Price tag of managing invasive species assessed
Governments and nonprofit groups in Alaska spent $6 million a year trying to manage invasive species between 2007-11, for a total of $29 million. This, according to a new report based on a survey of public and private organizations that deal with invasive species management, compiled by Rebekka Federer Alaska SeaLife Center’s marine invasive species program manager, Howard Ferren, ASLC’s conservation director, and Tobias Schwörer, of the Institute of Social and Economic Research, (ISER) at the University of Alaska, Anchorage.
Invasive species are non-native plants and animals that crowd out local species, damage the environment and cause economic losses. Scientists tend to agree that the problem is at an early stage in Alaska, compared to other places. But say that the number of invasive species is growing and spreading to more areas.
The federal government spent most of the money — nearly 85 percent — for managing invasive species during the study period, as detailed in the ISER report, “Managing Invasive Species in Alaska: How Much Do We Spend?” published Aug. 1. By contrast, nonprofits contributed about 9 percent and the state government spent just 5 percent. Most of the federal dollars came from one-time funding through the ARRA, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, the federal stimulus money for conservation districts, Federer said. That level of funding is not expected to continue, however.
The National Park Service hires seven to nine volunteers through the Student Conservation Association or Americorps program to pull weeds in national parks. They have around 5,000-7,000 hours annually. But in the last few years, ARA hired larger crews that contributed over 300,000 hours. When counting all of the other weed-pulls statewide, the 200 volunteers actively involved in Alaska in 2007 had increased to 3,082 volunteers in 2011.
Meanwhile, a third of the annual spending — nearly $2 million — was for eradicating and controlling species already here, and for preventing others from reaching Alaska. Some $1.2 million annually went for monitoring species that scientists fear are finding their way here, and $1.4 million for research, primarily at the Agricultural Research Station in Fairbanks. Some $500,000 a year went for educating Alaskans about the dangers invasive species pose.
More than a quarter of the total spending in Alaska from 2007 to 2011 — $8 million — was for eradicating Norway rats on an Aleutian Island and Northern pike in lakes in Southcentral Alaska. Roughly $1.5 million more went for eradicating or containing several of the most invasive plants, including white sweetclover and knotweed. About $700,000 went for monitoring the European green crab, which is approaching the coast of Southeast Alaska and threatens the commercial fisheries.
This research was the first of its kind that attempted to quantify the costs of managing invasive species. It was one of the recommended action items of a multi-agency conference of scientists involved in invasive species management, held here in Seward at ASLC in March 2010.
“We’ll see. I think this report is going to have significant dialog in the state,” said Ferren.
Ferren, who conceived the idea of the economic study, believes that Alaska lawmakers will be more inclined to take note of the issue’s importance if there were an economic argument made, rather than one detailing the environmental impacts of invasives.
Another of the gathering’s recommendations, House Bill 12, by Representative Craig Johnson of Anchorage, calling for the formation of an Alaska Invasive Species Council to establish policies and set priorities in how invasive resources are managed, failed to even reach the floor for a hearing, he said. Meanwhile, many other parts of the country already have such councils in place.
“I think this project is really important for helping us understand the cost of invasive species for our state, and hopefully our state can continue to be proactive rather than reactive in managing invasive species,” said Federer.
This fall, researchers will focus on five different invasive species, deemed especially important to manage in Alaska, and model what the impacts will be with them. They include Reed canarygrass, white sweet clover, spotted knapweed, gloveleather tunicate and western waterweed. ASLC already monitors the area for gloveleather tunicate and European green crab through another funding mechanism said Federer. She is pleased to note that Seward’s Alaska Clean Harbor status also includes the monitoring of marine invasives.