“Invasive species can devastate plants and animals and the industries that rely on them,” said Bill Tweit, chairman of the Invasive Species Council. “We know that this is true. What we don’t know, is where exactly they are, how they are changing over time and what is being done to manage them. This report is a starting point to measure, on a large scale, progress toward protecting Puget Sound from the harmful effects of invasive species.”
Before this report, existing information about these species was scattered, making it difficult see the big picture of what was happening in the Puget Sound basin, Tweit said.
The report shows that of the species found in Puget Sound, two (knapweeds and tunicates) are established in all or most of the 13 counties that make up the Puget Sound basin. Another four species (Brazilian elodea, common reed, nutria and Spartina) are found in nine counties.
These invasive species can smother out sea life; cover lakes, preventing boating, fishing and swimming; take over shorelines, destroying habitat for endangered salmon; and infest range land, damaging the digestive tracks of animals that eat them.
State agencies spend extensive resources tackling invasive species. In Washington, state agencies spend, by conservative estimates, nearly $30 million every biennium to prevent or eliminate invasive species.
“This report told us three things,” Tweit said. “One, that most of the programs focus on getting rid of species once they are here rather than preventing them from coming or spreading – the most cost-effective approach. Two, that we didn’t have prevention programs in place for some dangerous species. Three, that although funding for invasive plants is much higher than for invasive animals, county noxious weed boards typically don’t have enough funding to cover their basic invasive plant control mandates.”
State agencies already have begun using this new information. When the Department of Ecology saw the report’s preliminary results about the lack of work addressing marine invasive species, it created a program to control invasive algae species such as caulerpa, a marine algae that can take over thousands of acres of seabed.
“A gap was identified by this report and Ecology quickly stepped in to fill it,” Tweit said. “That’s exactly the reason we commissioned this work. The report gives state and local agencies the information they need to target precious resources most strategically to improve the health of Puget Sound.”
The report, “A Baseline Assessment of Priority Invasive Species in the Puget Sound Basin,” includes maps, a database and species-specific information that can be used by government agencies, non-profits and tribes in their work combating invasive species. The report is on the Council’s Web site at www.invasivespecies.wa.gov/council_projects/epa_grant.shtml.
“It is imperative for the protection of Puget Sound wildlife and industries that we have this detailed information,” Tweit said. “It will ensure that future management, education, monitoring and policy efforts for invasive species are the right ones.”
The Legislature created the Invasive Species Council in 2006 and tasked it with coordinating efforts to combat harmful invasive species throughout the state and prevent their introduction. For more information, visit the council’s Web site at www.invasivespecies.wa.gov.