Territorial invasive species action plans focus of inaugural meeting in DC
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Interior Assistant Secretary for Insular Areas Esther Kia’aina met Friday with representatives of the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands for the first meeting of the U.S. Territories Invasive Species Coordinating Committee.
The meeting follows the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on Dec. 6, 2016, by the island governors and the assistant secretary, committing to help prevent, eradicate, and control invasive species as well as to protect and restore natural and cultural resources from the effects of invasive species in the U.S. territories.
“Invasive species pose one of the greatest threats in the U.S. territories to natural and cultural resources, as they are a significant driver of environmental degradation and species extinction,” said Kia’aina. “We can’t afford to let invasive species go unchecked in the territories. They could threaten water and food availability, impair human health, damage already fragile economies, and undermine the security of our Pacific and Caribbean regions.”
“The wide expanse of oceans which separate us and previously protected us from invasive species now link us as territories to help address the influx of invasive species and its impacts to our islands,” said Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo. “I thank and commend [Kia’aina] and the Office of Insular Affairs for facilitating this union through the creation of the USTISCC and for hosting this inaugural meeting. I also thank and congratulate partner territories for agreeing to work cooperatively and share resources to better confront invasive species challenges. I look forward to the great work we will accomplish together.”
Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp of the U.S. Virgin Islands expressed his desire to work cooperatively on the invasive species management through the newly established USTISCC when he stated, “The silent invasion of non-native plants and animals adversely impacts all of our island countries. Collectively, our shared experiences will benefit one another as we strive to protect and restore our precious and unique natural and cultural resources.”
“The American Samoa government commends the DOI-Insular Affairs Office for taking this initiative in helping the U.S. Pacific territories deal with the problem of invasive species,” said A. Samoa Gov. Lolo Moliga. “American Samoa, like all island nations, is particularly vulnerable to invasive species because it is small, isolated, and has native species that are naive and vulnerable to invasive species. Invasive species are a threat to our ecosystem, economy, food security, and the people of American Samoa. Therefore this initiative by DOI-Insular Affairs is welcome because it will support the territory in developing a legal framework to deal with invasive species, and identify priority actions to prevent future introductions and manage current invasive species through the American Samoa Invasive Species Action Plan.”
“The establishment of the USTISCC could not occur at a better time than now for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands,” said CNMI Gov. Ralph DLG Torres. “With economic growth that the CNMI is presently experiencing with development and tourism, the potential for the introduction of invasive species on our islands is at an all-time high. I would like to personally commend [Kia’aina] and the [OIA] for forging for the establishment of the USTISCC. It is through these types of direct technical and financial assistance that the CNMI and the rest of the territories greatly benefitted from. Our economic growth brings me greater peace of mind knowing that effective defensive measures are being developed toward the prevention and control of invasive species. Olomwaay and si yu’us ma’ase [Kia’aina and OIA] for the great job!”
Island ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to invasive species because they tend to host a large number of endemic or native species that have evolved in the absence of large predator populations. The invasive species that have already been intentionally and unintentionally introduced in the U.S. territories in the Pacific and the Caribbean are causing species extinction and irreparable damage to natural and cultural resources. If unchecked, invasive species can cost billions of dollars in damage, including the indirect cost of lost revenue to the tourism industry in the territories. Proactive measures to prevent, eradicate, and control invasive species are critically needed in these jurisdictions.
Efforts of the USTISCC will include helping to identify or establish programs to institutionalize the initiative; improve biosecurity capacities, including pathway management; develop early detection and rapid response systems as well as joint programs for the eradication and control of species of priority concern; and share best practices, scientific and technical information, personnel, and other resources necessary to facilitate prevention, eradication, and control of invasive species, as well as species recovery and habitat restoration in the U.S. territories.
Other federal and non-governmental partners participating in the meeting were the National Invasive Species Council Secretariat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Island Conservation.
Establishing the U.S. Territories Invasive Species Coordinating Committee builds on the work of the U.S. Territories Invasive Species Workshop: Capacity Building through Collaboration, a conference held in Honolulu, Hawaii in June 2016 that was co-hosted by OIA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The conference sought to strengthen capacity building training and knowledge for territorial officials on how to improve invasive species management in their respective jurisdictions.
Following the workshop, the Office of Insular Affairs provided technical assistance program grants to each of the territories to complete Invasive Species Action Plans by the end of 2016. This inaugural meeting and an update on the Territorial Invasive Species Action Plans are an important culmination of national priorities, including President Obama’s Executive Order on Safeguarding the Nation from the Impacts of Invasive Species signed on Dec. 5, 2016.
The creation of the USTISCC and the territorial invasive species management plans advances priority actions under the NISC management plan, which calls for the development and implementation of recommendations to improve federal-territorial coordination on invasive species issues. (OIA)