With a new biosecurity initiative, the association’s incoming chair, Hawaii Gov. David Ige, is putting a premium on protecting the environment from damage caused by invasive species.
This week, news surfaced of a new invasive species of South American reptile that could cause problems from Florida to Texas.
The massive tegu lizard, which can grow up to 4 feet long, is a “voracious, omnivorous predatory [species] that can live in a variety of habitats,” said Lee Fitzgerald, a professor at Texas A&M University and curator of its Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections, in comments to Reuters. “But we can’t know what is going to happen or how intense this invasion is going to become until the effects are upon us.” Among other things, the lizards eat alligator and birds’ eggs, as well as insects and fruits.
The tegu lizard is just one example of a growing problem—the spread of species that are introduced to the United States as pets. Now the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) is aiming to find solutions with its recently announced Biosecurity and Invasive Species Initiative, an effort led by Hawaii Gov. David Ige, who will serve as the association’s chairman in 2019.
According to Nature Conservancy estimates cited by the association [PDF], management of invasive species costs more than $120 billion each year. They affect an area the size of California and harm more than 40 percent of threatened and endangered species.
WGA will use webinars and hold events to help draw attention to the issue. In a recent webinar, Ige noted that improving biosecurity will require a mixture of policy, tools, and best practices.
“The spread of invasive species continues to be one of the biggest environmental problems facing the Western governors as well as the entire country,” Gov. Ige said in a news release. “Each state has their own unique set of challenges when it comes to invasive species, but I believe that through collaboration and sharing best practices, we can all find common ground to overcome these obstacles together.”
The new initiative adds a new element to WGA’s increasing advocacy on biosecurity. This year alone, the group has launched a data management project, worked with Congress on the issue, and released a list of the Top 50 Invasive Species in the West [PDF], including both terrestrial and aquatic species.
At the top of the list are the salt cedar, a kind of shrub, and the Eurasian Watermilfoil, an aquatic weed. Both plants are native to Europe, Asia, and Africa and are known for crowding out other plants.