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SPEECH
USDA Forest Service
Washington, D.C.

Sharpening Our Focus on Invasive Species
Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth
Invasive Species Conference
Denver, CO—June 13, 2006

Thanks, Kent. Welcome to you all. It’s a pleasure to be here. I would like to thank Kerry Britton and the other organizers of this conference. I’m glad it is taking place, because I think it will help us sharpen the focus that Rick was just talking about in connection with the Four Threats. Let me start by outlining where I think we are with respect to invasive species, then address the purpose of this conference itself.

Where We Are
I think it’s pretty clear that invasive species are one of the biggest threats we face to conservation, both on national forest land and across the nation. In fact, it’s been pretty clear for some time. I’ve been with the Forest Service for 40 years now, and for most of that time I’ve seen us working hard all over the country to address this and other major threats.

Take kudzu, for example. Kudzu has been spreading since at least the 1930s. It has overrun what used to be thriving farms and forests. It has covered up fences … houses … trees. Whole landscapes are now covered with kudzu. On forest land in the South, controlling the spread is a major concern and has been for decades.

When it comes to kudzu, even a casual observer can see that something is wrong. But for most invasives, that’s not the case. When most folks see rangeland covered with cheatgrass, for example, they probably can’t tell the difference between that and a healthy grassland community. But cheatgrass reduces the value of the land for both livestock grazing and wildlife habitat, and it has spread across a hundred million acres, an area the size of California. It’s another huge threat, one we’ve also been dealing with for a long, long time. Aldo Leopold noticed how fast it was spreading way back in the 1920s.

Aquatic resources are also at risk. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, about 40 percent of all native freshwater fish species are at risk of extinction, mostly due to nonnative invasive species. Aquatic invasives like New Zealand mudsnail, rusty crawfish, and Eurasian watermilfoil are causing serious problems in various parts of the country.

Invasives have also caused major losses of forest resources. For example, we’ve lost something like 90 percent of our western white pine due to blister rust. We’ve also lost a hundred percent of our chestnut due to blight. Whether it’s chestnut blight, white pine blister rust, gypsy moth, or more recent threats like sudden oak death, Asian long-horned beetle, or emerald ash borer … or feral hogs or invasive fish … the Forest Service has long been heavily involved in the battle.

What’s at stake is enormous, both economically and ecologically. One study estimated that all invasives combined cost Americans about $138 billion per year in total economic damages and associated control costs. Another study found that invasives have contributed to the decline of almost half of all imperiled species. Overall, the threat from invasives is staggering.

But what’s at stake goes well beyond the direct economic and ecological costs, because invasives are tied to other threats:

  • Cheatgrass alone has altered rangeland fire regimes across tens of millions of acres, making fires much worse than before. In turn, as you know, uncharacteristically severe fires often pave the way for invasive species.
  • So does unmanaged outdoor recreation. As you know, off-highway vehicles cutting across landscapes where they don’t belong can spread knapweed and other seeds to new places.
  • And loss of working forests and ranches to development can bring a whole array of invasive plants and animals associated with urban and suburban landscapes onto the margins of public lands, from where they can easily spread.

So our focus has been on invasive species in connection with the other major threats we’re dealing with—fire and fuels, loss of open space, and unmanaged outdoor recreation.

Yet the public debate too often has been somewhere else. Instead of focusing on invasive species and the other major threats, the public has focused primarily on timber and roads. These just aren’t the major conservation issues that face our nation today, and that’s partly why we decided to bring the Four Threats into sharper public focus—to help convince people to switch focus to where the real threats to conservation lie.

But I think it’s also been good for our own internal focus at the Forest Service. Dealing with the Four Threats is a central part of our mission, and that includes invasive species. Managing invasives is not just something we tack onto our program if we have funding left over at the end of the year. Research to develop science-based management strategies and tools takes time and long-term funding. Managing invasive species is an integral part of our strategic plan, and we are accountable to the American people for it … for successfully managing invasive species.

And we’ve had some good success. So far, we’ve controlled the threat from pests such as the Asian long-horned beetle, and we’ve prevented the Asian gypsy moth from getting established in the West. Working with the states, we have also slowed the spread of weeds such as cheatgrass and knapweed. And through the cultivation of disease-resistant trees, there’s now hope for restoring white pine forests in the West and chestnut forests in the East. I’m sure you can all name other successes—sharing those success stories is part of why you’re here.

Conceptually, we’ve also moved forward. The range of invasive species is so great and the scope of the threat so vast that it’s hard to know where to begin and what to focus on. We are committed in principle to all-taxa approaches across landscapes and jurisdictions, and I think it’s important to keep that approach in mind, even if in reality we can focus on only a few of the worst threats at a time. Our National Strategy and Implementation Plan points the way forward.

Conference Objectives
That brings me to the purpose of this conference: to help set the stage for long-term success in meeting the threat from invasive species. As Rick pointed out, this isn’t just another conference where you can sit back and listen to talks; we expect substantive results from these meetings. W e will capture those results and use them to help decide how to fight the future battle against invasives.

Here’s the rationale for this conference in a nutshell. Our nation’s forests and grasslands are essential to the well-being of future generations of Americans. People depend on them for clean water and air, habitat for wildlife, opportunities for outdoor recreation, and all the other goods, values, and services they provide. Invasive species jeopardize those goods, values, and services by threatening to unravel the web of life.

The national forests and grasslands are still among the healthiest lands America has left. We need prompt, coordinated, science-based action to keep them that way and to restore them, where needed. In cooperation with our partners, we also need to protect and restore other forests and grasslands for the benefit of our entire nation. We have made a start in all this by developing the integrated strategy, and this conference is designed to move us all forward together. In particular, we need to find ways to better engage line officers all the way down to the district level in invasive species management. Line officers at every level need to make this a priority.

The key to success is collaboration. This conference brings together people from different deputy areas and from different levels of the organization. It is a chance to work collaboratively within our outfit and to sharpen the skills needed to work with others.

This conference is Forest Service-centric by design. It is designed to give you three kinds of opportunities:

  • the opportunity to learn from your peers in other regions;
  • the opportunity to communicate up and down the supervisory chain about what the greatest needs are, what the obstacles are, and how best to address both the needs and the obstacles; and
  • the opportunity to look for synergies between Research, State and Private Forestry, and National Forest System.

Pooling resources is important. For reasons we all know, these are difficult times, with limited budgets for agencies like ours. Resources are scarce, so we need to use our collective abilities to find more effective ways of meeting the threat from invasive species.

We can’t expect new money, but we can be smarter in how we work. You’re here to work out ways to do just that. The problems posed by invasive species are too big to address in just one discipline … without help from other staffs … without help from your peers. You’re here to figure out better ways of working together … of involving wildlife biologists, silviculturists, entomologists, pathologists, invasive plant experts, and the fire folks. You’re here to share your successes … to celebrate your great projects … to help germinate new ideas for successful strategies all across the agency.

You are here because you think invasives are important. You are not alone. The Forest Service has many different partners who are more than willing to help us move forward. The states in particular are powerful supporters and key collaborators in the fight against invasives. We have always worked hand-in-hand with State Foresters and related state agencies because we share so many concerns.

But we have many other partners as well. In fact, few issues we deal with have such strong, broad-based support, and rightly so. Like wildland fires, invasive species know no borders or boundaries. Success in managing them depends on a landscape-scale approach in close coordination with our partners. As I said, collaboration is key.

So I’d like to offer special thanks to our invited partners for being here. We hope you will offer some insights into how we can improve our performance in managing the threat from invasives. We have designed your participation to be consistent with FACA, and I hope that you will be understanding and help us by contributing within that context.

Thinking in Context
In closing, I encourage all of you to speak freely and creatively, sharing your knowledge and experiences. Think strategically, remembering the broad context of our efforts here. We need to focus the agency on invasive species, not losing sight of the connection to other challenges—like fire and fuels … loss of open space … unmanaged outdoor recreation … and climate change. Our goal is to restore and maintain entire landscapes by addressing all taxa and all threats.

Above all, remember the collaborative context. Let’s look to our partners for support in building collaborative frameworks across borders and boundaries. Let’s also look beyond our customary constituencies to form new and broader networks of support. Let’s see how we can use the invasives issue to build a new understanding of our mission, not only in the general public, but also in the urbanizing and minority constituencies that will increasingly determine our future.

Again, thank you for being here. I trust in your dedication to the Forest Service, to the land we care for, and to the people we serve.

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