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Statement by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt on Invasive Alien Species

"Science in Wildland Weed Management" Symposium, Denver, CO, April 8, 1998

"The invasion of noxious alien species wreaks a level of havoc on America’s environment and economy that is matched only by by damage caused by floods, earthquakes, mudslides, hurricanes, and wildfire. These aliens are quiet opportunists, spreading in a slow motion explosion.

Each year noxious weeds exact an ever-heavier toll: Farmers and ranchers spend more than $5 billion just for control. Losses to crop and rangeland productivity exceed $7 billion. Weeds infest 100 million acres in the U.S., spread at 14 percent per year, and -- on public lands -- consume 4,600 acres of wildlife habitat per day. They diminish or cause the extinction of native plants and animals, a third of all listed species. They homogenize the diversity of creation. They ignore borders and property lines. No place is immune.

Consider the damage done by purple loosetrife, a beautiful, seemingly harmless flower one might be pleased to find in a meadow. But not for long. For this species, found in 36 states, costs $45 million to manage. To bring this into a statewide perspective, consider that Florida spends $11 million each year to manage water hyacinth. Tropical soda apple, first reported in Florida, now covers 370,000 acres and costs the state $28 million.

In the past it was, again, much easier for an individual, a state, a federal agency to dismiss this invasion as someone else's problem. And so the weeds -- slowly, silently, almost invisibly, but steadily -- spread all around us until, literally encircled, we can no longer turn our backs on it. The invasion is now our problem. Our battle. Our enemy.

Conservative estimates count 2,000 alien plant species, 350 of which experts say are serious and dangerous invaders. Each day, new cargo ships arrive in American ports, and new shipments of tropical fish and plants are sold on the open global market. Some noxious weeds were introduced with the best of intentions, shipped to make a garden colorful, to dry up wetlands, to provide ground cover. Obviously, we cannot and should not shut down that global trade in an effort to grind the weed invasion to a halt.

What we can and must do is unite and prepare for that invasion both early and thoroughly. We can establish a responsive and comprehensive network, a network that will stop and someday even reverse the spread of invasive alien weeds, a network that efficiently shares all human and economic resources rather than keep them working alone in isolation.

It must be a network forged by scientists and land managers, by local, state, and federal officials, by Eastern nurseries, Southern foresters, Midwestern farmers, Rocky mountain cattlemen and Western irrigation engineers.

Last June, the Vice President asked Secretary Glickman, Secretary Daley and I to prepare and action plan that establishes goals, and steps we can take to stop, control, and in some cases eradicate invasive aliens. It is a heavy task, but one big thing helps us: The invasion and spread of noxious alien weeds unites us. It unites across political, economic and property boundaries. It brings solidarity among opposing groups. It compels us to share strategic responses. It draws on our sense of values, calling on us to rise above our sometimes petty day-to-day concerns and disagreements. To restore health and stability.

To forge this continental network, we can draw from a deep and wide pool of resources. For there have been thousands of independent studies, documentation, research projects focused on a narrow, single tract. Scientists have spent their lives to prove weeds:

But despite all this extensive proof, there had not been a comprehensive account that puts all these pieces together, looking past borders and property lines, revealing the full, continental scope of the invasion. There was no national library to bring order and usefulness to such a vast, rare collection. Much of our work ahead will be to organize that library, to assess the collective scope of the noxious weed problem, both ecologically and economically.

To that end, the Clinton Adminstration is taking steps that will: bring together our human, technical and informational skills; establish measureable outcomes and goals; identify personnel and other resources, and report on successes with annual updates. We can use these in a way that will help detect, monitor, prevent introduction, educate the public, and pursue international cooperation on invasive alien species.

Invaisve alien species will never have the power to capture the imagination, the headlines, or the nightly news in the same way El Nino has. But we can do something about it. For I have seen the spread from the Great Lakes to Glacier and Everglades National Park. I recognize the dangers, and scope, and impact of the spread of weeds. And my resolve and determination only hardens. We can beat this silent enemy. We can beat a threat that erodes our soil, spreads wildfire, and damages our critical water supply and property values. We can tackle a force that is toxic and painful to humans, livestock, and wildlife habitat.

But we cannot ignore it any longer. We must act now, and act as one. We owe it to ourselves and to the next generations that will seek to live from a healthy, stable landscape. Too much is at stake. I look forward to working with you."

 

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Last updated: 4/8/98