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Proceedings of the Workshop on Databases for Nonindigenous Plants


Background on Nonindigenous Species Issues

The workshop opened with a history of the Federal focus on nonindigenous species issues. The following excerpt serves to place these issues in context with the workshop.

Invasive Alien Species: an Emerging National Environmental Issue by William P. Gregg, Jr.

Scientists, agriculturalists, and natural resource managers have long recognized the introduction and spread of invasive alien species (IAS) as important environmental problems. The problems have yet to become a national environmental issue, commanding priority emphasis on both policy and technical levels. However, recent initiatives are focusing unprecedented national attention on IAS, which now seem certain to become major environmental issues as the millennium approaches.

Serious efforts to address the issue at the national level date from 1990, when the Congress created the interagency Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force (ANSTF) to develop a coordinated program to address the introduction and spread of invasive species in the nation's waterways. The Task Force has increased public awareness of the issue and fostered significant cooperation and pooling of resources, especially in areas under the greatest threats, such as the Great Lakes.

In 1993, the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) published a landmark report on harmful nonindigenous species - the most comprehensive review ever undertaken by our national government. The report left no doubt regarding the magnitude of the threats and the need for enlightened policies, reliable information, and adequate resources to deal with the problem.

In 1994, 17 Federal agencies and bureaus signed a memorandum of understanding establishing the Federal Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds (FICMNEW). Like ANSTF, FICMNEW provides a forum for identifying problems; recommending policy and management practices; identifying needs for research, technology transfer, and public education; and fostering partnerships with state and local governments and the private sector for pooling resources. In April 1997, FICMNEW released the National Strategy for Invasive Plant Management, with a roster of more than 100 supporting organizations. The strategy sets forth national goals and objectives for preventing new introductions, controlling or eradicating species already causing significant problems, and restoring degraded ecosystems.

International efforts to address the problem also are increasing. For example, the Convention on Biodiversity, which entered into force in 1992, calls on parties to prevent the introduction of alien species and to control or eradicate alien species that threaten ecosystems, habitats, or species. The convention provided the catalyst for the first major international conference on alien species, which was convened by the Norwegian government and various United Nations agencies in 1996. The conference highlighted the implications of IAS in conservation, sustainable development, and world trade and has helped promote increasing international discussion, particularly regarding ways to control pathways for the spread of IAS.

In May 1997, Vice President Al Gore, in response to a request from Congressional leaders and a letter signed by more than 500 concerned scientists, directed key Federal agencies (Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, and the Interior) to make recommendations for a coordinated attack on the problem. The agencies' response (now being developed) calls for an integrated campaign against invasive alien species, combining prevention, early detection, control of established IAS, and restoration of affected areas, and establishing IAS as a major national environmental issue. A core recommendation is expected to call for the development of a coordinated national information system to provide electronic access to domestic and international sources of data and information on IAS. The information system would enable users to integrate data and information from many sources to characterize problems, assess threats, identify research needs, and develop effective management and control actions. The 1993 OTA report stated flatly that:

Although much information on NIS [non-native invasive species] exists, overall it is widely scattered, sometimes obscure, and highly variable in quality and scientific rigor. No governmental or private agency keeps track of new NIS that enter or become established in the country, unless they are also considered a potential pest to agriculture or forestry, or a human health threat, and even those databases are not comprehensive. Summary lists of NIS do not exist for most types of organisms. The gap is especially large for nonindigenous insect and plant species, which number in the thousands in the United States . . . Even for known NIS, the effects of many have never been studied, especially those without clear economic or human health impacts. Information on effects is similarly lacking for the numerous as-yet-undetected NIS that [are believed] to be already established in the country (U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment. 1993. Harmful nonindigenous species of the United States. OTA-F-565. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC).

The database programs that are the focus of this workshop are evidence that OTA's assessment is becoming out of date. Progress is being made in using databases to document records of nonnative species and monitor current distributions. The workshop brings together, for the first time, the managers of many of the most significant databases, which contain taxonomic data; data from museum collections, protected areas, and biosphere reserves; and data from national, state, and regional surveys and monitoring. The workshop's purposes are to provide a preliminary documentation of these databases and to initiate cooperation and communication among IAS database managers in the United States. By facilitating discussion of databases developed for various taxa, geographic regions, and institutional objectives, the workshop should help foster appropriate standardization of data collection, reporting, and management as well as encourage the contributions of a community of specialists and the pooling of agency resources in developing a coordinated IAS information system.

As no country yet has a coordinated framework for managing and distributing occurrence records for IAS, this workshop also provides an opportunity to communicate U.S. experience and accomplishments in documenting the occurrence and spread of IAS. It is an important step toward U.S. leadership on a global issue in which the United States has a vital interest. With more biomes than any other country and comparatively intact natural ecosystems, the United States is particularly at risk from invasive alien species, and thus has particular incentive for improving the availability of reliable data on IAS.

International Affairs Officer
Reston, Virginia

[ Introduction ] [ Background on Issues ] [ Workshop highlights ]

[ Table 1 ] [ Table 2 ] [ List of Participants ] [ List of Acronyms ]

[ Information Survey ] [ Catalog of Databases ] [ Report Documentation ]

U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey
Biological Resources Division