STATEMENT OF DR. JAMES TAIT, JR., SCIENCE ADVISOR, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, RECREATION AND PUBLIC LANDS, HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES, CONCERNING H.R. 1462, A BILL TO REQUIRE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO ESTABLISH A PROGRAM TO PROVIDE ASSISTANCE THROUGH STATES TO ELIGIBLE WEED MANAGEMENT ENTITIES TO CONTROL OR ERADICATE HARMFUL, NONNATIVE WEEDS ON PUBLIC AND PRIVATE LAND.

June 19, 2001


Mr. Chairman, my name is Jim Tait, and I am the new science advisor at the Department of the Interior. I am accompanied today by Gina Ramos, Senior Weed Specialist, Bureau of Land Management; Michael Ielmini, Refuge Program Specialist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Gary Johnston, Invasive Species Specialist, National Park Service. I thank you for the opportunity to appear before your subcommittee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 1462, a bill to require the Secretary of the Interior to establish a program to provide assistance through states to eligible weed management entities to control or eradicate harmful, nonnative weeds on public and private lands.

The Department commends Congress for bringing attention to this important issue that significantly affects both public and private landowners and managers across the country. Nonnative invasive species cause more than $20 billion per year in economic damage and affect millions of acres of private and public lands. Although we concur with the basic principles embodied in the legislation, specifically the recognition that a concerted and coordinated effort by the public and private sectors with requisite funding and accountability is critical to the successful prevention, control, and management of invasive species, we have some concerns with the bill as drafted. We are willing to work with the committee on developing amendments that will make the bill acceptable to the Department while providing the necessary resources to states, Indian tribes, and local entities to help combat invasive species. We also recommend that the bill include Federal agencies as partners in coordinated efforts to manage invasive species.

The Department has three major areas of concern with H.R. 1462 that we will briefly outline. In addition, three agencies within the Departmentóthe National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management have some concerns that are specific to their bureaus. We will also touch upon these areas.

The first area of concern is the scope of what is covered by, and what is excluded from the bill, both in terms of geography and the types of activities that are eligible for funding. Although the bill technically applies to the entire nation, it would be difficult for most of the southeastern and eastern states to compete with western states that have an existing infrastructure likely to qualify as "weed management entities." Also, since invasive species cross state boundaries and many regional weed management programs are underway, the exclusion of multi-state efforts in the bill could eliminate flexibility and hamper comprehensive control and management programs.

Also working against a comprehensive approach is the billís prohibition on funding for control of submerged or floating aquatic noxious weeds or animal pests. This discourages key coastal states with substantial aquatic invasive species from participating in the program. Feral pigs in Hawaii provide an example that highlights why the billís approach would be less desirable than a more all-encompassing approach that deals with all invasive species in an area. The National Park Service wanted to remove invasive plant species in national parks in Hawaii, as the pigs were serving as a mechanism for distributing the seeds of some of the invasive plants as well as disturbing the soil. Without removal of the pigs, any program to remove invasive plant species would fail. We recommend that the bill allow for funding that maximizes flexibility to the states, Indian tribes, and local entities to control invasive species.

There are many ongoing, highly successful partnership efforts between the public and private sectors to control invasive species. One example is the "Pulling Together Initiative," a partnership between Federal agencies and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Since 1997, the partners through cost-sharing efforts have supported more than 175 weed management projects in 33 states and one territory. The purpose of the "Pulling Together Initiative" is to encourage the development of weed management areas and the management of weeds within these areas, similar to the intent of this legislation. These projects bring together many stakeholders--Federal, state, tribal, private, and non-governmental organizations to coordinate management of weeds based on an integrated pest management approach. Each project funded through "Pulling Together" must have a minimum 1:1 match of non-Federal funds or in-kind contributions for every dollar of Federal funds requested. This has resulted in matching five million in Federal dollars with almost $10 million worth of non-Federal contributions. We recommend that language be included in this bill that would clarify how this legislation would relate to existing Federal initiatives so that significant, well-established Federal-private partnership efforts would continue.

The second area of concern relates to the process established by the legislation and whether it provides for sufficient accountability, consultation, and coordination with Federal efforts and quality assurances. The bill creates a new advisory committee within the Department to oversee the allocation of funds to states and Indian tribes. Yet, there already exists such a committee within Interior called the Invasive Species Advisory Committee, comprised of members with the same expertise and representing many of the interests affected by invasive species that is outlined in the legislation. We recommend that the existing advisory committee be used to make recommendations to the Secretary for allocating funds to the states and tribes instead of establishing a new advisory committee.

Although there is a reporting requirement for local weed management entities in the bill, it is unclear what the scope of the report is and how the results of this would feed back into the selection and renewal process. There is little specific direction in the bill on how funds would be allocated to states and Indian tribes or how they would in turn allocate the funds to weed management entities. In addition, there is no clear indication if these funds can be allocated to Federal agencies working at the state and local levels. We would recommend some additional language be inserted that sets requirements for a standard reporting and review system that would provide accountability and would improve coordination and information exchange among states and tribes. In addition, language should clarify which specific state entity should have the responsibility for allocating funds to weed management entities so it is consistent from state to state.

Except for the allocation of funds by the Secretary to states and Indian tribes, there is no consultation or coordination with Federal agencies required in the bill. Given that invasive species cover Federal as well as state, private, and tribal lands, we would recommend that language be included that would require weed management entities to coordinate and consult with Federal agencies to promote comprehensive invasive species programs across public and private lands.

The third area of concern is the budgetary implications of the legislation and whether funding for this legislation would come at the expense of Federal control efforts and existing programs that provide matching funds for weed control. Funding for control of invasive species on Federal lands is already considered inadequate. We recommend that the bill include an authorization of appropriations section that would provide a separate authorization of funds to be allocated to states and Indian tribes, the administration of the program, and duties of the advisory committee at Interior. We also recommend that it be clearly stated in the bill that this program would not impact existing agency and multi-agency programs (such as the "Pulling Together Initiative") that support local and regional weed prevention and control projects.

Finally, as our experiences have shown, having a matching fund requirement is critical to the success of projects by ensuring that limited Federal funds available are used for projects that have strong support and financial backing at the regional, state or local levels. We question whether this legislation might weaken that success by allowing the Governor of any state to change the percentage of the match required or by allowing states to count Federal funds from other sources outside this legislation as a weed management entityís non-Federal match. It is important for Federal funds to be used to leverage non-Federal funds to maximize the small amount of Federal monies available for invasive species control programs.

The following are bureau-specific comments on the legislation:

National Park Service

The principles of coordination, targeted funding, and accountability are fundamental aspects of the nonnative invasive species management strategy pursued under the National Park Serviceís five-year Natural Resource Challenge program. In FY 2000, the National Park Service (NPS) identified nonnative invasive species as a significant component of the threat to the natural and cultural heritage preserved in national park units across the country covering over 80 million acres of land.

As part of the Natural Resource Challenge, a new management strategy for controlling harmful nonnative invasive plants was implemented, called the Exotic Plant Management Team (EPMT). Four teams were fielded to identify, treat, control, restore, and monitor areas of parks that were infested with harmful exotic plants. The four teams serve 41 parks, comprising 11% of national park units, in the Chihuahuan Desert-Shortgrass Prairie, Florida, Hawaii, and the National Capital Region. The success of each EPMT derives from its ability to adapt to local conditions and needs. Each team sets work priorities based on a number of factors including: severity of threat to high-quality natural areas and rare species; extent of targeted infestation; probability of successful control and potential for restoration; and opportunities for public involvement. In addition, the Presidentís budget for fiscal year 2002 includes a funding request for six additional EPMTs. Funding of these teams will raise our capacity to control invasive plants at 152 parks or approximately 40% of the parks in the lower forty-eight states. The NPS hopes that H.R.1462 will improve the teamís work in our park units by increasing collaborative efforts between public and private adjacent landowners.

The EPMT of Florida provides an excellent illustration of the effectiveness of local partnerships. The Florida EPMT formed a partnership with the Upland Invasive Plant Management Program of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and approximately 136 other groups in the program to control invasive plants. Together they fund removal of exotic species in 11 units of the National Park System in Florida with the state of Florida matching the NPS contribution dollar for dollar.

The NPS has many successful public and private partners in its efforts to control and manage invasive species, including tribal governments. The NPS recommends that H.R. 1462 clearly state that tribal governments are to be included in all definitions of local stakeholders and weed management entities, and that they should be included in all sections of the bill relating to coordinated actions and distribution of financial assistance. Indian tribes should also be able to participate outside their own reservations when they belong to a larger weed management entity, without their funding being restricted.

The NPS recognizes that effective management of invasive plants must be conducted on a coordinated basis involving all stakeholders. However, the authority for Interior agencies, including NPS, to work with cooperating land managers outside the Interior agenciesí boundaries is not clear. The NPS thinks language should be included in this bill that would provide the Federal agencies greater flexibility in managing invasive plants in concert with willing adjoining landowners where Federal lands are threatened by invasions from adjoining lands.

The citizens of the United States can be a strong force in helping to reduce the impacts of invasive species to the nationís resources. However, this requires a populace that is aware of the issue and understands the role that they can play in solving the problem. The bill currently allows the establishment of a weed management entity solely for the purpose of education. The NPS thinks that education should be a required component of any weed management entityís efforts. In addition, the NPS thinks there are substantial gains to be made through a national level education campaign. For example, Smokey Bear and the slogan "only you can prevent forest fires" was a highly successful effort. That success was due in part to the message, but also because private citizens were made aware of actions they could undertake to solve the problem. There are many actions individuals can take regarding invasive species, but a national level education program is needed to bridge the knowledge gap. Annually, national park units receive more that 280 million visits. This provides an excellent opportunity to educate visitors about the problem of invasive species. The NPS hopes educational efforts contained within this bill will include Federal participation.

The NPS is concerned about the lack of definitions for many of the terms used in the bill. Without terms being clearly defined, their use in the legislation may lead to confusion or disagreements over terminology. For example, there should be more specific definitions for the terms "weed management entity," "nonnative weed" and "natural values."

The NPS would like to bring to the attention of the committee a report completed by the Colorado Department of Agriculture in April l999 entitled "An Assessment of Federal and State Agency Weed Management Efforts in Colorado: A Report to the Colorado General Assembly, Colorado Department of Agriculture." In this report, county weed management professionals made a number of suggestions regarding improvements that public land management agencies could make to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of their weed management efforts. A number of recommendations were made that include: increasing financial and personnel resources for agencies, improving coordination and cooperation among Federal, state, and local government agencies, improving performance, improving educational efforts, creating a noxious weed specialist position, and reducing reliance on county programs. Legislative actions that provide stable support for Federal and local cooperative programs will improve the likelihood of success in control of harmful invasive species and the conservation of resources.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Invasive species are one of the leading threats to fish and wildlife, with potential to degrade entire ecosystems. The Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is working to develop and implement aggressive programs to enhance its capability and leadership to respond effectively to present and future invasive species problems. The Service works in cooperation with private groups, state agencies, other Federal agencies, and other countries to combat invasive plant and animal species. National Wildlife Refuges (NWR) from Alaska to the Caribbean are affected by this problem. Based on national interagency estimates, over 6 million acres of the National Wildlife Refuge System are infested with exotic plants alone, interfering with crucial wildlife management objectives on over 50% of all refuges. Refuge field managers have identified invasive species problems as one of the most serious threats affecting the Refuge System. Nationwide, the rate of spread of invasive plants is estimated to be 5,400 acres per year. The Refuge System has identified over 300 projects with an estimated cost of $120 million to combat invasive species.

Among the most insidious plant invaders to fish and wildlife resources are salt cedar, leafy spurge, whitetop, exotic thistles, Brazilian pepper, purple loosestrife, Australian pine, Chinese tallow trees, old world climbing fern, and melaleuca. At Loxahatchee Refuge in Florida=s Everglades, for example, the exotic melaleuca tree and the Old World climbing fern have infested thousands of acres of the refuge, out-competing native vegetation and effectively eliminating wildlife-dependent habitat. Sevilleta and Bosque del Apache NWRs in New Mexico continually invest large amounts of time and operational funds into eradication efforts on the salt cedar. Salt cedar disrupts the structure and stability of native plant communities, crowding out native plant species, altering existing water regimes, and increasing soil salinity.

In addition, the Refuge System works with private landowners to help them restore degraded fish and wildlife habitats on their property, which includes the control of invasive plants. Through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, which provides financial and technical assistance, the Service helps landowners benefit from improved productivity of their lands by minimizing the spread of invasive species and improving habitat for a variety of fish and wildlife species. Activities included prescribed burning, integrated pest management techniques, physical removal, fence construction, and restoration of native plant communities.

Unfortunately, the invasive species negatively affecting fish and wildlife resources are not solely contained within terrestrial plant taxa. Many refuges have significant wetland components, making aquatic invasive species, such as phragmites, a serious threat to these ecosystems. Service programs support activities to prevent and control highly invasive plants and animal species such as zebra mussels, giant salvinia, Caulerpa taxifolia, Chinese mitten crabs, round gobies, Norway rats, Asian carp, nutria, Asian swamp eels, feral goats and pigs.

 

Nutria are an exotic invasive rodent, native to South America, that have been introduced in 22 states nationwide, and affect over 1,000,000 acres of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Among areas with high nutria populations is the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland, including Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Blackwater has lost over 7,000 acres of marsh since 1933, and the rate of marsh loss has accelerated in recent years to approximately 200 acres per year. Although there are many contributing factors (e.g., sea level rise, land subsidence), nutria are a catalyst of marsh loss due to their habit of foraging on the below-ground portions of marsh plants. This activity compromises the integrity of the marsh root mat, facilitating erosion and leading to permanent marsh loss. In light of the damage caused by nutria, the Service and 22 other Federal, state, and private partners joined forces in 1997 to identify appropriate methods for controlling nutria and restoring degraded marsh habitat. The Partnership prepared a 3-year pilot program proposal, which was subsequently approved by Congress, including authorization for the Secretary of the Interior to spend up to $2.9 million over 3 years beginning in Fiscal Year 2000 (Public Law 105-322).

As shown by the examples discussed above, the number of invasive species threats to fish and wildlife resources continues to dramatically increase. For that reason, we recommend that H.R. 1462 increase its scope of coverage to include not only invasive terrestrial plant species, but all invasive plant (terrestrial and aquatic) and possibly some animal species.

As these species become more widespread, the complexity and the cost of controlling them increases. The Service uses the most cost-effective integrated approaches and techniques to control invasives, including the application of chemicals, mechanical removal, cultural techniques, prescribed burning, and biological control. It is critical that support for control of invasive species continue.

In addition, we would like to request the continued support for ongoing coordination efforts such as the Federal Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds (FICMNEW) and the Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) Task Force. The Service has a strong leadership role in both these groups and feels that these groups function very effectively to coordinate among Federal and State agencies as well as working in conjunction with a number of partners at both a national and local level. We recommend that this bill continue to support existing coordination efforts and federal partnerships among state/tribal entities, local governments, and stakeholder groups.

Bureau of Land Management

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recognizes the need for expanding on-the-ground efforts at controlling noxious weeds. Since the completion of the BLMís "Partners Against Weeds" Strategy Plan, the BLM has followed the planís recommendation of expanding cooperative partnerships. We can attribute much of the BLMís success in managing invasive species through cooperative partnerships with Federal, state, and local government agencies, private landowners, and industries.

The BLM considers public education as the key to winning the war on weeds. Accordingly, our Partners Against Weeds Strategy focuses on education and outreach. The BLM personnel have given over 200 weed slide presentations, prepared videos, produced flyers and classroom projects, and conducted numerous public weed field trips. The BLM has also developed a Weed Awareness Course that is given to each BLM employee. In Grand Junction, Colorado, for example, the Field Office Weed Coordinator has held classes for public land users at which all of the major grazing permittees in that field office have attended. Ranchers are now reporting new weed infestations and cooperating to help control them on private and BLM lands. This July, the BLM will have an interactive weed display at the Boy Scout Jamboree. The BLM is also collaborating with the Boy Scouts on their revision of the Boy Scout Handbook, which will include a new chapter on the prevention and control of invasive plants.

As the awareness of invasive plants and their impacts accelerates, our efforts with the public also increase. Today, for example, the BLM in New Mexico will be taking part in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with tribes, and state and Federal agencies to manage invasive and noxious weeds.

Recently, the creation of new Cooperative Weed Management Areas has risen significantly. Because the BLM manages over 264 million acres of public lands, cooperative weed management efforts are essential, primarily in those areas where public lands are intermingled with state, private, and other Federally managed lands. Today more than ninety percent of the private, state, and Federal lands in Idaho and California are part of cooperative weed management areas. For example, in fiscal year 2000 the BLM treated 291,000 acres and that figure is expected to rise annually and is involved in over 30 weed management areas.

In fiscal year 2001, the BLM received $8.9 million, a majority of which went to the BLM offices for on-the-ground weed efforts including inventory, weed treatments, and monitoring. The BLM focuses funding to states with lower acres of infestations in an attempt to provide them with the capability to detect small weed infestations in high-risk areas and to treat small infestations before they spread. The BLM is also funding states with larger infestations, focusing efforts on areas not previously inventoried, but at risk. The BLM has received $750,000 that will ultimately be passed to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture for inventory and weed treatments in that state. Montana State Universityís Center for Invasive Plant Management will also receive $500,000 for research and weed management activities.

Invasive species impact all the BLM stakeholders and user groups. The BLM recognizes that a comprehensive effort, including all our cooperators is needed. The BLM has been very successful in forging these partnerships and is committed to furthering these efforts.

In closing, we appreciate the opportunity to appear before the committee to highlight the successful programs and partnerships underway within the Department of the Interior to combat invasive species on public and private lands. Our goal, shared by state, tribal, and local entities, is to ensure that the main provisions of this legislation allow for the coordination of existing Federal efforts and local control programs so that the bill serves to strengthen on-going invasive species programs and support new partnerships.

We look forward to working with the committee on formulating legislation that best reflects our mutual goal of assisting state, tribes, and local entities to prevent, control, and manage nonnative invasive species while recognizing and strengthening existing partnership efforts among all stakeholders.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks and I will be happy to answer any questions you or other committee members might have.