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Friday, November 8, 2013

Invasive Species: Major Laws and the Role of Selected Federal Agencies

M. Lynne Corn
Specialist in Natural Resources Policy

Renée Johnson
Specialist in Agricultural Policy

An “invasive” species (alternatively known as an alien, exotic, injurious, introduced or naturalized, non-native, nonindigenous, nuisance, or noxious species) refers to an animal or plant that is introduced into an environment where it is not native. The introduction of invasive species to the United States—whether deliberate or unintentional—from around the globe can pose a significant threat to native animal and plant communities, and may result in extinctions of native animals and plants, species disruptions as native and non-native species compete for limited resources, reduced biodiversity, and altered terrestrial or aquatic habitats. This can result in a range of economic, ecologic, and cultural losses, including reduced agricultural output from U.S. farms and ranches; degradation of U.S. waterways, coastal areas, national parks, and forests; and altered urban, suburban, and rural landscapes.

It is estimated that 50,000 non-native species have been introduced to the United States. The potential economic costs associated with nonindigenous plant and animal species are estimated at $129 billion annually in the United States. A few examples of the types of damages attributed to non-native invasive species in the United States are as follows. Burmese pythons are multiplying in south Florida, becoming a top carnivore and killing large numbers of native species of reptiles, birds, and mammals. Zebra and quagga mussels from Eastern Europe are clogging intakes for urban water supplies and nuclear power plants in the Great Lakes and the Mississippi basin. The light brown apple moth, a native pest of Australia, has been detected in California and is causing damage to a wide range of plant species and commercial fruit and vegetable crops. Leafy spurge is lowering the forage value of western grazing land, and reducing overall land values.

In the United States, numerous federal and interagency efforts share responsibilities regarding invasive species. Among the federal agencies involved are the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, Interior, Transportation, and others, including the  Environmental Protection Agency and the Executive Office of the President. Of these, three  Departments—Agriculture, Commerce, and Interior—play a major role by co-chairing the National Invasive Species Council (NISC). Created by Executive Order 13112 in 1999, NISC provides high-level interdepartmental coordination of federal invasive species actions and works with other federal and nonfederal groups to address invasive species issues at the national level.

In FY2012, the U.S. government spent an estimated $2.2 billion across a range of federal agencies and activities in an effort to prevent, control, and eradicate invasive species domestically. Activities at the Department of Agriculture accounted for the bulk of available federal funding, nearly $1.3 billion (58% of total available funds). Activities at the Department of Homeland Security, comprised of mostly border protection and security activities, accounted for about $0.7 billion (31% of total funding). The remainder of federal funding, about $0.2 billion (about 11% of total funding) covers activities across a range of agencies at the Departments of Interior, Commerce, and Defense, and also other independent agencies.

Despite efforts to achieve high-level interdepartmental coordination, comprehensive legislation on the treatment of invasive species has never been enacted, and no single law provides coordination among federal agencies. Instead, the current legal framework is largely governed by a patchwork of laws, regulations, policies, and programs. Some laws are tailored to individual species or narrowly focused on what is affected by the species. Other laws have a broader intended purpose and may only peripherally address invasive species. Some laws, although they do not directly address invasive species control or prevention, may limit such introductions.

Date of Report: October 24, 2013
Number of Pages: 58
Order Number: R43258
Price: $29.95

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