- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2006

The U.S. Supreme Court’s devastating decision in Kelo v. City of New London sparked a national outcry for eminent domain reform and stronger private property rights protections. Yet there is a threat looming in the form of so-called “invasive species” regulations that could potentially bring even more devastation to property owners.

President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13112 in February 1999. The order created the National Invasive Species Council “to prevent the introduction of invasive species and provide for their control.” The council is an interagency task force that involves 13 federal departments and agencies.

Invasive or “alien species” are defined in Mr. Clinton’s order as “any species, including its seeds, eggs, spores, or other biological material capable of propagating that species, that is not native to that ecosystem.”

Determining whether a species is native or non-native is an exercise in subjectivity. Most definitions cite non-native species as any plant or animal that enters an ecosystem outside of its natural historic range. Some environmentalist ideologues consider any plant or animal that did not exist in North America prior to European settlement to be alien.

Under Mr. Clinton’s order, even species that are native to North America can be considered “alien” or “invasive” if they can be found in areas where they didn’t exist several hundred years ago. For example, plant seeds can be carried on an animal’s hide or in its digestive tract and later deposited miles outside its normal range. Small spiders can travel many miles through the air using a process called “ballooning,” in which they spin a line of silk that acts as a parachute to catch the wind.

The order also seeks to “control” non-native species by “eradicating, suppressing, reducing or managing invasive species populations, preventing spread of invasive species from areas where they are present, and taking steps such as restoration of native species and habitats to reduce the effects of invasive species and to prevent further invasions.”

Such a sweeping mandate means that nearly every backyard, golf course, farm, lake and stream in America could be considered teeming with so-called invasive species, and thus subject to federal scrutiny and regulation.

Establishing an arbitrary baseline date and classifying any species that enters an ecosystem after that date as “invasive” (and therefore in need of regulation) is of dubious environmental value. In fact, many non-native species are beneficial to ecosystems, the environment, human health and the economy.

For example, many of our food crops are “alien” species. Wheat is non-native to the United States, as are potatoes and oranges. Alien animals introduced to the U.S. include ring-necked pheasants, brown trout and all breeds of cattle. Fescue, a major turf grass that is used on many golf courses and can also be found growing on the White House lawn, is non-native. Crown-vetch, a useful plant that is grown on roadsides to prevent erosion and cultivated between rows of corn to prevent weeds and reduce the need for herbicides, is non-native as well.

On the other hand, some species native to the U.S. are extremely harmful. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) considers the southern pine beetle, which is native to America, to be “the most destructive insect for pines in the Southeastern U.S.” Between 2000 and 2002, this native pest killed over 3.7 billion board feet of sawtimber in the southern U.S., causing over $1.1 billion in damages. Poison ivy and poison oak are two native U.S. nuisances as well.

It is far more productive and scientifically sound to evaluate species on the basis of their known harm or benefit, as opposed to their historical origin. In fact, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is already tasked with identifying and controlling the spread of harmful plant and animal species. APHIS lists on its Web Site 30 “public laws and acts” already on the books that regulate noxious species and their movement.

Nevertheless, green ideologues and some members of Congress are actively pursuing measures that would codify Mr. Clinton’s Executive Order on “invasive species” and the National Invasive Species Council. Such actions would no doubt be a boon to advocates of stringent controls on both public and private property, but would spell disaster for sound scientific practices, as well as American landowners and businesses.

Some are even promoting regulation of the virtually infinite pathways that certain non-indigenous species travel. This could open the door to endless regulation of human behavior, including that pertaining to private land use, public land access, and how and where Americans travel.

Secure private property rights are essential to a free society. Any initiative that seeks to classify and regulate plant and animal species on the exceedingly arbitrary basis of when they originated in a certain environment is a serious threat to these rights.

We have seen how endangered species and wetlands regulations can wreak havoc on Americans’ constitutional right to private property. Invasive species regulations have the potential to be even more damaging to this fundamental right.


Director of Environmental and Regulatory Affairs

The National Center for Public Policy Research

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