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Give feds more power over invasive species

Give feds more power over invasive species

Legislation from early 1900s needs to be updated to preserve local ecosystems from intrusive plants,
Give feds more power over invasive species
A sign warning anglers not to release the northern snakehead, a non-native fish, if caught in the Harlem Meer on the northern end of Central Park, in New York, April 30, 2013.
Photographer: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

They say the first step in getting yourself out of a hole is to stop digging.

So logically, the first step in getting New York state out of its problem with invasive plants and animals is to stop them from coming into the state in the first place.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rochester area Congresswoman Louise Slaughter have introduced a bill, the Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act (S.3278), that would give the federal government more authority to regulate and manage invasive species of animals and plants.

These nonnative plants and animals — including zebra mussels, lampreys, hydrilla, giant hogweed, milfoil, Asian carp and others — can wreak havoc on a local ecosystem, where natural predators or environmental conditions are not in place to fend off the spread of these species.

Nearly 200 of the invasive species that now contaminate the Great Lakes have come in the ballasts of ships from other countries. The waterways become contaminated when ballast containing the foreign species is discharged.

Other ways these animal invaders get into the environment is by escaping from businesses and homes of people who house these animals for study or as pets.

More than 200 species are now officially considered "injurious" to the natural resources of our country.

The current legislation designed to restrict the importation of invasive species, the Lacey Act, was written in the early 1900s and only gives the federal government the power to identify groups of animals as injurious.

It does not require that animal species being proposed for import first be screened for either invasiveness or disease risk, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

The old legislation must be updated to give the government power to identify and block invasive species that pose an "imminent threat" to the environment before they enter the country. The law now only allows the government to deal with the problem after it's already been introduced and spread.

In addition to the $50 billion in damage these invaders do annually to New York's fishing, hunting and recreation industries, commercial enterprises and municipal systems, state and local communities must pay to manage and eradicate the problems.

No legislation is going to end the invasion of foreign animal and plant species. You can't check the hull of every ship that enters the Great Lakes or prevent accidents or deliberate release of non-native animals into the environment by irresponsible pet owners and scientists.

But at the very least, this legislation give federal wildlife officials more power to prevent the introduction of new species and to restrict the continued influx of current invasive plants and animals.

It's an uphill battle we're facing.

The time has come to stop digging ourselves a deeper hole and to support tougher legislation to protect our natural environment.

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