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Friday, May 24, 2024

State Group Says Virginia Should Budget More for Invasive Species Management

An area in Pony Pasture Park of the James River Park System showing native plant vegetation, including Virginia Creeper, Common Moonseed, Mockernut Hickory seedlings and Virginia Wild Rye. (Meghan McIntyre/Virginia Mercury)

RICHMOND — A state group dedicated to dealing with invasive species in Virginia is recommending that the General Assembly include an extra $2.45 million in its next budget to limit the spread of invasive plant and animal species in the commonwealth.

The proposal backed by the Virginia Invasive Species Working Group Wednesday would pay for seven additional state positions to help eradicate and slow the spread of invasive species and development of a statewide coordinated response to problems related to invasives.

The recommendations will now head to the chairs of the House and Senate money and natural resources committees for their consideration.

Invasive species, said Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources Travis Voyles, “are costly to control, reduce productivity within forest and grow faster than native species and spread quickly. So addressing this issue of this magnitude is a long-term effort that must be implemented, in our view, over a period of time.”

The $2.45 million in funding is meant to support the full rollout of Virginia’s Invasive Species Management Plan, a document crafted in 2018 that outlines how state agencies can minimize the economic, environmental and human harms of invasive species.

The working group calls for the funds to be split among the four Virginia agencies primarily impacted by invasive species: the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Department of Forestry, Department of Conservation and Recreation and Department of Wildlife Resources.

Species of special concern include wavy leaf grass, which invades forest floors; spotted lanternflies and two-horned trapa plants, the latter of which are invading ponds in Northern Virginia; black fountain grass, which leaves pastureland unusable by cattle; and zebra and quagga mussels, which attack native mussel species and damage infrastructure.

While DCR biologist Kevin Heffernan said the proposed funding is only a “drop in the bucket” when it comes to dealing with the destruction caused by invasive species, he called it a much-needed start.

Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matt Lohr similarly called the proposal a “first step” but said “there’s really never going to be enough money to do it all.”

“We wanted to be realistic, because you can spend $20 million a year and probably still not eradicate all these things,” Lohr said.

Heffernan noted the public has become increasingly interested in invasive species in recent years.

“People got to start knowing their parks and their backyards and started asking questions and they’ve been interested in native plants and native pollinators,” he said. “They’re starting to ask questions about those, and what comes up often is invasive species are a threat to all of those.”

Rod Walker and Tom Smith of the Blue Ridge Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) said a record 70 to 80 people attended one of their workshops on invasive species this year.

“These are people who wanted to be there to make a difference … people from all over the state representing a lot of constituencies,” Walker said.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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