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Law Center Leads Efforts to Draft Model Law Addressing Aquatic Invasive Species in Western States

Unlikely partners come together to improve management of the trailered boats

By Terra Bowling, National Sea Grant Law Center

The mention of zebra and quagga mussels, aquatic invasive species (AIS) firmly established in the Eastern U.S. and spreading quickly through Western states, likely strikes fear in the hearts of natural resource managers across the country. Once introduced to a waterbody, the species spread rapidly, negatively impacting native ecosystems and causing millions of dollars of damage to water systems, power plants, fisheries, and tourism.

A primary vector for the spread of the mussels is trailered recreational boats. “… [T]here is a significant amount of boat traffic–whether via waterways, or overland transport–among the states,” stated Angela Kaufmann, Lead Deputy Attorney General at the Idaho State Department of Agriculture. “It is important for Western states to work together, because there is a significant amount of boat traffic (whether via waterways or overland transport) among the states.  It is important to recognize that each state has its own legal principles found in the constitution, statutes, administrative rules and case laws, and that there will inevitably be policy differences among the states. In addition, there are geographical differences which may require variability in each state’s respective laws. However, to the extent that the states can develop a mutually acceptable system of monitoring, response, communication and inspections/decontamination, the region will benefit.” Unfortunately, laws and regulations addressing AIS are inconsistent at best, hampering prevention and enforcement efforts on both the state and federal level. Jas Adams, Attorney in Charge of Natural Resources at the Oregon Department of Justice noted “AIS is actually a national and global problem and doesn’t respect borders. It can’t be handled by any state alone … Listing of species is not enough. It takes too long—years—and I’m not sure criminal prosecution under the Lacey Act will deter the recreational boater.”  

Recently, the National Sea Grant Law Center (NSGLC) and partners embarked on an innovative project that is bringing together individuals from three professional communities that rarely interact – Assistant Attorneys General, law enforcement personnel, and AIS coordinators – to improve management of the trailered boat vector. The project began in August 2012 when the NSGLC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Association of Attorneys General, Oregon Sea Grant and the Western Regional Panel of the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force convened a workshop in Phoenix, Arizona to discuss the legal and regulatory approaches to the movement of zebra and quagga mussels by trailered boats. The workshop resulted in an action plan that, among other things, recommended the development of model legislative and regulatory language to improve regional coordination and facilitate reciprocity among jurisdictions.

In August 2013, the NSGLC and the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies received funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to facilitate the development and drafting of a model law. Project partners convened a second workshop in Denver in August 2013 to achieve regional consensus on key watercraft inspection and decontamination program terminology, protocols, and standards. Following the workshop, a multidisciplinary Working Group was formed to provide input and guidance to the project team during the drafting of the model law. Adams noted that writing a model law is a challenge, “it is meant to be generic, but on the other hand if it is too adjustable it loses its value. States need something cohesive, functional, and useful.”

The group completed a draft of the model law this December, which will be distributed for comment from state wildlife agencies and attorney general offices across the U.S. The law will eventually be distributed to the states, which may choose to enact all or parts of the model law. “The biggest impact will be to those states which either do not have an invasive species or AIS law, or states which are considering changes,” stated Kaufmann. “The model law will provide a very useful starting point.  I believe that the drafting notes/comments will be particularly helpful, as they provide guidance in those situations in which the draft language may not fit a particular state’s needs.” In 2014, the project team will focus on developing model regulatory language to help states improve the effectiveness of new and existing watercraft inspection and decontamination programs.

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