Uninvited Guests: Invasive Alien Species and the Threat to Ecosystems and Economies

May 08, 2012 // 9:00am11:00am
Event Co-sponsors: 
Environmental Change and Security Program
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Peg Brady, fisheries strategic planning lead, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Stas Burgiel, assistant director for prevention and budgetary coordination, National Invasive Species Council
Anouk Simard, Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife, Government of Québec
Peter Stoett, Fulbright Canada-Wilson Center Chair in Canada-U.S. Relations

Tuesday, May 8, 2012
9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
6th Floor Moynihan Boardroom

The costs of invasive alien species exceed $138 billion a year in the United States alone, in addition to creating untold damage to ecosystems throughout the continent, said Peter Stoett, the Fulbright Canada-Wilson Center Chair in Canada-U.S. Relations. Limited awareness of the problem, little public education, and decreased funding all have hindered the development of effective public policy to combat the invasive alien species threat. At the same time, media and YouTube coverage of Asian carp infestations of the Mississippi River have brought attention to the problem of invasive alien flora and fauna to a wider audience. Such awareness could help educate politicians and policy makers on the serious threat that Asian carp and other invasive alien organisms pose to the North American economy and the biodiversity of its ecosystems.

Government agencies and legislatures in the United States and Canada must cooperate to enact new and efficient regulations to stem the spread of invasive alien species. Currently there is a patchwork of federal and sub-federal networks dealing with the issue, which pushed Stoett to ask whether invasive alien species should be a new priority for the International Joint Commission (IJC) because of the potential problems invasions can cause. Minnesota, he 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 IJC, the Great Lakes Commission, and the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, have become even more important in stopping the spread of invasive alien species.

Stas Burgiel of the Invasive Species Council 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 invasive alien species regulation might trigger a response from the World Trade Organization (WTO), 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 of the Québec Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife. 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 for reversing the gains that invasive alien species have made in North America.

Executive agencies, government task forces, citizen science programs, and regional initiatives are all working to prevent further species invasion, said Peg Brady of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a delegate to the National Invasive Species Council. 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. For example, U.S. Coast Guard ballast water discharge standards, harmonized with International Maritime Organization standards, should help prevent future maritime invasions.


6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
Event Speakers List: 
  • Peter Stoett // Fulbright Canada -Wilson Center Chair
    Professor and Chair, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.
  • National Invasive Species Council, assistant director for prevention and budgetary coordination
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, fisheries strategic planning lead
  • Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife, Government of Québec
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Event Resources: 

October 9, 2012 – International conventions on climate change are held on a frequent basis. Rarely do they translate into concerted action on a global scale. Concordia researcher Peter Stoett hopes to remedy this shortcoming and propel discussions forward with his new book, Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice.

The National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) hosted a conference in 2011 with a breakout session on marine bioinvasions. Read the recommendations here.

On February 23, 2012, the Obama Administration released the 2012 Asian Carp Control Strategy Framework (2012 Framework) outlining 58 new and continuing actions that build upon the proactive efforts to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp undertaken in the 2010 and 2011 Frameworks. In May 2012 Canada also agreed to devote $17.5 Million to fighting the spread of Asian carp in the Great Lakes region.

Please follow the links for more information and materials related to both the Great Lakes Commision and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative projects, which develop innovative options for Chicago's waterway system and prevent the spread of invasive species like Asian carp.

In March 2010 Fullbright scholar Peter Stoett released the article "Framing Bioinvasion: Biodiverstiy, Climate Change, Security, Trade, and Global Governance" which explains the complexities of the issue of bioinvasion and invasive species at a global scale. The article suggests the possibility of developing an International Commision on Invasive Alien Species.


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