Invasive Species:

State and Other Nonfederal Perspectives on Challenges to Managing the Problem

GAO-03-1089R: Published: Sep 5, 2003. Publicly Released: Sep 5, 2003.

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Invasive species--harmful, nonnative plants, animals, and microorganisms--are found throughout the United States and cause damage to crops, rangelands, waterways, and other ecosystems that is estimated to cost in the billions of dollars annually. In addition to their economic costs, invasive species can have a devastating effect on natural areas, where they have strangled native plants, taken over wetland habitats, crowded out native species, and deprived waterfowl and other species of food sources. Scientists, academicians, and industry leaders have all recognized invasive species as one of the most serious environmental threats of the twenty-first century. More specifically, conservation biologists ranked invasive species as the second most serious threat to endangered species after habitat destruction. In June 2003, GAO testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water concerning invasive species issues reported in our October 2002 report. We also provided testimony on the partial results of our spring 2003 survey of state agencies involved in efforts to address invasive species and members of the Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC). This report provides the final results of our survey and focuses on state perspectives on (1) gaps in, or problems with, federal legislation addressing invasive species, (2) barriers to managing invasive species, (3) effective leadership structures for addressing invasive species, and (4) integrating federal aquatic and terrestrial invasive species legislation and the potential gains and drawbacks of such legislation.

State officials identified several legislative gaps or problems with existing legislation intended to address invasive species. A key gap noted in legislation addressing both aquatic and terrestrial invasive species is the lack of requirements for controlling invasive species that are already established or widespread. State officials said that if there is no federal requirement, there is often little money available to combat a species and that such a requirement would raise the priority for responding to it. Also, over one-half of the state officials responding to our survey said that international trade agreements make it difficult to regulate products that may introduce invasive species because, for example, the trade agreements do not consider invasive species. In addition, over one-half of the state officials who responded to questions about legislation on aquatic invasive species identified gaps with ballast water requirements. State officials also identified several barriers that make managing invasive species difficult. The barrier that state officials identified most frequently was the lack of federal funding for state invasive species efforts. In addition, state officials were concerned about insufficient public education and outreach efforts as well as the lack of control measures and cost-effective controls for invasive species. State officials' opinions on effective federal leadership structures for managing invasive species varied. State officials most frequently identified the National Invasive Species Council (Council) specifically authorized in legislation as an effective leadership structure for managing invasive species, although many state officials thought that continuing with the Council as currently established by executive order would also be effective. While the Executive Director of the Council told us that they have had adequate authority to carry out the responsibilities set forth in the executive order, she noted that clear legislative authority would strengthen their efforts. Similarly, officials from the Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, and Environmental Protection Agency who are departmental liaisons to the Council, noted that legislative authority, depending on how it was structured, could be useful in carrying out the responsibilities of the Council. Fewer state officials identified having a single federal agency responsible for all invasive species or separate federal agencies responsible for aquatic and terrestrial species as effective structures. State officials' views also varied on whether to integrate federal legislation on aquatic invasive species with legislation on terrestrial invasive species. The greatest number of state officials responding to our survey were in favor of integrating legislation, but the margin compared with those who did not favor integration was relatively small. Many state officials indicated that the possible gains of integrated legislative authority would be an increased focus on invasive species pathways, as opposed to specific species, and increased coordination between federal agencies and states. The possible drawbacks most often identified by state officials included concerns that a single piece of legislation would not be able to address all possible situations dealing with invasive species, and that aquatic and terrestrial invasive species programs would have to compete for scarce resources.

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