Federal 'Wildlife Invasion' act takes aim at exotic species
By Tim Spielman, Associate Editor, Mn Outdoor News
Thursday, July 3, 2008 9:43 AM CDT
http://www.minnesotaoutdoornews.com/art ... news04.txt
Washington - Members of Congress continued on a theme that's been more common in recent years: stopping the introduction (and/or advancement) of species detrimental to the health of the nation's native species and the economy.
The most recent attempt - the non-native Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act - would "implement a process to scientifically assess the risk of each foreign species that individuals want to bring into the United States, even if it is not on the existing black list of prohibited species,"?according to a press release from Rep. Betty McCollum, a democratic co-sponsor from Minnesota. Other co-sponsors include Midwestern Reps. Ron Kind, D-Wis., and Dale Kildee, D-Mich.
The legislation differs from other recent federal bills in that it takes aim at species purposely brought into the country, perhaps for aquariums or water gardens, according to Marc Gaden, spokesman for the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission in Ann Arbor, Mich. The GLFC includes members from both the United States and Canada, and works to ensure sustainable Great Lakes fish populations, and minimize the effects of foreign species.
Gaden recently offered testimony to members of Congress on the bill, which he said is one of three that have placed aspects of the National Aquatic Invasive Species Act - a comprehensive bill that had been introduced in the past couple congresses - in separate bills.
Portions of the NAISA also are in the Water Resources Development Act that has passed Congress and includes funding for a fish barrier in the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal, and the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act, which addresses the release of ships' ballast water in Great Lakes ports. That bill currently awaits Senate action, Gaden said.
In a nutshell, the latest effort - HR 6311 - states that if a species is to be brought into the country, it must be proved that it won't be harmful to other species, or the economy. Currently, Gaden said, hurdles preventing introduction of species are few.
The federal Lacey Act contains some species that are prohibited - some mollusks and wild birds, for example. The USDA also has language prohibiting some species considered injurious to livestock, Gaden said. And some health agencies have outlawed species considered harmful to humans. Movement of some endangered species is prohibited, too.
"But as a whole, the population is relatively small," he said. "The intent of the legislation is that if you propose to import (as species), the only way to get on the 'white (approved) list' is if it's been screened."
Gaden said in the past, Congress has dragged its feet regarding the screening process. He called the bill "a huge leap forward in policy."
For example, had a process been in place decades ago when Asian carp were introduced, the habitat-destruction problems associated with the various species of invasive carp might not exist today.
With the current process, "By the time (a species) is proved harmful, the cat's already out of the bag," Gaden said. "What's great about this bill is that it's a proactive approach."
More apt to be affected by the bill - if eventually approved - than shippers are dealers of exotic pets, some fish farmers, and others.
Still, officials point out, species - even those in captivity - seem to find a way to make it into the wild.
According to the Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act, "(species) deemed a high risk would be explicitly banned, and wildlife that has not been properly vetted would not be allowed in the country until a risk assessment has been completed."
Further, says McCollum's press statement, "Invasive species do not only harm the environment, there is also a significant economic cost to the tourism industry and commercial and sport fishing. The infestation of these species can deter consumers, cause financial losses, and slow industry growth."
According to the legislation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will initiate the screening process. But the species importer likely will face the burden of proving a species is safe to import.
Gaden said the GLFC would like to eventually see a fee schedule in place so that taxpayers aren't "strapped with costs that benefit (importers)."
McCollum made note of the efforts of state Rep. Rick Hansen, a DFLer from Minnesota, who has led efforts to stop the spread of invasives. Hansen said, among other efforts, the state is considering the placement and type of a fish barrier for the Mississippi River in southeastern Minnesota.