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Public comment meeting Feb. 12 for Georgia Invasive Species Strategy

From the Georgia Department of Natural Resources

-- SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. (Jan. 16, 2009) - A draft plan that targets more than 180 invasive species threatening Georgia’s rich variety of native wildlife is available for public comment.

The Georgia Invasive Species Strategy describes the complex scope of problems posed by non-native plants, animals and disease-causing organisms and proposes ways to lessen the impacts in a state ranked sixth in the nation in biological diversity.

Jon Ambrose, assistant chief of the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section, said the strategy provides a framework that will help communicate and coordinate invasive species management priorities.

“There are a lot of organizations that are active in this area. The Invasive Species Strategy is intended to provide a picture of where we are now and where we want to go in the future,” Ambrose said.

Copies are available at www.georgiawildlife.com  (click the Conservation tab to reach the link) or from the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division office in Social Circle (770-761-3035). A public comment meeting is set for 5:30-7:30 p.m. Feb. 12 at the Wildlife Resources Division’s Conservation Center in Social Circle. For directions, go to www.georgiawildlife.com.

The deadline to submit comments is Feb. 16. Send written comments to jon.ambrose@gadnr.org or Jon Ambrose, Georgia Wildlife Resources Division, 2070 U.S. Highway 278 S.E., Social Circle, GA. 30025.

Invasives are plants and animals accidentally or intentionally introduced outside their natural ranges and which cause harm to the environment, economy or even human health. For example, laurel wilt, a fungal disease spread by an ambrosia beetle that is not native to the U.S., is killing redbay trees and related species in the Southeastern Coastal Plain. Redbays are a food source for birds and deer, and a critical host plant for the Palamedes swallowtail butterfly.

Cogongrass, another priority invasive species, is an aggressive, colony-forming grass that chokes out native plants and is spreading across the region. The Georgia Forestry Commission has established a statewide Cooperative Weed Management Area and Task Force to help control cogongrass.

The draft Invasive Species Strategy, compiled by an advisory committee representing about 30 public agencies and non-governmental organizations, summarizes what is being done to combat invaders, identifies gaps in current programs, and recommends improvements. Objectives are aimed at guarding against the influx of more non-native species and minimizing the threat of those already here.

The Georgia Invasive Species Advisory Committee listed 51 invasive or potentially invasive plant species, 107 animals and 30 disease-causing organisms.

Next steps could include funding for an invasive species coordinator development of new educational materials and formation of a rapid response plan for priority species.

The overriding goal of the work started in August 2007 is enhancing collaboration among invasive species efforts statewide, which will increase effectiveness and options for funding.

The Invasive Species Strategy follows on the heels of a related document that deals with aquatic exotics and was also compiled by the advisory committee. The Georgia Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan is being reviewed by a federal task force before being finalized.

Both plans build on current efforts of groups such as the Georgia Invasive Species Task Force to identify high-priority species, assess impacts and threats, implement control methods, and educate the public about the environmental and economic impacts of invasive species.

Georgia’s Wildlife Action Plan, the conservation blueprint for the state Department of Natural Resources, rates invasive species a major threat to biodiversity and lists development of a statewide plan to monitor and control them as a high priority. On a national scale, the economic losses and environmental damage caused by exotic species total approximately $120 billion a year.

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