Below are Secretary Babbitt's comments RE: the need for concerted action against alien species and a transcript RE: the national weed problem from CBS Radio.

U.S. Department of the Interior
Statement by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt on Invasive Alien Species
"Science in Wildland Weed Management" Symposium, Denver, CO, April 8, 1998

The invasion of noxious alien species wreaks a level of havoc on America's environment and economy that is matched only by by damage caused by floods, earthquakes, mudslides, hurricanes, and wildfire. These aliens are quiet opportunists, spreading in a slow motion explosion.

Each year noxious weeds exact an ever-heavier toll: Farmers and ranchers spend more than $5 billion just for control. Losses to crop and rangeland productivity exceed $7 billion. Weeds infest 100 million acres in the U.S., spread at 14 percent per year, and -- on public lands -- consume 4,600 acres of wildlife habitat per day. They diminish or cause the extinction of native plants and animals, a third of all listed species. They homogenize the diversity of creation. They ignore borders and property lines. No place is immune.

Consider the damage done by purple loosetrife, a beautiful, seemingly harmless flower one might be pleased to find in a meadow. But not for long. For this species, found in 36 states, costs $45 million to manage. To bring this into a statewide perspective, consider that Florida spends $11 million each year to manage water hyacinth. Tropical soda apple, first reported in Florida, now covers 370,000 acres and costs the state $28 million.

In the past it was, again, much easier for an individual, a state, a federal agency to dismiss this invasion as someone else's problem. And so the weeds -- slowly, silently, almost invisibly, but steadily -- spread all around us until, literally encircled, we can no longer turn our backs on it. The invasion is now our problem. Our battle. Our enemy.

Conservative estimates count 2,000 alien plant species, 350 of which experts say are serious and dangerous invaders. Each day, new cargo ships arrive in American ports, and new shipments of tropical fish and plants are sold on the open global market. Some noxious weeds were introduced with the best of intentions, shipped to make a garden colorful, to dry up wetlands, to provide ground cover.

Obviously, we cannot and should not shut down that global trade in an effort to grind the weed invasion to a halt. What we can and must do is unite and prepare for that invasion both early and thoroughly. We can establish a responsive and comprehensive network, a network that will stop and someday even reverse the spread of invasive alien weeds, a network that efficiently shares all human and economic resources rather than keep them working alone in isolation.

It must be a network forged by scientists and land managers, by local, state, and federal officials, by Eastern nurseries, Southern foresters, Midwestern farmers, Rocky mountain cattlemen and Western irrigation engineers.

Last June, the Vice President asked Secretary Glickman, Secretary Daley and I to prepare and action plan that establishes goals, and steps we can take to stop, control, and in some cases eradicate invasive aliens. It is a heavy task, but one big thing helps us: The invasion and spread of noxious alien weeds unites us. It unites across political, economic and property boundaries. It brings solidarity among opposing groups. It compels us to share strategic responses. It draws on our sense of values, calling on us to rise above our sometimes petty day-to-day concerns and disagreements. To restore health and stability.

To forge this continental network, we can draw from a deep and wide pool of resources. For there have been thousands of independent studies, documentation, research projects focused on a narrow, single tract. Scientists have spent their lives to prove weeds:

But despite all this extensive proof, there had not been a comprehensive account that puts all these pieces together, looking past borders and property lines, revealing the full, continental scope of the invasion. There was no national library to bring order and usefulness to such a vast, rare collection. Much of our work ahead will be to organize that library, to assess the collective scope of the noxious weed problem, both ecologically and economically.

To that end, the Clinton Adminstration is taking steps that will: bring together our human, technical and informational skills; establish measureable outcomes and goals; identify personnel and other resources, and report on successes with annual updates. We can use these in a way that will help detect, monitor, prevent introduction, educate the public, and pursue international cooperation on invasive alien species.

Invasive alien species will never have the power to capture the imagination, the headlines, or the nightly news in the same way El Nino has. But we can do something about it. For I have seen the spread from the Great Lakes to Glacier and Everglades National Park. I recognize the dangers, and scope, and impact of the spread of weeds. And my resolve and determination only hardens. We can beat this silent enemy. We can beat a threat that erodes our soil, spreads wildfire, and damages our critical water supply and property values. We can tackle a force that is toxic and painful to humans, livestock, and wildlife habitat.

But we cannot ignore it any longer. We must act now, and act as one. We owe it to ourselves and to the next generations that will seek to live from a healthy, stable landscape. Too much is at stake. I look forward to working with you.

-Bruce Babbit, Secretary of the Interior


Time: 6:25 am
Program: The Osgood Files
Subject: Alien Weeds

CHARLES OSGOOD: The Osgood Files sponsored in part by Barnes and Noble dot com, the world's largest bookstore online. I'm Charles Osgood. The United States is being invaded by aliens, according to a high ranking government official. No, he's not talking about creatures from outer space. Nor is he talking about people from other countries coming here either legally or illegally. The alien life form Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt is referring to are plants. Weeds that got here some how from other parts of the world and are taking over. Choking our own native plants, destroying our grazing lands, drying up are wetlands. What can we do about it? The story after this for Barnes and Noble dot com.


OSGOOD: Now about these alien weeds that are attacking our country. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt is deadly serious about this and he's calling for a national strategy to fight back. At a seminar co-sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management, Babbitt said yesterday that the unwanted plants have caused billions of dollars in damage to farms and forests. He says the United States if losing 5,000 acres a day to what he calls invasive alien species, including leafy spurge, star thistle and nap weed. The economic impact is comparable to the dust bowl of the 1930s he says. In Oregon and North Dakota patches of ranch land have been rendered worthless, taken over by noxious weeds. Babbitt wants a national plan for controlling these that would link people from every sector and discipline: scientists and land managers, local, state and federal agencies, commercial nurseries, farmers, ranchers, foresters. It will take more than the Department of the Interior to do on its own says Babbitt. We've really got to go to the Vice-President and the President and say to them that we're ready now for some direct instructions at the federal level. Farmers and ranchers are now spending more than five billion dollars each year on controlling invasive weeds, but it's been a losing battle. Annual crop and range land losses are more than seven billion. If you looked at a map of the United States and darkened the area conquered by invading weeds, you might be shocked at how the battle is going. Babbitt says noxious weeds have infested a hundred million acres nationwide and the problem is growing in every region. If these invaders were life forms from Mars, we'd be calling out the airforce, the marines, the national guard and Jeff Goldblum. The Osgood Files, Charles Osgood on the CBS radio network.


[top]   [Alien Species Articles]   [Alien Species In Hawaii]   [HEAR project home]   [Questions/Comments]

This page is a product of the Hawaii Ecosystems at Risk Project, copyright (c) 1998 Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii. This page was created on 15 April 1998 by PT, and was last updated on 15 April 1998 by PT.