WASDA discusses invasive species at summer meeting
Cody – Thirteen western states sent the leaders of their state departments of agriculture to the 2012 Western Association of State Departments of Agriculture (WASDA) summer meeting in Cody on July 16 – 19 to discuss those issues that comprehensively affect the West.
“Being a regional group of state departments of agriculture, we have a lot of things in common,” commented Wyoming Department of Agriculture Director and WASDA Chairman Jason Fearneyhough. “We see similar issues in the western states dealing with BLM and Forest Service, and a lot of our issues are natural resource based.”
“One of the things we are working on is the invasive species issue,” he added.
“The invasive species that we deal with in Wyoming are far different than those that they deal with in Hawaii, but nonetheless, they are invasive,” explained Fearneyhough. “It would be really beneficial to have a resource for states to be able to deal with invasive species with less red tape.”
For the last year, WASDA has discussed obtaining funding in the form of block grants for states to deal with invasive species, and Utah Commissioner of Agriculture and Food Leonard Blackham has been very involved in the effort.
“Invasive species is a big issue, and it’s a big issue throughout the nation. Every state has an invasive species,” commented Blackham. “Sometimes it is cheat grass, like we have in the West, sometimes it is the invasion of pinion juniper, sometimes it is a pest like the bark beetle and sometimes it is a disease – invasives include all of those things.”
“Here in Wyoming, I can name 100 different weeds and the quagga and zebra mussels we could deal with if there was more funding,” added Fearneyhough.
“We need to be really aggressive,” Blackham noted. “What we are promoting is a national initiative.”
State level involvement
“We are encouraging the federal government to do block grants to the states, and at the state level, direct money to invasive species actions,” explained Blackham.
By allowing individual states to distribute money, he said that more money will be actually implemented on the ground.
“States always seem to get more money on the ground. We are proposing that 80 percent of the money has to hit the ground,” Blackham added. “Because the processes in the states are not as cumbersome, we seem to get more money on the ground for projects.”
Further, with the partnerships that exist between local conservation districts, university extension programs, the public and state governments, bringing invested parties together to tackle tough challenges is easier.
Wide reaching benefits
“This is the proper thing to do,” said Blackham. “Improving the landscape will improve water quality, water quantity and will reduce fires.”
Using cheat grass as an example, he said that, because it forms a monoculture, cheat grass makes the land more susceptible to fire and the negative downstream affects that follow.
“The fact is, this money may save three or four times as much down the road if we can control species and reduce catastrophic fires,” he said. “We think this is a very wise investment to make, and that is how it needs to be looked at – as an investment.”
Additionally, in many western states where public land dominates the state, much of the money will be spent improving land that the federal government has an obligation to take care of already.
“On private lands, the more we can help farmers and ranchers get the job done, the better able we are to keep food more reasonably priced,” Blackham noted.
Promoting the idea
At the WASDA summer meeting, the concept of providing block grants for invasive species management was discussed extensively, and the organization is working to encourage other groups to promote the issue.
“The National Association of Conservation Districts is supporting this effort, and the Western governors have a statement supporting it,” Blackham said. “We hope to take the idea of a block grant to get these groups behind it.”
WASDA members are also working to get support from western congressmen.
“We all know this invasive issue is getting more and more difficult because of the way we live and world activity,” Blackham said. “I think this is a very proper role and it is surely needed.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.
WASDA members meet
Cody – Over the course of the three-day 2012 Western Association of State Departments of Agriculture summer meeting, attendees discussed issues, met with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) and the Western U.S. Ag Trade Association and were given an overview of the Wyoming agriculture industry.
WASDA members include Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, California, Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.