GrrlScientist and I are typically on the same side of issues, but this time that’s not the case. She is very concerned about some of the implications of a bill that’s currently making its way through the House of Representatives, and I think that the same bill is a good one that deserves to pass. The bill in question – House Resolution 669 – is intended to help keep new invasive species from becoming established in the United States.
After reading Grrl’s post, I don’t think that our disagreement stems from any difference of opinion about the science that’s involved. I’m reasonably sure that both of us have the same basic understanding of the potential dangers involved with invasive species, and that we both understand quite a bit about the enormous difficulties that are going to be involved in any attempt to keep new invasives out. Our disagreement is largely caused by our different backgrounds and priorities.
The way I approach anything that has to do with invasive species is heavily influenced by the six years that I spent learning the basics of zoology and ecology in Hawaii. As you may know, invasives have done enormous damage to the entire Hawaiian ecosystem, and new invasive species continue to arrive and create new harm there with painful regularity. GrrlScientist’s approach to this bill is heavily influenced by her involvement with exotic birds. She doesn’t just care for her birds, she cares passionately about them.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not a feeling that I share, but that’s because birds simply aren’t my thing. I’ve never owned one, or really wanted to (as far as I can recall, anyway). Cats and dogs are the pets for me, and they’re specifically excluded from this legislation (more on that later). There’s no way that I’m going to weight the concerns of bird owners as heavily as Grrl does – but that’s not to say that she’s wrong.
This bill is a good example of something that I’ve tried to say a couple of times when we’ve discussed the whole “restoring science to it’s rightful place” thing: understanding the science involved doesn’t necessarily mandate a particular course of action. If Grrl and I disagree to any substantive degree about the harm that invasives can do to the ecology and economy of the United States, I’d be absolutely stunned. That doesn’t mean that I’m at all surprised that we disagree about this particular bill and the approach that it takes in addressing that potential harm.
In the rest of this post, I’ll give you a quick overview of the major features of the bill, and explain why I think it’s a pretty good piece of legislation, on the whole. I’ll also take a look at a couple of Grrl’s objections to the bill. Before you reach any conclusion of your own, you should at a minimum read her post in full, and try to find answers to any questions you might have.
What the bill is intended to do:
The Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention act is intended (as the title suggests) to make it more difficult for new invasive species to reach America and become established here. The bill does not seem to be intended to do much to deal with species that are already well established in the US.
Who wrote the bill:
The bill was written by Delagate Bordallo of Guam (Guam, like the District of Columbia and other US territories, has a non-voting delegate in the House). Invasive species are a particularly large concern in Guam, as they also are in Hawaii and on other Pacific islands.
How the law (if passed) would work:
The law would require the Fish and Wildlife Service to do a number of things.
First, they would have two years to put together a preliminary list of species that would be approved for importation into the US. They would be required to seek public input into the list, beginning no later than 2 months after passage of the law. The final version of the list will also be required to go through a full public comment process.
Second, they would have to put together and publish a set of procedures for assessing the risk that a new species would pose to the environment.
Third, they would have about three years from the date of passage to put together a list of species that are definitely banned from importation.
Finally, they will be required to use the risk assessment process that they develop to respond to requests to add species to either list. They will also need to develop a fee system and scientific permitting process to deal with cases where a banned species needs to be brought in.
Why I think this is a good idea:
The bill defines “importation” of species into the US very broadly:
IMPORT.–The term ”import” means to land on, bring into, or introduce into, or attempt to land on, bring into, or introduce into, any place subject to the jurisdiction of the Government of the United States, whether or not such landing, bringing into, or introduction constitutes an importation within the meaning of the customs laws of the Government of the United States.
This is very good, because it seems to provide a means for the US to create an incentive for people (and particularly for shipping firms) to take measures to keep from accidentally bringing new kinds of critters into the country. The way this bill seems to be written, a ship that drops off a new invasive species in its ballast water would be considered to have imported that species, and could be held liable. So could, for example, an airline that brings new insects or snakes into an area along with the baggage.
That’s key, because most of the invasives that get here come by accident. Right now, little is done to prevent this in part because the shippers have little reason to do anything. Potential liabilities could change that.
The bill is also a good idea because it places evaluation of the harm that a species could cause in the hands of the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is probably the best equipped to assess not only the potential harm to agriculture, but also the potential overall ecological harm.
Why GrrlScientist thinks the bill is dangerously misguided:
Read her post for the specifics. She speaks for herself far better than I ever could.
Basically, though, her primary objection seems to boil down to this: the bill specifically exempts only the most common species of domesticated animals. Bird, fish, lizard, and other exotic animal owners do not enjoy the same benefits as cat and dog owners. This creates a situation where they could potentially find their pets outlawed. They would be allowed to keep the animals in question, but could not sell them, give them away, breed them, or move them to another state.
The logistics of the bill and the burdens already faced by FWS will make it difficult, if not impossible, for all of the species to be evaluated in the preliminary process, while the unspecified fees that will be charged to evaluate species after that point might make it all-but-impossible for pet owners to have the species they are concerned with evaluated. At the same time, a lack of training will make it difficult for inspectors to be able to figure out if the species that someone is trying to bring in is actually allowed.
What do you think?