Senators highlight threat from invasive species

Senators on Wednesday held a hearing to draw public attention to the threat posed by invasive species on wildlife, public health and infrastructure.

The hearing before the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works touched on the hazards caused by invasive species and the potential role federal funding or policy could play to help states address those challenges.

“Few issues are more bipartisan than the need to protect our communities from invasive species,” said Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoHouse passes bill to crack down on toxic 'forever chemicals' GOP senator: US should 'reevaluate' long-term relationship with Saudis Meet the key Senate player in GOP fight over Saudi Arabia MORE (R-Wyo.). “They cause more than $120 billion of economic damage each year.”

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The hearing follows Senate passage of the Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver Act (WILD Act), a bill which promotes wildlife conservation, protects endangered species and helps to manage invasive species, such as Burmese python, cheatgrass and Asian carb.

The WILD Act passed the Senate on Tuesday as part of a larger public lands bill and now moves on to the House. The legislation was introduced by Barrasso and the committee's ranking member, Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperOvernight Energy: Scientists flee USDA as research agencies move to Kansas City area | Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules to put industry reps on boards | New rule to limit ability to appeal pollution permits Watchdog finds EPA skirted rules when appointing industry leaders to science boards Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand MORE (D-Del.).

Senators praised the bipartisan support for the bill in Congress.

“I am proud of our committee’s ongoing work with the WILD Act, and I urge its swift passage and enactment into law by this Congress,” Carper said. “I hope we can identify some new opportunities for bipartisan collaboration to combat invasive species."

The committee also heard testimony from three witnesses whose states are dealing with invasive species, including Slade Franklin, weed and pest coordinator at the Wyoming Department of Agriculture; Terry Steinwand, director of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and Joe Rogerson, program manager for species conservation and research at the Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife.

The experts said the threat goes beyond environmental issues to public health and could even have economic impacts. They highlighted the importance of early detection and rapid response to invasive species.

The panel, though, faced tough questions from Sen. Kevin CramerKevin John CramerTrump puts hopes for Fed revolution on unconventional candidate Trump nominees meet fiercest opposition from Warren, Sanders, Gillibrand Acosta on shaky ground as GOP support wavers MORE (R-N.D.) on whether the federal government needed more of a role.

“There are steps that individual states can do, and have done, to prevent invasive species from becoming established or spreading into new areas, but many of these species cause problems across state lines and over large geographic areas, which is where the federal government could further help tackle this problem,” Rogerson said.

Steinwand disagreed and argued that there is already collaboration between state and federal agencies. He said it was up to state legislatures, rather than the federal government, to primarily support those efforts.

“I don’t think, at least in North Dakota, that we need any policy changes because of the collaboration,” Steinwand said.

“In terms of federal agencies, I wouldn’t say more funding helps, and I wouldn’t even say more policy because the people that we work in North Dakota are very, very good to work with.”