WGA shares campaign to standardize and share invasive species data
The Western Governors’ Association (WGA), a bipartisan organization which represents the governors of the 22 westernmost states and territories, is launching the WGA Invasive Species Data Mobilization Campaign.
In the Feb. 17 episode of WGA’s Out West podcast, WGA Executive Director Jim Ogsbury shares this campaign is meant to encourage land managers, land owners, conservation groups and non-governmental organizations to standardize and share invasive species data in the West.
Bill Whitacre, WGA the senior policy advisor, spoke with the South Central Region Representative for the National Association of Conservation Districts Keith Owen to highlight how invasive species impact the work of conservation districts and why it is important to share data.
Unnoticed spread of invasives
To begin, Whitacre and Owen note how easy it is for invasive species to grow and spread without notice, while causing harm on many aspects.
“Growing up, feral hogs were an occasional issue,” explains Owen, who spent his childhood years in eastern Oklahoma. “Today, it is estimated there are between 950,000 and 1.3 million feral hogs in Oklahoma, which goes to show the need for tracking invasive species through many efforts.”
Like many invasive species, feral hogs negatively impact natural landscapes, agricultural production and have many impacts on day-to-day life. In fact, Owen shares the Oklahoma Farm Bureau Insurance agency has considered the costs of car accidents with feral hogs.
“Managing the landscape is hard anyways, and throwing invasive species into the mix is like playing chess with Monopoly pieces on the board – they just don’t belong in the game,” he continues. “Once they are in the ecosystem, they harm biodiversity, the production of agricultural products and cause lots of other problems.”
Impacts to human health
Often, invasive species management is considered as if it is just thistle control, which Whitacre notes has impacts on landscapes on large scales, but invasive species have the potential to cause more serious issues.
“Human health would be the top reason people should care about invasive species,” Owen states. “There is risk to human and livestock health, damage to agricultural properties and ask populations increase, damage to encroaching suburban areas.”
“An example is the giant hogweed,” says Owen. “This plant has been an issue in Washington and Oregon, as well as states further east so far.”
Giant hogweed is easily mistaken for cow parsley, but the noxious weed originating from Russia is a major threat. Sap from giant hogweed contains a compound which causes severe burns within minutes after contact with skin. This invasive species has caught major attention, mostly because it tends to grow in urban waste spaces and has human health implications.
“We have invasive species detrimental to life and health,” says Owen. “However, after they establish, they are hard to get rid of.”
He continues, “Everyone pays the cost of invasive species to agriculture. Rangelands and farmlands are less productive, and they can carry diseases communicable to humans.”
Benefits of shared data
The WGA’s Invasive Species Data Mobilization Campaign looks to improve access and standardization of invasive species data to help invasive species managers make decisions.
“Through the years, it is almost impossible to account for the cost of invasive species,” says Whitacre. “The impacts are so widespread, it is hard to account for everything correctly.”
“Assessing or evaluating damage is a data point crucial to knowing how much money it will take to fix a problem without understanding the extent. It is very easy to underestimate,” Owen adds.
Often, Owen shares, invasive species reports are incidental and many are misidentified as native species. When data accumulates, it is common for invasive species to be more widespread and causing more damage than originally thought.
“Species control in one state can benefit control in another, but if states aren’t collectively working on the same control methods, they are chasing invasive species between states,” Owen says.
“I think it is great WGA is taking this on because the organization is above political boundaries and state lines so this initiative can get invasive species work recognized and make it comparable,” he adds. “It might help someone with the same problem in another state solve their invasive species issue.”
Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.