Uninvited Guests: Symposium on policy responses to invasive alien species in upper North America
21 July 2012 | News story
A symposium organized by CEC member Peter Stoett focused on the threat posed by invasive alien species in North America and explored policy responses by the Canadian and American governments.
The fear that Asian carp will invade Lake Michigan has resulted in unprecedented media attention for invasive species, but these problems have been with us for many decades as international trade and travel has expanded.
On May 8th the Canada Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., hosted a symposium/dialogue on the impacts of and policy responses to invasive alien species in upper North America. Speakers included Dr. Peter Stoett, Fulbright Research Chair on Canadian-American relations and CEC member; Peg Brady, fisheries strategic planning lead, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Stas Burgiel, assistant director for prevention and budgetary coordination, National Invasive Species Council; and Anouk Simard, Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife, Government of Québec. The audience was composed of a wide variety of government officials, members of NGOs, and students.
- Emerging from the symposium was the realization that much is being done to meet this challenge on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border, but much more is needed. Climate change is further exacerbating the issue as the habitable range of certain species expands, and border control is focused primarily on people, not species.
Most policy responses are taking shape at the sub-national level. Minnesota, Stoett noted, has enacted a particularly effective law, giving police the ability to ticket a driver of trailered watercraft without having first washed the hull. In Canada, most of the invasive alien species prevention programs are developed at the provincial level. To counteract a decrease in federal funding, bi-national institutions such as the International Joint Commission, the Great Lakes Commission, and the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, have become even more important in stopping the spread of invasive alien species. Burgiel explained how trade patterns affect invasive alien species infestation, much of which happens via shipping. He said that the U.S. federal government spends between $1.5 and $2 billion each year to address the threat, most of which emanates from outside North America. He asked if increased government regulation might trigger a response from the World Trade Organization, adding that an international framework would be preferred. Burgiel also said that private-sector engagement might be more successful, noting efforts by Wal-Mart, self-regulation in the cattle industry, and programs designed to deter the unchecked distribution of firewood.
Invasive alien species have been present in Canada since the country’s founding, said Anouk Simard. In addition to the threat that new species pose, there is growing evidence that existing invasive alien species such as the Asian clam are beginning to adapt very successfully to their new climates. These adaptations will continue to crowd out native species, both plant and animal, and are changing the North American ecosystem. Cross-border regulation and increased funding to study these trends is essential. Executive agencies, government task forces, citizen science programs, and regional initiatives are all working to prevent further species invasion, said Peg Brady. She said that reactive measures are often favored over preventive ones, even though the latter are less expensive and more effective. The difficulty in demonstrating tangible results has relegated these programs to lower levels of funding and support. The effectiveness and high-profile nature of terrorist security, she said, could be a model for showing the importance of preventive measures. Meanwhile, U.S. Coast Guard ballast water discharge standards, harmonized with International Maritime Organization standards, should help prevent future maritime invasions. But much more needs to be done on this multi-governance issue, including the scientific work of the IUCN Specialist Group on Invasive Species and the educational efforts of the CEC.
For more information, contact Dr. Peter Stoett, Department of Political Science, Concordia University, Montreal: firstname.lastname@example.org