there on the ground looking for early infestations, the chances are pretty good you're going to be able to stop a broader spread of these invasives."

Those who agree include Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and James Jeffords, I-Vt., along with Reps. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., and Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md.

Rahall and Gilchrest introduced a bill to top that long-term spending goal by authorizing $375 million to combat invasive species in the refuges.

Rahall noted the migration of just one species, the zebra mussel, from the Great Lakes to a West Virginia refuge accounted for five native species being listed as endangered, and cost billions to unclog and repair water pipes and filters in the Great Lakes region.

He said government partnerships with other public and private landowners is "the only way we can truly achieve success in defeating the space invaders and protecting our native fish and wildlife."

For this year's budget, the Bush administration and Congress have generally agreed to spend $56 million above last year's $218 million for operating the refuge system.

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