Invasive species open editorial from a colleague, a former Chair of the National Invasive Species Council Advisory Committee.
"With President Obama signing the stimulus bill in Denver today, his natural resource agencies and Congress may be on the verge of their first unintended environmental policy mistake.
The ‘green jobs’ language for Department of Interior agencies in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (stimulus bill) is biased toward projects such as facility repair and road maintenance in our national parks, national forests, and wildlife refuges. Instead, the stimulus bill’s funding should prioritize the battle against the invasive terrestrial and aquatic species ravaging all our federal lands and waters.
The dedicated Department of Interior staff that prepared stimulus recommendations to Congress erred by focusing on fixed assets like buildings and roads instead of helping the fish and wildlife resources that make our public lands valuable to Americans in the first place. The U.S. Forest Service took a similar narrow approach to economic growth, offering a job package which focused on road maintenance, facilities repair, and wildland fire management.
Painting buildings and filling potholes on public properties may provide short-term jobs. However, the longer-term solution for declining revenues in our national parks is to ensure healthy habitats for the birds, fish, and wildlife that draw millions of people there in the first place. And, as it happens, restoring these habitats can create countless jobs for many years to come.
Yes, the facilities maintenance backlog is huge, but the natural assets within our parks, forests, refuges, lakes, rivers, and rangelands are more important. Benefiting fish and wildlife resources should be job one for the Obama Administration’s Departments of Interior and Agriculture. Vigorously combating invasive species will create just as many jobs as facilities repair and road maintenance.
All conservation-oriented jobs are not equal. Shovel-ready, boots-on-the-ground jobs preventing, controlling, or eliminating invasive species should be prioritized ahead of building repairs. Recent estimates by state invasive weed coordinators in the West indicate that stimulus funding can create thousands of on-the-ground jobs to fight invasive species nationwide and effectively manage an additional 12,000,000 acres!
When America’s rivers, lakes, forests and parks are made healthier, the nation’s economy benefits over the long haul. After all, abundant fish and wildlife populations are the reason our public conservation lands are valuable to visitors. Better buildings and roads help also, but they aren’t the reason citizens pack up the minivan and show the kids their natural heritage. Elk, deer, bison, trout, salmon, bears, and landscapes filled with wildflowers are the real reasons that Americans flock to our national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges! Our nation’s natural heritage – our wildlife and their habitats – are being destroyed and permanently altered by invasive species. It is critically important that these problems are addressed with prioritized funding from the stimulus bill.
Congress, President Obama, and Secretaries Salazar, and Vilsack can use the stimulus package jobs to shift priorities in our natural resource agencies. All natural resource stimulus jobs are not equal. Healthy habitats deserve, if not demand, priority over building repair and road maintenance! "
K. George Beck, Ph.D.
Colorado State University
Healthy Habitats Coalition