Invasive Species Overrun U.S. Wildlife
WASHINGTON, DC,(ENS) - Invasive species are wreaking
havoc on wildlife refuges across the country, warns a
new report released in conjunction with National Wildlife
Refuge week. Members of Congress joined the report's sponsors
at the National Wildlife Refuge Association in calling
for new efforts to stem the flow of nonnative species
into U.S. ecosystems.
Invasive species - foreign insects, plants and animals
that wreak havoc on native ecosystems - cause more than
$100 billion damage each year. Invasive plants alone have
invaded more than 100 million acres of land nationwide,
and almost eight million of those acres are in wildlife
refuges, areas created to protect the most important examples
of biological diversity across the country.
"America's wildlife is under siege by a relentless force
that respects neither geographic nor political boundaries,"
said Evan Hirsche, president of the National Wildlife Refuge
The NWRA report, "Silent Invasion," profiles 12 of the
most damaging invasive species, including purple loosestrife,
a nonnative plant which now infests about 400,000 acres
of federally owned wetlands, marshes and meadows in every
state except Florida. Florida has its own problems with
another invasive plant: melaleuca, a fast growing tree
that has begun to crowd out native plants in the Florida
The report also documents how 12 diverse refuges in
as many states are working to address this ecological
crisis. For example, at Ellicott Slough National Wildlife
Refuge (NWR) near Monterey Bay, California, refuge personnel
and state officials are working to remove eucalyptus,
pampas grass and other invasive species that are taking
over the native habitat of one of the last remaining populations
of Santa Cruz long-toed salamanders.
The project replaces the invaders with live oak and other
native seedlings grown by volunteers in the refuge nursery.
At the Alaska Maritime NWR, native species are falling
prey to invading populations of fox, ground squirrel,
reindeer, cattle and other nonnative mammals. While refuge
staff and other federal personnel are slowly attempting
to remove the invaders, they are also working to prevent
new invasions by monitoring ship traffic and preventing
rats from shipwrecks from reaching pristine island habitats.
"We consider a rat spill worse than an oil spill," refuge
biologist Vernon Byrd states in the report.
The NWRA is urging Congress and the Bush administration
to provide $150 million over five years to protect the national
wildlife refuge system against the advancement of invasive
"'Silent Invasion' makes it crystal clear that we have
to act now before it is too late. To stop the Refuge invaders,
we need a three part strategy - educating and mobilizing
volunteers, deploying rapid response strike teams across
the nation and implementing the strategic management plan
of the National Invasive Species Council, a Presidentially
mandated commission," said Hirsche. "The approach outlined
in 'Silent Invasion' is already receiving bipartisan support
and we urge the U.S. Congress and Bush Administration
to fund our national campaign to protect our national
wildlife refuges from certain destruction."
Among the report's recommendations is the training and
deployment of 5,000 volunteers - about 10 per refuge -
that could help spot invaders before they gain a foothold.
The report also calls for the formation of 50 rapid response
teams that could quickly fight early infestations before
they begin to dominate native landscapes.
Acting fast is generally cheaper than waiting, the report
argues. At the Willapa NWR on Washington's Pacific Coast,
a non-native cordgrass called Spartina alterniflora is making
the mudflats and saltmarsh inhospitable to birds. Two years
ago, the refuge staff prepared a plan to eliminate Spartina,
but a lack of funding has prevented the plan's implementation,
and the cordgrass continues to spread.
"Utilizing volunteers and mobile strike teams is a practical
and affordable use of taxpayer funds to solve a problem
that could effect 37 million refuge visitors annually,"
added Hirsche. "Recognizing the problem early on and responding
rapidly are a crucial elements to this campaign. We need
to catch the invasives and work to eradicate them before
they swell to uncontrollable proportions."
Representative Wayne Gilchrest, a Maryland Republican,
spoke in support of the NWRA's recommendations. Gilchrest
has introduced legislation to reauthorize, strengthen
and expand the National Invasive Species Act, and establish
a screening process for detecting new invaders.
"Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which is located in
my district on the eastern shore of Maryland, is home to
one of the most notorious invaders in the nation - nutria,"
Gilchrest noted. "I am here to say we must do a better job
controlling invasive species on our refuges."
Senator Jim Jeffords, the Vermont Independent who chairs
the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, noted
that refuges in the northeast face a number of invaders,
including an aquatic weed known as the water chestnut.
"Prevention is the key word in this battle to protect
our national refuges," Jeffords said. "Educating and mobilizing
of a nationwide network of volunteers is a cost effective
and practical solution."
"Invasive species are a leading threat to our wildlife and
economy," Jeffords added. "Congress needs to ensure that
the funding and resources are available to effectively combat
this threat to America's wildlife heritage."
The "Silent Invasion" report was released in conjunction
with National Wildlife Refuge Week, October 13 - 19. The
annual event will be celebrated in a variety of ways at
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) 95 million
acres of refuges, wetlands and special management areas
across the nation.
This year's refuge week also kicks off the celebrations
of the national wildlife refuge system's centennial anniversary.
The first national wildlife refuge was established in
Pelican Island, Florida on March 14, 1903, and there are
now 540 wildlife refuges located in all 50 states.
"I invite Americans to explore our national wildlife refuges
during National Wildlife Refuge Week," said Interior Secretary
Gale Norton. "The refuges are great places to reconnect
with nature, escape from our everyday surroundings and enjoy
outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing and wildlife
More than 400 national wildlife refuges are open to
the public, offering a variety of outdoor activities including
fishing, hunting, environmental education, wildlife observation
and photography. Many refuges offer additional opportunities
for nature hikes, bird tours, wildlife drives and other
Many events this year will focus on the threat posed
by invasive species. On Wednesday, for example, Lynn Scarlett,
assistant secretary of Interior, will be at Ding Darling
NWR on Sanibel Island, Florida, for an event highlighting
invasive species. On Friday, the Heinz Invasives Species
Event will be held at the Tinicum NWR in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania with guests from the Interior Department
and the USFWS.
And on Saturday, invasive species events will be held at
the Minnesota Valley NWR in Bloomington, Minnesota and at
Loxahatchee NWR in Boynton Beach, Florida, where Fran Mainella,
Director of the National Park Service, is expected to attend.
For more information on National Wildlife Refuge Week,
including a list of events near you, visit: http://refuges.fws.gov/
To read the NWRA report "Silent Invasion," visit: http://www.refugenet.org/