Yes, there's an alien invasion

  Thank you for your recent coverage of the impacts and politics of invasive species (HCN, 6/22/98). The spread and establishment of exotics in the West is truly one of the least recognized natural-resource challenges of our time and one which promises to overwhelm the stability and health of our ecosystems if left unchecked. To help put this in perspective, saltcedar, the species upon which you provided so much information, is simply one of dozens of invasive plant species that have invaded the native plant communities of the West and the continent.


While saltcedar may be largely confined to riparian areas, other species such as cheatgrass and Russian knapweed have dominated rangelands across the Intermountain West. In fact, cheatgrass is now widely accepted to be the dominant plant of the Intermountain West, covering more than 100 million acres.


Exotic plant species such as saltcedar and cheatgrass have dramatically altered the structure and composition of native-plant communities, resulting in the extirpation of native flora and fauna (in some cases, exotics threaten natives with extinction). While exotics frequently exploit areas disturbed by human activities, they are equally adept at invading the best-managed lands and wilderness areas of the West. Areas once thought to be "safe" from human influences have or are beginning to deteriorate before our eyes as weeds replace native vegetation.


Given the extraordinary negative impacts of invasive species on native plant communities and the fauna harbored therein, I am amazed and saddened by the obvious lack of action from most of the environmental community, including prominent national organizations.


Of all the challenges that face the West, there are few that will require greater cooperation to achieve success than the management of invasive species. This challenge provides one of the best opportunities for environmental organizations to build relationships with extractive industries, agricultural interests and others that rely upon our region's natural resources. Without the voice of environmentalists, the burgeoning populations across the "new West" will wake one day to find a permanent loss of native biodiversity, unhealthy ecosystems, lost agricultural productivity, fewer recreational opportunities, and weakened local and state economies.





Eric M. Lane


Lakewood, Colorado





The writer is Colorado weed coordinator for the state's Department of Agriculture.


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