Panel Finds Forests, Parks, and Water Resources in Danger

February 29, 2000

Panel Finds Forests, Parks, and Water Resources in Danger

Washington, D.C. - A top-level panel of scientists and conservationists today released new findings on the growing danger to national forests, recreational, and agricultural lands from noxious weed infestations. These infestations are causing costly and irreparable damage to wetlands, wildlife habitat, wildlands, rangelands, and aquatic and riparian areas on public and private lands all across the United States, especially in popular western recreation states.

The Council for Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST) produced the report Invasive Plant Species, which outlines this increasing economic and ecological threat. Barbra H. Mullin, Weed Coordinator for the Montana Department of Agriculture, chaired the five-member CAST task force and is in Washington D.C. this week with three collaborating authors to report their findings. "Our national forests, parks, agricultural lands, and recreational areas are in serious danger," Mullin said. According to the report, rangelands and wildlands comprise more than 50% of the total land area of the United States. These lands provide valuable resources to wildlife and are important recreational areas. Mullin warns that "the diverse fish, wildlife, waterfowl, and endangered species living in these areas are in serious danger of losing their native habitats."

The panel's findings highlight that commercial air-cargo, ship ballast water, commercial nursery trade, and private travel bring hundreds of thousands of non-native plant species into the United States each year. "Not all of these become established and become a problem, but many do," stated Mullin. These damaging invasive weeds can cause lethal neurological disorders in animals and physical injury to eyes and mouths of animals, decrease plant diversity, compete with native plant species, and increase the frequency of forest and rangeland fires. For example, saltcedar is rapidly displacing native vegetation including cottonwood and willow trees in the southwestern United States and is moving north into Wyoming, Washington, and Montana. Salvinia, an aquatic plant, poses a severe ecological and economic threat to the lower Colorado River system. Numerous other examples are detailed in the panel's findings.

The nation's water quality also is in jeopardy, according to the study. "Noxious aquatic weeds are causing significant ecological and economic impacts on dwindling aquatic wetland and riparian areas. These infestations limit the growth of desirable native vegetation; alter fish, wildlife and waterfowl communities; and reduce overall biodiversity, water quality, and habitat," warns report co-author Dr. Lars Anderson. Anderson is Lead Scientist of the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service's Exotic and Invasive Weed Research Laboratory in Davis, California.

Their findings are a trumpet call to action for a coordinated effort at the federal, state, institutional, and private sector levels that will involve long-term commitments of adequate planning, funding, scientists, and facilities to produce results based on sound science. Dr. Kurt Getsinger, co-author and Research Biologist with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Mississippi emphasizes that the situation can be reversed. "Programs based on arbitrary geopolitical boundaries must be replaced by approaches based on ecosystem-scale realities."

Mullin agrees and stresses that there are steps that can be taken to avert further disaster. "Our national forests, parks, public and private lands, and agricultural productivity are being further damaged every day," Mullin said. "Substantial new federal resources are needed now to address the extensive ecological and economic damage that invasive weed infestations are currently causing."

CAST is an international consortium of 38 scientific and professional societies. Its mission is to identify food and fiber, environmental, and other agricultural issues and to interpret related scientific research information for legislators, regulators, and the media for use in public policy decision making. More information on CAST and its numerous scientific reports are available at http://www.cast-science.org. Copies of the reports, including Invasive Plant Species, are available from CAST at (515) 292-2125 or by e-mail at cast@cast-science.org.