Protecting the West's Critical Habitat from Invasive Species

By: Amos P. Eno
Posted on:02/08/2016 Updated:02/09/2016

A few of my thoughts on the second webinar in the Western Governors' Association's Species Conservation and ESA Initiative webinar series.

Last week, I participated in the second of the Western Governor’s Association’s Species Conservation and ESA Initiative webinars, this one entitled Critical Habitat and Invasive Species. The webinar, which was moderated by Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Chuck Boneham, examined case studies presented by the webinar’s three panelists to discuss the effects invasive species can have on an ecosystem, particularly threatened or endangered species, and how they can be managed.


Listening to the webinar, my curiosity was piqued by some of the inherent contradictions that exist in each of the three featured conservation projects. For example, as part of Wyoming Trout Unlimited's Yellowstone Lake Special Project, Dr. Sweet and his colleagues are in some cases trying to remove barriers such as dams to allow native Yellowstone cutthroat trout to reclaim lost habitat, while in other places erecting barriers to keep invasive fish such as lake trout out.

A listener also brought up the question of how the panelists deal with the issue of predation by other native species, especially species that are themselves protected. Chris Crookshanks, a Native Aquatics Staff Specialist for the Nevada Department of Wildlife and leader of the Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Recovery Project replied that it is often a tough situation about which they have little recourse. In his case, the cormorant is a major predator of the federally threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout, but the bird is a natural predator and itself protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

The third contradiction was described by Matt Morrison, CEO of the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER). The Pacific Northwest is the last region in the country (and Canadian provinces bordering the U.S.) to have no recorded zebra or quagga mussel invasions, and is working hard to keep it that way. These mussels have never been eradicated once established in North America – “Once you have them, you have them,” said Morrison, who explained that their needed a strategy of prevention, not eradication, which is more effective and much more cost efficient.

Like other invasive species, these mussels by definition negatively impact the native ecosystem, but they also have a potentially devastating effect on the hydroelectric and agriculture industries. The problem is, even though those industries have the most to lose – Washington relies on hydro for power more than any other state in the nation – the major source of funding for prevention efforts comes from recreational boat licenses, which is grossly inadequate.

While the role of private landowners in these conservation efforts was not discussed to a great extent, the clear takeaway from the webinar was that there needs to be better communication and cooperation between state and federal agencies, NGOs, and private landowners. Crookshanks was especially emphatic, saying, “We’ve had really good buy in from private landowners when they’re engaged,” including the effective use of Safe Harbor Agreements. Dr. Sweet of the Yellowstone Lake Special Project added, “We need to be more receptive…and invite other parties to discuss the implications of conservation actions.”

These are just a few highlights from the webinar. You can watch it in full on the Western Governors’ Association’s website.