Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Washington Aquatic Nuisance Management Plan: How far have we come since 2001?

Working my tail off with a group of community and neighborhood clean-up crews last month exposed me to some very interesting observations: 1) that with the warmer weather our neighborhood river has a lot of exotic weed already spreading faster than we can say jack rabbit; 2) that the Aquatic Nuisance Management Plan instituted by the Washington Department of Fishery and Wildlife in 2001 will need some re-evaluation; and 3) that a much aggressive effort to detect, monitor, control and probably eradicate aquatic nuisance species in our neighborhood rivers, is long overdue. With the growing acceptance of the fact that climatic change may actually cause rapid changes in coastal and estuarine ecosystem, it is now possible to appreciate the fact that warmer water temperatures and increased storm water runoffs can help aquatic nuisance species grow beyond coastal ecosystem, including many of our smaller rivers. The reality of many ecological observations in the Puget Sound Region is that warm weather increases growth and expansion of exotic aquatic species, including the cordgrass (Spartina)and water hyacinth found in our neighborhood Rivers. Ecologists and Plant Pathologists inform me that other exotic grasses are very tolerant to a wide range of water salinity and could eventually become a threat to many estuaries and tidal waves in the Puget Sound as salt water intrudes into freshwater and sea level rises from snow melts from warmer weather.

The 2001 Washington Aquatic Nuisance Management Plan was a good step, but the environment that existed in the Puget Sound Region is not what we have today. The drastic changes that we have all witnessed are calling for bolder steps in correcting the abnormalities in the environment. The Aquatic Nuisance Management Plan had as part of its goal, the prevention of the re-introduction of exotic grasses and species into our regional water bodies, detection and monitoring of on-going control of the aquatic nuisance species already in our rivers, educating people about the prevention and spreading of these species, and the introduction of regulations that promote prevention and control of the aquatic nuisance species. While we have made some gains in some areas of this plan, progress in other parts of the plan is at best, lack luster. Unless we now institute periodic evaluations of the progress made on this plan, we may end up winning the battle but, essentially loosing the war to the fast spreading species of some aquatic nuisance. Unless we develop a mechanism to ensure that our plans are constantly re-evaluated to maintain progress on our goals, we may find it difficult to attain our objectives on time.

The following are the categories of re-evaluation or assessment questions suitable to measure progress made on our plan as recommended by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency: 1) How does the plan address potential impacts of climate change; 2) How does the plan demonstrate the capacity to adapt to changing conditions; (3) How does the plan provide monitoring strategies necessary for success; 4) To what extent does the plan give room for periodic revisions and updates; and 5) To what extent does the plan describe funding sources and strategies for its implementation. Only when we are able to provide answers to these questions can we be able to identify threats from the aquatic nuisance species and appropriately assess the environmental risk associated with their spread.
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