September 27, 2004

National strategy presents priorities for managing alien invasive species

At the conclusion of their annual council meeting in Whitehorse, Yukon this month, federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for wildlife, endangered species, forests, and fisheries and aquaculture released a national strategy to deal with invasive alien species and set a path forward for managing wildlife disease.

"Invasive alien species and wildlife diseases harm the environment, the economy, and human health and well-being" said Yukon Environment Minister Peter Jenkins, adding "these issues are complex in that wildlife does not recognize borders and any attempt to manage issues such as these must be dealt with in a co-ordinated manner. All parts of the country are affected and governments recognize that invasives and wildlife diseases have to be dealt with on an urgent basis."

The Invasive Alien Species Strategy for Canada is designed to address the threat posed by invasive alien species to Canadian wildlife, forests, fisheries and other resource sectors by establishing a national policy and management framework for minimizing the risk of these species to the economy, environment, and society.

Examples of invaders include purple loosestrife, which is choking Canadian wetlands; the zebra mussel, which has had a significant economic impact in the Great Lakes; and the presence of the brown spruce long-horned beetle which has led to the destruction and removal of thousands of trees in Halifax's Point Pleasant Park.

The strategy focuses on enhanced national leadership and co-ordination, and sets out a hierarchical approach to responding to the invasive alien species challenge. Its priorities are: prevention of new invasion; early detection of new invaders; rapid response to new invaders; and management of established and spreading invaders (eradication, containment, and control).

Implementation of the strategy is to be carried out through the application of risk analysis, science and technology, legislation and regulations, education and outreach, and international co-operation.

Recognizing the growing problem of wildlife diseases and their potential impacts on wildlife, human health and the economy, the ministers paid particular attention to Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), currently threatening deer and elk populations. They reported progress on the development of an action plan for managing this disease and preventing its further spread. This action plan could serve as a potential model for addressing other wildlife diseases.

To complement the strategy, proposed action plans are being prepared on aquatic invasive species, invasive alien terrestrial plants and plant pests, as well as wildlife disease by three federal-provincial-territorial thematic working groups. Work is continuing on the development of these proposed action plans, which are expected to be completed for the consideration and approval of Ministers in September 2005.

Also at the meeting, the ministers agreed to work together on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS). This refers to the third objective of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity calling for "the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of access to genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge," particularly in relation to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors.

In addition, the ministers specifically responsible for endangered species (who together make up the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council - CESCC) met to review progress of critical components of the Species at Risk Act (SARA.) The CESCC subsequently released two annual reports, the first from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada's (COSEWIC) on the status of species at risk in Canada and the second, titled Recovery of Nationally Endangered Wildlife (RENEW), which provides information on the status of recovery planning and implementation in Canada.

The ministers' 2005 meeting will be held in Saskatchewan, at the invitation of provincial Environment Minister David Forbes.

In Ennis, Ireland, meanwhile, at the 13th International Conference on Aquatic Invasive Species, the International Joint Commission (IJC) and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC) last week presented a review of progress in preventing the introduction of aquatic alien species in the Great Lakes. The document, Then and Now: Aquatic Alien Invasive Species and the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Ecosystem, highlights the urgent need for more action on the part of the governments of the United States and Canada.

The two Commissions recommend that both countries ratify and implement the International Maritime Organization (IMO) convention on ship's ballast water and sediments, pursue development of more stringent and more timely regional measures for the Great Lakes, and for the U.S. Congress to fully fund the electric fish dispersal barriers that are designed to keep the invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes.

Then and Now is a follow-up to a 1990 report (Exotic Species and the Shipping Industry: The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Ecosystem at Risk), also issued by the two Commissions. It made a series of recommendations to prevent the introduction of invasive species to the Great Lakes via ballast water discharge. Then and Now reviews progress made since then through legislation and regulations, applied research and development, and in international considerations.

It also examines other vectors, such as intentional releases from aquaria or live food fish and unintentional releases, including the dumping of baitfish and the spread of invasive species by adherence to the hulls of recreational boats. Of particular concern is invasion via canal such as the Asian carp species moving up the Illinois River and towards the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal, giving these voracious plankton feeders unfettered access to the Great Lakes.

Featured in Then and Now is a timeline of key milestones in the history of invasive species in the Great Lakes, ranging from the introduction of the sea lamprey in the 1830s to the first report of a zebra mussel in the lakes in 1988 to actions by authorities through the Great Lakes in 2003 to prohibit the sale and transport of live Asian carp.

"The Asian carp threatens to devastate a $4.5 billion commercial and sport fishery in the Great Lakes," said Dennis Schornack, chair of the IJC's U.S. section. "The damage will be even more costly to both the environment and our economy if immediate action is not taken to complete the barriers that are designed to keep the Great Lakes from becoming a carp pond."

Canadian section chair Herb Gray emphasized that "aquatic alien invasive species pose one of the biggest threats to the future of the Great Lakes, but the government's slow actions to date are not sufficient to protect the biological integrity of the Great Lakes ecosystem. We can, we must, do better," he stated.

More information is available from Joe Gough of the IJC's Ottawa office, (613) 995-0088, or on the IJC Web site, www.ijc.org.

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