On December 5, 2011, the U. S. ForestService (USFS) published the final new National Forest System invasive species management policy (the “directive”), a comprehensive approach to dealing with terrestrial and aquatic invasive species on all 193 million acres in the National Forest System (NFS), which includes national forests and grasslands from Alaskato Puerto Rico. The new directive — Forest Service Manual Chapter 2900: Invasive Species Management — marks the first time that USFS has a policy that addresses all taxa of invasives. It’s also one of the most comprehensive policy documents dealing with invasives that the government has ever produced.
The effort took root nearly a decade ago, when then-USFS Chief Dale Bosworth identified invasive species as one of the four key issues facing the NFS. “Public lands — especially federal lands — have become the last refuge for endangered species, the last place where they can find the habitat they need to survive,” said Bosworth. “If invasives take over, imperiled [native] animals and plants will have nowhere else to go.” That pronouncement launched a massive effort within the USFS to craft a strategic response to the invasive species threat.
The work began in 2004 with the launch of the National Strategy and Implementation Plan for Invasive Species Management, and culminated with the new directive. The product of nearly nine years of development, the policy will become part of the agency’s series of directives forming the core of how the NFS is managed. “They’re what we rely on when we make decisions on the ground,” says Michael Ielmini, National Invasive Species Program Manager with USFS. “That’s why it is so important to have a directive dealing with invasive species management.”
Weeding Out the Problem
The invasives directive builds off of Executive Order 13112, issued in February 1999, which defines invasive species as “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” USFS uses this definition in its directive, meaning that species to be managed under the policy must be both non-native and causing or likely to cause harm, such as impacting the environment through disruption of natural communities and ecological processes, or out-competing native species for food and habitats, thereby leading to less diverse ecosystems.
The USFS is unique among federal agencies in having such a detailed policy for dealing with invasive species. It clearly defines roles and assigns responsibility for USFS personnel at all levels of the agency, from the head of the agency through deputy chiefs, program directors, regional foresters, and district rangers. (For a breakdown of responsibilities, see below.) It also lays out the principles for invasive management within the NFS.
The Forest Service directive calls for an integrated pest management (IPM) approach to achieve five overarching objectives: prevention, early detection and rapid response, control and management, restoration, and organizational collaboration. “The focus of the directive on prevention is encouraging,” says Peter Jenkins, Executive Director of the Center for Invasive Species Prevention. “This should mean that the agency can dedicate more resources to preventing the establishment of invasive species in the first place, rather than simply fighting whatever the current invasion is. Once invasive species are established, in our national forests or elsewhere, removal and restoration is costly and time-consuming. Adequate prevention is key.”
The directive elucidates 18 policy requirements for achieving these five broad invasive-species management objectives within the NFS. These requirements form the core of the directive and include the following key provisions:
- Determine the vectors, environmental factors, and pathways that favor the establishment and spread of invasives in the NSF and design management practices for mitigation.
- Determine the risk of introducing, establishing, or spreading invasive species associated with any proposed action, and provide for alternatives or mitigation measures where necessary.
- Make every effort to prevent the accidental spread of invasive species carried by contaminated vehicles, equipment, personnel, or materials.
- Monitor all management activities for potential spread or establishment of invasive species in aquatic and terrestrial areas of the NationalForestSystem.
- Develop and use site-based and species-based risk assessments to prioritize the management of invasives.
- Establish and maintain a national record-keeping database system for the collection and reporting of information related to invasive species infestations and management activities.
- Collaborate and coordinate with adjacent landowners and other stakeholders to improve invasive species management effectiveness across the landscape.
Now that the basics have been outlined, USFS is developing a handbook that will accompany the directive, which will be a supplemental policy guide articulating the specific standards, guidelines, criteria, procedures, and other tactical requirements for implementing the provisions of the new directive. “The handbook is in development now,” says Ielmini. “Once an early draft is ready, we will work closely with tribal government interests to gain their input, and then a proposed draft will be made available for broader public review and comment.” The proposed handbook will likely be ready for review in late 2013.
The new USFS directive has broad-based support among the conservation community. In early 2012, the National Environmental Coalition for Invasive Species — a group of environmental and conservation groups (including The Wildlife Society) concerned about the effects of invasive species — wrote a letter to USFS Chief Tom Tidwell in support of the directive. “We thank you again for your leadership on addressing invasive species that threaten our natural heritage,” stated the coalition. “We hope that adoption of the USFS Policy will inspire other federal resource-management agencies to consider adoption of similar policies.”
This new directive is not the first federal document dealing with invasive species, however. In 2001, a National Management Plan was prepared by the National Invasive Species Council, established by Executive Order 13112 to provide high-level coordination on invasive species. That council is made up of the secretaries and administrators of 13 federal departments and agencies and co-chaired by the secretaries of Commerce, Agriculture, and the Interior. In addition, the USFS itself has created other documents to offer guidance on invasives beyond the National Forest System, such as its National Strategy and Implementation Plan for Invasive Species, developed in 2004. This plan will soon be revised to reflect changes in USFS policy resulting from the new directive.
While other federal agencies have programs and staff assigned to invasives, or at least offer some guidance on their management, USFS is the first to have such a comprehensive, nationwide approach that deals with prevention, detection, and control of all aquatic and terrestrial invasive species. This directive may therefore serve as a blueprint for other land management agencies willing to establish a comprehensive policy to prevent and control the spread of destructive invasive species on the lands and waters they manage.
Laura Bies is Director of Government Affairs for The Wildlife Society.
Breakdown of USFS Duties
- The Chief retains overall authority over and responsibility for establishing national policy for the management of invasives in the NFS.
- The Deputy Chief coordinates NFS invasives management activities across USFS programs, and promotes the development and use of a database for the collection and reporting of information on invasives infestations and management.
- The Deputy Chief for State and Private Forestry makes sure that state and private programs mesh with other USFS programs to integrate activities at the local, regional, and national levels.
- The Director of Rangeland Management establishes and supports a National Invasive Species Program Coordinator to oversee all NFS invasive species management activities and coordinate national invasive species management activities across all programs and offices within the NFS.
- The Director of Forest Health Protection for State and Private Forestry provides leadership, technical advice, and guidance to national forests and grasslands on (1) the management of invasive forest insects and forest pathogens, including activities for their detection, evaluation, prevention, and suppression; (2) the restoration of lands damaged by those invasive species; and (3) the use of chemical and biological pesticides to prevent or control invasives on national forests and grasslands.
- Regional Foresters appoint a regional coordinator for all NFS invasive species management activities within the region and formally establish a multi-disciplinary regional Invasive Species Issue Team to collaborate on invasive species issues across USFS program areas within the region, as well as to collaborate with partners to develop public information and education programs to improve awareness and understanding of invasive species, their biology, impacts, and management.
- Forest and Grassland Supervisors must develop and implement forest or grassland invasive species management programs consistent with the directive, ensure that land management plans and other resource and project-level plans are updated to include objectives, desired conditions, guidelines, specific elements and activities to manage invasives, and foster collaborative efforts with other stakeholders.
- District Rangers are instructed to ensure that all contracts and permits contain clauses and specifications requiring the implementation of measures to prevent, control, and/or contain invasives and restoration measures to offset associated impacts, to maintain working relationships with the State or local invasive species or noxious weed management committees and other stakeholder organizations, and to ensure that staff are properly trained on invasive species management consistent with national and regional, and State requirements.