RD39 - Annual Executive Summary of the Interim Activity and Work of the Virginia Invasive Species Council - January 2004

    Executive Summary:
    The Virginia Invasive Species Council was created by statute, effective July 2003, § 10.1-2600 et seq. of the Code of Virginia. The Council was established as a policy council in the Executive Branch, Secretary of Natural Resources. The Council was charged with providing leadership with regard to invasive species.

    During the first six months, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation staff conducted background research into the scope of the invasive species issue; current activities of state agencies; collected information on approaches which have been taken by other state invasive species councils; and other state’s approaches to developing invasive species strategic and management plans.

    The first meeting of the Virginia Invasive Species Council was held on December 17, 2003. Secretary of Natural Resources W. Tayloe Murphy, Council Chair, summarized the purpose and charge to the Council. He noted that this summer the U.S. Government Accounting office reported that “invasive species – harmful, nonnative plants, animals, and microorganisms – are found throughout the United States and cause damage to crops, rangelands, waterways, and other ecosystems that is estimated to cost in the billions of dollars annually.” Second only to habitat destruction, invasive species pose the greatest threat to Virginia and the nation's native ecosystems. The threat comes from both terrestrial and aquatic plants that take over and eliminate native plants from both their habitats, such as garlic mustard eliminating Virginia bluebells from bottomland forests, to Phragmites displacing native plants and animals in wetland systems. Invasive animals such as the zebra mussel threaten native freshwater systems as well as clogging and fouling water intake structures.

    Secretary Murphy expressed his hope that the Council will provide a common voice on invasive species for Virginia, and a forum by which agencies can work together to educate the public and each other to find constructive approaches to address these issues. The Secretary stated that the Council will represent a significant step forward, and will serve as a mechanism to bring serious resources to bear on invasive species before Virginia’s wetlands, forests and other natural habitats are forever altered. The threat is significant, the charge is real. Secretary Murphy expressed his concern that this act places unfunded demands upon the Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Commonwealth.

    Secretary Murphy reviewed the charge to the Council. Specific responsibilities of the Council are found in the Code of Virginia §10.1-2602 thru §10.1-2609 and include the following:

    • The Council must meet quarterly.

    • Ensure that each state agency’s activities concerning invasive species are coordinated, complementary, cost-efficient and effective;

    • Encourage planning and action at local, state, regional and ecosystem-based levels to achieve the goals and objectives of the management plan;

    • Develop guidance to state agencies on the prevention and control of invasive species, including the procurement, use and maintenance of native species to replace invasive species.

    • Facilitate establishment of an information-sharing system to provide exchange of information concerning invasive species.

    • Establish an advisory committee of stakeholders to provide information and advice for consideration by the Council.

    • Develop a management plan by December 31, 2004 (or when funding allows).

    • Update the management plan every three years.

    • Identify the personnel, other resources and additional levels of coordination needed to achieve the plan’s identified goals and objectives.

    • Request appropriations for staff as needed.

    • The Chairman shall submit to the Governor and the General Assembly an annual executive summary of the interim activity and work of the Council.

    Presentations at the Council meeting included Mr. Steve Nash, Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Richmond. Mr. Nash presented information on the threats posed by invasive species, and made the following four recommendations:

    • We need more public education, so our citizens and political leaders know what is at stake.

    • We need a system of statewide volunteer surveillance, which has been successful in other places. Early detection of invasives is valuable beyond price, so that they do not become established.

    • We need to change both state and federal law so that private interests (shippers, traders, the pet industry, the nursery industry) cannot introduce these enormously expensive kinds of biological pollution, and expect the public at large to foot the bill.

    • Most of all, we need committed leadership.

    Rachel Claire Muir from the U.S. Geological Survey gave an overview of Federal Invasive Species activities and authorities. Ms. Muir noted that invasive species are not just a local problem, but are an international problem. She said that in 1999 an Executive Order created the National Invasive Species Council. Ms. Muir said that invasive species have an annual impact of $100 billion on the national economy.

    Ray Fernald of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries gave a presentation regarding zebra mussels in the Millbrook Quarry, Prince William County, Virginia. In late September 2000, the presence of zebra mussels was confirmed in Millbrook Quarry. They pose an enormous threat to Virginia’s natural resources as well 3 as public drinking water supply facilities and businesses. Control measures have been identified but funding in not yet available.

    Dr. Rick Myers of the Department of Conservation and Recreation gave a presentation regarding Phragmites. Dr. Myers noted that Phragmites australis is a rhizomatous coarse perennial wetland grass growing to 4 meters tall, with broad leaf blades and a feathery purplish inflorescence, turning brown after seed production. The explosive spread of Phragmites after 1950 is likely a result of the combination of the introduction of a nonnative strain and nutrient enrichment, sedimentation, and development in coastal zone areas. The plant has a very significant negative impact on Virginia’s wetland habitats. Dr. Myers discussed limited control activities currently underway.

    Secretary Murphy noted that one of the statewide purposes is for the Council to establish an advisory committee. He asked that members consider names of individuals that should be appointed to the advisory committee and requested that those names be forwarded to his attention.

    In the coming year, utilizing existing limited resources, the Council will work toward development of the advisory committee, development of a list of invasive species of highest concern, begin development of a statewide invasive species strategic plan, and facilitate establishment of an information sharing system on the internet.