Forest Service Poised to Fight Invasive Plant Species

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Industry News for September 2005

There’s a dangerous enemy on the prowl in U.S. forests, and beware: looks can be deceiving.
Sure, the English Ivy growing up the side of your neighbor’s home looks harmless enough, attractive even. And oxeye daisies look great in your garden. But in reality, these decorative plants are part of a growing problem threatening our nation’s forests — invasive species.
Invasive species are attacking the nation’s forest and rangeland ecosystems. They have already infested hundreds of millions of acres of land and water across the nation. They are choking out native species nationwide, and often with no natural predators in their new environments, are continuing to spread at a rapid and alarming rate.
Deemed a “catastrophic wildfire in slow motion,” invasive organisms cost the American public about $138 billion each year and are a significant drain on the national economy according to a Cornell University study and the National Strategy and Implementation Plan for Invasive Species Management.
In response, the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service has identified invasive species as one of four significant threats to the nation’s forest and rangeland ecosystems. Further, the Forest Service Invasive Species Program was created to develop and implement a strategic and collaborative response to the unwelcome plants, insects, mammals, pathogens, fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, crustaceans, and mollusks.
The goal: to reduce, minimize, or eliminate the potential for introduction, establishment, spread, and impact of invasive species across all landscapes and ownerships.
A species is considered invasive, as defined by the program, if it is “non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and its introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” Some of the more serious threats specifically to trees include sudden oak death, white pine blister rust, the emerald ash borer, the Asian longhorned beetle, the hemlock wooly adelgid, the gypsy moth, and the banded elm bark beetle.
To accomplish its goal, the Forest Service program has devised a national strategy composed of four program elements: prevention, early detection and rapid response, control and management, and rehabilitation and restoration. Themes common to all program elements include partnerships, science-based prioritization of problems, communication and education, and long-term commitment. Scientific prior­itization will involve conducting research to ensure effective assessment and management programs are implemented.
“In all cases we will strive to be proactive rather than reactive in our actions, holistic across landscapes and ownerships, and collaborative with partners,” program team members explain in the national strategy.
Efforts will be focused on identifying and protecting forests and grasslands that have not been invaded by invasive species. Education and outreach will be key in this prevention component of the program. As awareness of the invasive species problem is raised, the possibility of unintentional introduction of invasive species will be reduced. A national invasive species prevention awareness campaign is planned.
After prevention, early detection and rapid response (EDRR) provide a “second line of defense” and will also be crucial to the management of invasive species. Though prevention is the least costly and most effective way to control the impact of invasive species, EDRR is more cost-effective and successful than developing and implementing long-term control efforts after the species is established.
No complete system for EDRR exists in the Forest Service, but other federal, state, and local organizations are partnering with the Forest Service to quickly detect, contain, and eliminate invasive species before they can become established.
Such collaboration will be important across the board. Cooperation across ownership, state lines, and political jurisdictions will necessary for the successful management of invasive species.
“Species don’t stop at a county border or a state border,” said David Lodge, former chairman of the National Invasive Species Advisory Committee. “In some senses, the protection (for a state) is only as good as the weakest state in the region.”
Even with these precautionary measures in place, some invasive species will undoubtedly manage to establish themselves in new environments. When invasive species do become established as free-living populations in an ecosystem, the priority then becomes limiting their spread and restoring the area. The process involves establishing a perimeter around existing infestations to contain the spread, removing outliers and gradually eliminating the infestation. Native plants and trees can then be replanted.
With limited resources and such a large task at hand, the Forest Service must use risk assessments to set priorities. Species characteristics, infestation consequences, and the availability, feasibility, and likelihood of success of treatment versus nontreatment are all factors when determining where to focus efforts. A flexible budget is essential as well since determining the threat of a species may require several years of monitoring. During that time, a new species may rise on the priority list and require some or all of the funding from elsewhere in the invasive species program.
Though invasive species are not a new problem, global trade and travel are perpetuating the spread and increased severity of the problem. A reduced risk will rely not only on the efforts of the Forest Service and its partners but also on the efforts of the public to help prevent, identify, and control invasive species. Do you know what’s in your backyard or the sites where you regularly work?