Friday, April 15, 2005

Forest Service Deputy Chief Visits ESF for Farnsworth and Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Lecture Series

by Heather Engelman

Dr. Ann Bartuska discussed “Setting the Stage: A national and global perspective on non-native invasive, species,” Forest Service Deputy Chief of Research and Development, on April 15, as the keynote address at the 22nd Annual C. Eugene Farnsworth Memorial Lecture and Fellowship Ceremony, sponsored by the Faculty of Forest and Natural Resources Management. Her lecture also concluded this year’s Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions Seminar Series, organized by the ESF Women’s Caucus.

For the context of her discussion, Dr. Bartuska defined Invasive Species as “non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” The species are not limited to plants such as the Rata tree or purple loosestrife, but also include animals such as the ash borer, and fungi such as sudden oak death. Problems generally arise after a “trigger” causes the expansion of a relatively stable population or “lag phase;” this is best documented by invasive plants. Successful invasive plants share a number of traits: they are environmentally fit, have rapid growth, mature early, and seed prolifically. In addition, they have rampant vegetative spread but no major pests.

Dr. Bartuska also emphasized the magnitude of the problem, noting that invasive species are attributed to a 50-85% loss of biodiversity and a cost of $137 billion in the United States alone. Financial losses reach $1.4 trillion or nearly 5% of the world economy. The loss of cultural resources and effect on quality of life has not been quantified.

Dr. Bartuska explained that a comprehensive approach to “integrated vector management” includes not only assessment and risk analysis, but the following components as well:

Prevention. Since many introductions are accidental, understanding the pathways of spread is key (e.g., dispersal by animals, or by sticking to campers and the undersides of boats). There are also intentional introductions, such as when someone plants an invasive species in his or her garden.” To help reduce this type of introduction, the USDA has developed a “webcrawler” that searches websites for prohibited species. The webcrawler also sends a notice to the owner of the site asking if they know that this item is on a prohibited list, and if they are aware that it is a felony to sell, trade, or otherwise bring such plants or animals into the US.

Early detection. The most successful early detections have been with human diseases (CDC). There have also been good examples with crop and livestock pests and diseases, such as foot and mouth disease, plum pox, and gypsy moth outbreaks.

Rapid response and eradication. Eradication is very simple only during the “lag phase” that occurs prior to population expansion. It is still feasible during the early part of expansion, but becomes more difficult and expensive as the population expands.

Control, management, and restoration. The most money is spent on these steps, because it is generally not until these phases that it is known that there is a problem. Using the correct tools at the right time is very important to maximize effectiveness at minimum expense (e.g., correct timing of mechanical and chemical control of purple loosestrife and buckthorn).

Research. There has been a shift from individual studies in specific locales to looking at a matrix of factors to better predict if an area is pre-disposed to invasion. This should help identify problems earlier, when control is easier and less expensive to implement.

Public education and awareness. Unfortunately, public awareness does not occur immediately when problem species are introduced and detected. However, people do respond once they are aware, so there have been strides to increase early awareness. Successful programs can be as simple as boot cleaning and restricting vehicular traffic to reduce the spread of Phytophthora in Australia. In addition to physically reducing the number of spore-carrying vectors, these are great public education tools.

Successful programs emphasize prevention, early detection, and rapid response, and integrated vector management (i.e., how does it get there?) at local, state and national, and global scales, especially since trade can increase 14% per year. Legislation often takes a while to pass, so administrative and policy changes such as “Weed Warriors” volunteer monitors for a problem species; exotic plant management for National Parks; and the “St. Louis Accord” (i.e., a voluntary code of conduct for the nursery industry) are very important. Dr. Bartuska also described New Zealand’s shift from a “black list” which assumes introductions are safe until proven otherwise to a “white list” which assumes introductions could be problematic until proven safe. This shift was a response to social and economic losses to invasions from entities not yet black listed.

Dr. Bartuska “is very optimistic about the problem, but there are challenges—adaptive management, loss of taxonomic expertise, reconciling societal values (e.g., trade vs. protection, and food vs. biodiversity), the ability to rapidly respond, and finding the money to do so.”

As the USDA Forest Service's Deputy Chief for Research and Development, Dr. Ann Bartuska directs the agency's research efforts to promote ecologically-sound management of the nation's natural resources, serve the nation's private forest landowners, and investigate new ways to process and recycle biomass into products. Prior to this, Bartuska directed the Invasive Species Initiative at The Nature Conservancy and worked for the Forest Service for 14 years in positions with research and development, state and private forestry, and in the National Forest System, as the agency's first director of ecosystem management. She currently serves on the board of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents and is past-president of the Ecological Society of America. For more information about the Women in Scientific and Environmental Professions speaker series, please visit