The environment got an early gift this holiday season.
The Obama Administration has just released an update to an Executive Order first developed in 1999 on safeguarding the nation from the impacts of invasive species.
If you’ve ever lived in Florida, like I used to, you’ve seen the danger of invasive species first-hand. Whether it’s the nasty bites of fire ants, or the incessant need to control weedy invaders that threaten to overtake the landscape, or the menace of invasive snakes in the Everglades, invaders interfere everywhere.
Florida is just one of the many places around the U.S. where it’s hard to ignore the impacts of invasive, non-native species on everyday life. If you are a farmer or a rancher or enjoy fishing or boating or birdwatching, invaders can be an expensive problem, a health threat, and a substantial inconvenience. Invaders cost the U.S. billions of dollars annually and pose significant threats to our health and livelihoods.
As a plant ecologist, I started by learning where these non-native species are coming from. They can arrive accidentally – as hitchhikers on other imports or the packing material those imports are shipped in – or purposely – for food, ornamentals, pets, or other uses like erosion control. My investigation into plant invaders showed that the vast majority – perhaps 90 percent – were purposely introduced.
That information led me to focus on how we might prevent the introduction of new invaders, through risk analyses and other methods. Over the years, our ability to identify the likely bad actors – whether they are plant, animal, insect, or disease – has really improved.
That brings me back to the updated Executive Order.
The main emphasis of the original Executive Order was to ensure coordinated action among the federal agencies to prevent new invaders and control existing ones, as well as to work in partnership with the private sector to achieve these goals.
In addition to reinforcing and strengthening the original intent of the Order, this update emphasizes that human and environmental health need protection, and that those efforts will be impacted by climate change. The updated Order also recognizes that the need to seek and take advantage of technological advances for both prevention and management or control of invaders.
The updated Executive Order was announced on the same day that an Innovation Summit on new potential options for addressing invasive species was held. I had the chance to attend that summit.
In addition to hearing about approaches to control species ranging from fish to plant and human diseases (including some very cool new methods for detection and control), presenters discussed how to incentivize innovation around this issues. Summit presentations showed that the advances called for in the updated Executive Order are emerging, providing an optimistic outlook for all of us concerned about this issue.
Because invaders don’t respect property boundaries and don’t stay put, we need everyone to join the effort to stop their import and movement. News of the Zika virus in the U.S., carried by a non-native mosquito that also carries at least four other diseases, is a clear indicator of the need to take aggressive action. So the Obama Administration’s decision to update the Executive Order is a great holiday gift for all of us.