Random Life moments from a Biracial Guy with a Unique perspective on Life

Invasive Animal Species: Investigative Report


python

Introduction

“The Office of Law Enforcement is responsible for enforcing the injurious wildlife provisions of the Lacey Act. This law authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to list as ‘injurious’ any wildlife deemed to be harmful to ‘human beings, to the interests of agriculture, horticulture, forestry, or to wildlife or the wildlife resources of the United States.’ It prohibits import and interstate transport of any live specimen of a listed species without a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The maximum penalty for violating the injurious wildlife provisions of the Lacey Act is six months in prison and a $5,000 fine.”  (FWS)

Despite the Lacey Act, which was enacted by Congress in 1900, invasive species have become a major environmental and economic challenge in the United States.  Currently, the U.S. F&WS lists the constrictor, Asian carp, zebra mussel, Indian mongoose, and the European starling on its current list of injurious wildlife.

This paper will address the ways in which these species arrived in the United States, the  environmental impact on our ecosystem, the economic significance and cost, as well as efforts to remediate/eradicate these harmful invasive species

Preventing invasive species from becoming established is the first step in insuring that they do not become established.  Prevention can be difficult but by creating effective mechanisms to stop them from entering the United States, developing creative monitoring systems for detecting their presence and quickly eradicating those that we find are essential steps in our remediation efforts.

The following framework would guide agencies and involved parties in their remediation efforts.   By setting objectives based upon the level of impact of each individual invasive species, monitoring progress towards those objectives, and either continuing the current management, if effective, or changing the management if ineffective, is one method that can be used to oversee remediation efforts.

Invasive Species 

An invasive species is an organism that is not indigenous to a particular area and causes great harm to the economy and environment.  All non-native species are not invasive.  To be considered invasive, a species must reproduce quickly, must adapt easily, must harm property, native plants or animals and impact the economy.

Many of these invasive species have arrived in the United States accidentally.  For example, the zebra mussel came in attached to ships that arrived from Central Asia.  Other species, however, may be brought in on purpose, as was the starling, for example.  The Indian mongoose was brought in to eradicate snakes and rodents in the fields.  The boa constrictor was brought in as a pet and later let loose when it grew too large.  The Asian carp was introduced to help clean the commercial ponds in fish farms in the South.  (Invasive Species) (see Table 1)

Constrictor

Any snake that kills its prey by constriction is classified as a constrictor.  The Boa constrictor, Burmese python, and anaconda are constrictors.

The python originated in the tropical waters of Southern and Southeast Asia, and is, therefore, has easily adapted to the Florida Everglades.  They grow up to 20 feet long and are very popular as pets.  As they grew, their owners were unable to care for them and, not realizing their danger, released them into the waters of south Florida.

The economic cost of the python is estimated to be $123 billion a year in control and eradication; the ecological cost is difficult to measure.  Pythons are able to battle alligators, and often win, and consume enormous quantities of small mammals and lizards.  Some species of small mammals have lost 95-100% of their population to due the predatory python. (Gunther 2013)  Python destroy native wildlife and their ecosystems, and threaten endangered species – for example, the Key Largo woodrat.

Since it is extremely difficult to control these snakes, preventing their invasion is essential. Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service banned the importation of four species of large constrictors that have been determined to pose a risk to our ecosystems.   However, reptile breeders and their lobby put pressure on the FWS to have five constrictors that could present an invasive risk to be excluded from the ban. Thankfully the National Wildlife Federation has made including these constrictors as injurious species a top priority.

Currently, the system designed to assess and limit imports of invasive species is outdated.  Several bills introduced in Congress would correct or update our screening policies and give the Fish and Wildlife Service more authority to determine control policies   The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of the Interior have the responsibility to see that invasive species do not enter the United States. The Department of Commerce,   Department of Defense, U.S. Customs Service and the EPA all have limited roles in the prevention of invasive species. (Stein)

As global climate change occurs, scientists predict a worldwide contraction of habitat that would be suitable for the python.  Southern Texas and South Florida will be affected by rising sea levels in the next century and constrictors may find a new habitat in the northwestern United States.

Asian Carp

The term Asian carp refers to a number of invasive species of carp – silver, Big Head, black, and grass – that are now dominating many lakes, streams, and rivers in the United States. The Asian carp are native to Southeast Asia and have been used for thousands of years to clean wastewater from fish farms.  They were originally brought into the United States in the 1970s for the purpose of using to help clean the water in southern catfish farms. However, when flooding occurred the carp escaped quickly invaded waterways, eating their way through local ecosystems.  Asian carp have now been found in four of the five Great Lakes, the Mississippi River and its tributaries and many other smaller rivers and streams.   (Gunther, 2013)

Recently, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources has tested the water of the Ohio River between Wheeling, WV, and Pittsburgh, PA, and found DNA from Asian carp. State wildlife officials are warning boaters and fisherman to thoroughly clean and inspect boats and gear before entering new waters.  (Charleston Gazette, 2013)

Asian carp are fast-growing and aggressive and compete with native fish for food and habitat.  They are taking over ecosystems and making boating and recreational activities on the water difficult.  Scientists are concerned that Asian carp will eventually enter the Great Lakes, where, because of its vast area, would be nearly impossible to eradicate.

Because they can consume up to 20 percent of their body weight each day and potentially weigh as much as 100 pounds, many species native to the Great Lakes would be decimated.  Additionally, the Great Lakes support a $7 billion dollar fishing industry that would be severely impacted and cause economic harm to the surrounding states.

A recent scientific report has confirmed that DNA from the carp has been found in and near the Great Lakes.   However, government scientists believe that the samples of DNA found may have come from bird droppings that fed on carp in other waterways and dropped excrement in the lakes.  Some scientists have seen evidence that Asian carp are present in the southern part of Lake Michigan, the Chicago Area Waterway System and western Lake Erie.  Some Asian carp DNA was found in nearby Lake Calumet. (Breyer, 2013)

Nevertheless, Army Corps officials are debating whether to erect an electric barrier from Lake Michigan to the Chicago River to screen out any possible Asian carp.  This would be a tremendous undertaking costing billions of dollars, but would dwarf the cost of an invasion of Asian carp in local waterways.  (Breyer, 2013)  To date, the economic cost of preventing the spread of the Asian carp is in the billions of dollars.

New technologies and tools are being used to detect invasive species in our aquatic ecosystems.  Environmental DNA, or eDNA, which is dissolved DNA or fragments of tissues containing DNA, can be detected in water samples after periods lasting from days to weeks.  Researchers have determined that eDNA is more accurate than traditional   netting and electrofishing sampling methods.  (Mahon, 2013)

Zebra Mussel

Hitchhiking in the ballast water of ships from the Caspian and Black Seas, zebra mussels were first found in the Great Lakes more than twenty years ago.  Before long, they had colonized in shallow water, on beaches, and in water intake pipes.

The ecosystem of Lake Michigan has been permanently changed.  Previous to the invasion, the lake water was cloudy and filled with millions of tiny microorganisms that were food for native fish.  Since zebra mussels filter the microorganisms, today the water is clear.  This allows light to reach deeper areas of the lake which promotes an abundance of algae blooms.  (Zebra mussels, 2009)

“Zebra mussels live in large colonies in the Great Lakes in the United States, and they are a huge problem. They need something hard to attach themselves to and often they find a suitable surface on the inside of the pipes carrying water from the Great Lakes into factories and other industries along the lake. Often they sit so close that they block the water intake,” explains Claudia Wiegand, associate professor in the Department of Biology, University of Southern Denmark. (Invasive mussel, 2013)

Efforts to prevent the zebra mussels from attaching themselves to the pipes and remove those attached have already cost several million dollars.  Researchers are planning to use Round Up to determine how zebra mussels react in the hope that the pesticide can be used to reduce their presence. (Invasive mussels, 2013)

Since they were discovered, the zebra mussel has invaded many waterways in the eastern United States.  So far no invasion has been found in New England, the mid-Atlantic Piedmont, the Coastal Plains, and the Southeast.  “Our preliminary assessments suggested that current mussel distributions in North America appear to be associated with calcium concentrations in surface waters,” said Thomas Whittier, of Oregon State University. Calcium is an important in creating basic metabolic functioning in the mussel. (Ecological Society, 2007)

US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program recently used data from the Wadeable Streams Assessment to classify mussel invasion risks into ecoregions based on levels of calcium concentrations. Twenty one percent of land assessed was classified as very low or low risk.  Almost sixty percent of the land area was classified as high risk.

“One must take into account the entire ecology for the species. The case of the zebra mussels in Arkansas River in the very low risk areas, reflects the water source rather than the local conditions. The other key requirement for zebra mussels in river systems is the presence of an invaded upstream lake or reservoir to maintain a supply of larvae,” said Whittier. (Ecological Society, 2007)

The researchers developed a map which shows the relative risk of invasion and can help determine which states should target resources to combat invasive zebra mussels. (Ecological Society, 2007)

There are economic costs associated with the zebra mussel as well as environmental costs.  Researchers have assessed the total damages at $138 million per year, not including the damages to sportfishing that may possibly exceed $800 million.

Indian Mongoose

“The mongoose is a classic case of biological control run amok. Beginning in 1872, it was introduced into Jamaica, Puerto Rico, other West Indian Islands, and Hawaii for control of rats in sugarcane; it preyed heavily on native reptiles, amphibians, and ground nesting birds, causing extinction and endangerment of many species.”  (Economic and Ecological, 2013)  “The Indian mongoose is to blame for the presence of many birds, turtles, lizards and rabbits on the endangered species list worldwide.” (Alien Species, 2010)

When the introduction of the Indian mongoose backfired, instead of controlling the rat population and protecting crops, it preyed on a variety of birds and their eggs, and native populations of reptiles and small mammals.  The economic impact of the Indian mongoose can be seen by significant crop damage to banana and papaya crops, and the cost of remediation efforts.  They are also known to carry diseases such as leptospirosis, which is a disease that is transferred from animals to humans and is characterized by flu-like symptoms at first but if not treated can move into the second phase where serious damage to the liver and kidneys can occur.  The Indian mongoose is also a carrier of rabies and is a rapid reproducer, with females able to produce as many as 5 pups per year.  The mongoose is thought to cause economic damages around 50 million dollars annually. (Alien Species, 2010)

Remediation efforts have proven to be very difficult for the small and cunning Indian mongoose, but trapping, poisoning, and hunting are currently the most common eradication techniques in place today.  “New techniques are being developed and show promise for eradication. The mongoose can be eradicated with current approaches on small islands with the aim of benefiting endemic species or preventing further introductions. More efficient methods and strategies are needed for successful eradication on larger islands and may facilitate containment of mongoose on the European and South American mainlands.” (Barun, 2011 p 1)

Box trapping with meat bait has been successful in the past, eradicating a breeding population of Indian Mongoose in the Virgin Islands.  “The Virgin Islands Division of Fish and Wildlife eradicated a breeding population of mongooses in the 1970s from Leduck Island using 19 x 19 x 48 cm Tomahawk box traps with meat bait (Nellis 1982) and another population from Buck Island in the 1980s also with box traps.” (Barun, 2011 p 2)  Using a combination of trapping and poisoning has proven successful as well. “A campaign on the French West Indian possession of Fajou Island used box-trapping for mongooses and possibly secondary poisoning from a simultaneous rat (Rattus rattus) and house mouse (Mus musculus) eradication effort using 50 ppm bromadiolone paraffin baits (Lorvelec et al. 2004).” (Barun, 2011 p 2)

Choosing the right remediation technique is dependent on the size of the island, the abundance of the mongoose population, and many other variables that exist in each unique situation.  Sometimes hunting is a tactic that a local government may employ for eradication.  In this case the local population is able to hunt the nuisance mongooses under an established criterion.  The public may employ tactics such as poisoning, trapping, or shooting as established by the local government.  One example of this is occurred in the Adriatic region of Europe. “Two private mongoose control campaigns are being conducted by local hunters on Hvar and on Čiovo. On Hvar, under the guise of predator control, hunters are required annually either to pay a fee (equivalent to C. $US100) or to submit three mongoose tails or one tail of a native stone marten (Martes foina). Most mongooses are trapped there in locally made cages or leg-hold traps. On Čiovo, the only Adriatic island with the mongoose and not the stone marten, the regional hunting organization distributes “rat” poison for mongoose control during the annual autumn meeting.” (Barun, 2011 p 3)

European Starling

Starlings are robin-sized birds with light and dark speckles on their feathers. The bill of both sexes is yellow during the reproductive cycle and dark at other times. Juveniles are pale brown to gray.   They are mostly chunky, shaped that a meadowlark.  The starling is swift and its flight is direct, unlike many blackbirds.

We could blame Shakespeare for their introduction. In 1890s they were brought to New York by Shakespeare lovers recalling that Shakespeare used to watch starlings who nested near his home in England. Since then starlings have spread across the UnitedStates, even to Alaska, the southern part of Canada, and south into northern Mexico. Starlings are native to Eurasia, but can also be seen in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere.   (All about birds, n.d)

Starlings are found in a wide variety of habitats. Ideal nesting areas include trees or other structures that have cavities.  Ideal winter habitat include areas with structures and/or tall trees for daytime resting and nighttime roosting; and grazed pastures, open water areas, and livestock facilities for foraging.   (Johnson, et al. 1994)

European Starlings are often labeled as very destructive birds especially when they gather in flocks which can number into the thousands.  They can destroy a field of crops quickly by uprooting young plants and feeding off of the seeds. European Starlings also pose a threat by contaminating food and water sources on farms when a large flock gathers to feed at troughs or grain silos.  Once they find a food source they often roost nearby creating sanitation problems from their bird droppings.  Starlings can also carry diseases that can be transferred to livestock or humans.  Starlings have also been known to feed in large groups near airports where in past they have collided with planes causing air disasters.  (Adeney, 2001)

European Starlings have also been known to impact native species of birds by competing for roosting areas or food.  Some native birds that they are known to compete with are the woodpecker, Great Crested Flycatcher, Tree Swallow, Eastern Bluebirds and the Purple Martin.  In many cases the Starling has transformed the native ecosystem very quickly, only to move on to another area with the same consequences.  “Invasive European starlings were reported to the USDA’s Wildlife Services program as causing damage in every state except North Dakota and Alaska.” (Economic and Ecological, 2013)

“Over the 8-year period, 1990-1997, starlings accounted for more than $13.5 million in damage to all resources, ranging from $235,067 to $4,137,119, with an average of $1,694,170 and a median of $1,457,014 per year.” (Economic and Ecological, 2013)

Many remediation tactics have been utilized to control the effects from the European Starling.  Some of these include the use of nets to physically block the starling from accessing crops, elimination of roosting sites or food and water sources, scaring the starling away using loud noises or recordings of distress calls, shooting, trapping, or poisoning the birds have also been implemented.

The Lacey Act

“Under the Lacey Act, it is unlawful to import, export, sell, acquire, or purchase fish, wildlife or plants that are taken, possessed, transported, or sold: 1) in violation of U.S. or Indian law, or 2) in interstate or foreign commerce involving any fish, wildlife, or plants taken possessed or sold in violation of State or foreign law. The law covers all fish and wildlife and their parts or products, plants protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and those protected by State law. Commercial guiding and outfitting are considered to be a sale under the provisions of the Act.” (US Fish and Wildlife, n.d)

John Lacey, a republican from Iowa, introduced the Lacey Act and President William McKinley signed it in May 1900.  It was the first federal law that protected wildlife. In 2008 it was amended to include plants and plant products and certain woods.  Currently, the Lacey Act regulates the import of any species protected by international or domestic law and is designed to prevent the spread of invasive, or non-native, species.

Table 1

 

Invasive Species

Year of Invasion

 

Arrival Method

 

Place of Origin

 

 Where  Found

Approx Nos.

Est.Yearly Cost

 

Constrictor

 

 unk

As pets who grew too large and were released in the wilds of South Florida

Burma, India, Southern China, Southeast Asia

Florida Everglades, South Florida, Southern California

(warm climates)

 

10,000-100,000

 

$100-125 million

 

Asian Carp

 

 

1970s

Brought in to clean waste water from farmed catfish in the South

 

  Asia

Great Lakes, Illinois & Mississippi  River,

Mississippi River Basin

 

  unk

 

 

Zebra Mussels

 

 

1980s

In ballast water from ships entering Great Lakes

Eastern Europe

Black Sea

Caspian Sea

 

Great Lakes

 

  unk

$138 –800 million

 

 

Indian Mongoose

 

 

 

1872

Brought in to help eradicate rats in sugar cane fields in Hawaiian Islands

India

 

Hawaii

 unk

 

European Starling

 

 

late 1800s

Shakespeare lovers who brought bird from England

 

England

throughout the United States

 

 unk

$13.5 million

The National Invasive Species Council (NISC) was created by President Bill Clinton on February 3, 1999, to ensure that Federal programs and activities to prevent and control invasive species are coordinated, effective and efficient.Thirteen federal government departments and agencies work together to provide coordination and oversight of the National Invasive Species Management Plan, the Interdepartmental Invasive Species Performance Budget, the Five Year Review.Members of the NISC include U.S. Departments of Commerce, Agriculture, Interior, Transportation, Defense, State, Treasury, Health and Human Service, NASA, Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Homeland Security, Office of U.S. Trade Representative and Agency for International Development.

Remediation

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Fort Collins Science Center (FORT) Invasive Species Science Branch provides research and technical assistance including management issues, identifying vulnerable areas, and developing methods of control. FORT scientists, in partnership with Colorado State University, have developed websites to share this information with others. FORT scientists are working to construct models to understand and predict invasive species distribution in order to provide more effective management techniques.Technology is proving to be a huge asset in the remediation of invasive species.  DNA barcoding is a new diagnostic tool for determining the identity of invasive species.  It can classify a species and diagnose or identify new species.(Bennett, 2011)  Imapinvasives, another new technology used by the Nature Conservancy, underwater Google, Google Street View and Maps, underwater electronic barriers/fences, adding CO2 and rotenone (pesticide) to water, mapping and remote sensing, GIS, and the World Bank’s Global Invasive Species Programme are all used to help in the remediation of invasive species.

Conclusion

It is known that invasive animal species can negatively impact the ecology of an environment sometimes decimating entire animal or plant populations.  My training in environmental geography enables me to say that prevention of harmful invasive animal species entering the wrong environment is the best way to prevent impact.After invasive species arrive they can quickly and adversely affect an environment.  Often once they make contact with their new environment it is impossible to eradicate them.  Also ethical treatment of the invasive species comes into play which further impacts remediation efforts. If prevention is not an option, a reasonable remediation technique should be applied based on the type of invasive species, the current level of impact, and the type of environment.As a geographer interested in the environment, in order to preserve our fragile ecosystem, protect our native species, and maintain an environmental balance, it is my hope that we – individuals and as a group – continue our efforts to prevent and eradicate harmful invasive species.As an avid kayaker and fisherman I am acutely aware of how fragile an ecosystem can be.  After exploring many waterways in the eastern United States, and locally the Greenbrier River, I have grown to have an appreciation of our waterways and the aquaticlife that live there.  It is my goal as a geographer to identify relevant issues that could impact our environment and do everything in my power to keep our planet  clean.

One response

  1. Melissa Lee

    Interesting. Never really thought about invasive species before.

    January 18, 2014 at 6:18 pm

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