Invasive species are non-native (a.k.a. alien, exotic, or nonindigenous) plants, animals, and diseases that cause or are likely to cause ecological and economic harm.
Ever-increasing globalization and international trade activity have opened the floodgates for both intentional and accidental introductions of invasive species to Virginia from all over the world. Intentional introductions include ornamental plants for gardens, erosion control, food for livestock, people, and pets. Accidental introductions can be "stowaways" in ship ballast water, hidden in shipping crates, mixed in with plant materials from other parts of the world, and "hitchhikers" on travelers' clothes, luggage, and vehicles.
Invasive species spread aggressively and displace or destroy both native and commercially cultivated plants and animals. After development and habitat conversion, invasive species are considered to be the greatest threat to natural systems, agriculture and aquaculture. Annually, invasive species cost Virginia more than $1 billion, while nationally the total exceeds $120 billion. Invasive species damage and degrade crops, pasture and forestlands, clog waterways, spread human and livestock diseases, and destroy street trees. As international trade and travel continue to increase, we face growing ecological and economic threats from invasive species to our farmlands, forests, rivers and streams, and quality of life.
Across the state, numerous efforts are underway to address the threats posed by invasive species. In 2003, the Virginia Invasive Species Working Group was formed with the purpose of coordinating state agency action to minimize economic, environmental, and human harm from invasive species by acting on the seven goals of coordination, prevention, early detection, rapid response, control, research, and education.
Specific actions taken by state agencies to date in Virginia include:
The most effective strategy against invasive species is to prevent them from being introduced. This requires better monitoring and regulating of the pathways by which invasive species arrive, such as major shipping ports and imports of live plants and animals. Because prevention is not always successful, we must also enhance early detection and rapid response programs designed to eradicate species before they become established. This involves monitoring for the introduction of invasive species and having a coordinated and effective response plan that controls and eradicates the outbreak. Both preventive and rapid response actions require education, a strong commitment of financial resources, and a well-coordinated approach among state, federal and private partners.
Specifically, the Commonwealth of Virginia can do the following to help prevent and slow the spread of new and existing invasive species: