By EMMA OGUTU
Capital News Service
LANSING –Recent battles with invasive species in the Great Lakes have prompted a call to update a 1900 federal law that governs importation of non-native plants and animals.
A group of Great Lakes conservationists say the Lacey Act has “remained unchanged” since it became law and wants it modernized to stem the tide of invasive species.
“We have to do something before the next invasion,” said Phyllis Windle, an invasive species expert and policy advocate with the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species in Washington. “Right now there are very few restrictions under the current Lacey Act — you can almost import anything.”
Also involved with the call for congressional action are Wisconsin Sea Grant, Alliance for the Great Lakes, Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, Environment Illinois and Great Lakes United.
The groups said the law should empower the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to assess health and environmental risks associated with a species planned for import before it’s allowed into the country.
The USFWS is one of the agencies that regulate the import of non-native species.
“We’re exploring different options to make the Lacey Act a better tool to control future invasions of exotic species,” said Georgia Parham, a public affairs specialist with the USFWS Midwest region in Indiana.
Parham said the agency is working with the Interior Department to identify species that are harmful to people, agriculture, forestry and wildlife to be added to the law’s “injurious list.”
Such species can’t be brought into the country without a permit.
Last year, U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Flint, supported legislation that would have added one of the Asian carp species to the list of prohibited imports.
“We cannot allow the Great Lakes to become a schmorgasboard for the Asian carp. We must act now so that our communities and industries can continue to rely on these great bodies for generations to come,” said Kildee, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee.
The updated federal law would need enforcement, said Mike Bryan of the state Agriculture Department’s Pesticide and Plant Management Division.
“We need to make sure the new act is strong enough to accommodate all pathways,” he said.
Bryan said he’s uncertain whether the federal government has adequate levels of surveillance to monitor species entering the country, although he said screening all plants and animals that enter the country would remain a challenge.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, is working on a proposal that would unite various Great Lakes interests to develop an outline to control aquatic invasive species, said Eric Dean, the senator’s chief of staff.
The proposal is still in its early stages and will be developed over time, Dean said.
The Great Lakes aren’t the only destination for invasive species in the region.
Professor Andrew Storer, a forest insect ecologist at Michigan Technological University, said the state’s forests are also casualties of non-native species.
He said that although updating the federal law is a “good thing,” there’s also a need to strengthen inspection at the ports of entry.
He also said many insects get into the country unintentionally through passengers and cargo.
“Some of the problems we need to deal with are how to treat things like wood-packing materials,” he said.
As an example, he cited the emerald ash borer, an Asian Beetle, which is suspected to have arrived in Detroit in the early 1990s in wooden packing materials from China.
Storer said that the federal government should not only guarantee the regulation and enforcement of rules that govern packing material but also support research about invasive species.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.