Invasive species are a growing problem in the United States. Farmers and government agencies around the world are increasingly concerned about the threats that the spread of invasive species creates for the local ecology, economy and health of the population. Making policies to control or eradicate invasive species is challenging, particularly because these policies bring into question the issue of animal welfare.
In 1999, President Clinton recognized that invasive species are one of the most serious threats to biodiversity when he passed Executive Order 13112. The order was signed in response to the over 123 billion dollars of damage that was estimated to have been done annually in the United States. Invasive species such as zebra mussels and brown tree snakes shut down electrical utilities and caused power outages. Invading sea lampreys caused the collapse of lake trout and other Great Lakes fisheries. Executive Order 13112 of February 3, 1999 defines “invasive species” as an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.
While no one law addresses all the concerns of invasive species, many other federal laws address some aspect of invasive species. These laws date as far back as 1900, with the Lacey Act, which has a provision that addresses injurious species (animals that injure the interests of human beings and wildlife). They also include the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act, passed in 1990. The Act created a Task Force to control aquatic invasive species. Most recently, Congress is responding to a potential invasive threat in the Great Lakes. Senate Bill 1421, the Asian Carp Prevention and Control Act, is currently pending.
States also enact legislation in order to combat the introduction and spread of invasive species. Nineteen states now have invasive species councils or similar bodies. However, state laws focus mainly on plant invasive species, not animal invasive species.
While the goal of federal and state laws focuses on the removal of invasive species and the protection of native biodiversity, there are inherent concerns over the eradication methods used and their impact on the invasive animals themselves. No current methods employed in controlling and eradicating invasive animals are entirely successful and many cause stress, trauma and suffering for the animals involved, raising concerns over their humaneness and impacts on animal welfare. Balancing the need to manage invasive species and the welfare of individual animals can be difficult.
Almost every state has a law prohibiting cruelty to animals. The laws do not explicitly mention invasive species, but many do reference pests. Many of the laws have exemptions for pests, impliedly allowing these animals to be killed inhumanely. The legislators’ intent to include invasive species as pests is unclear, but the multiple exemptions for pests do raise the legal possibility that invasive species are themselves exempted.
As the pace of globalization continues to increase, the threat of new species introductions also increases. Human activity such as trade, travel and tourism is likely to continue to increase substantially, increasing the speed and volume of species movement to unprecedented levels. If the spread of invasive species is not prevented, then their presence in United States ecosystems may become irreversible. Action has been taken at both the federal and state level to limit the spread of invasive species.
There tension between managing invasive animals and protecting the welfare of individual animals is apparent from the laws addressing both invasive species control and animal cruelty. Many control methods raise significant animal welfare issues. Invasive species also impact the welfare of native species through competition for resources and predation. Finding a balance amongst the goals of protecting all animals as well as the human environment will be a continuing struggle in United States law.