The variety of native species found in Georgia is in part a reflection of the range of landscapes that make up the state. From the mixed forests and woodlands of the north Georgia mountains, to the low rolling hills of Central Georgia, to the swampy lowland, marshes and barrier islands of the coast, the state’s various ecosystems make Georgia the sixth most biologically diverse state in the Union. Existing along with all these native species, however, are many nonnative species that have been introduced into the state. While many of these species are relatively benign, a few of them are becoming invasive. Invasive species, also known as exotic, nonnative or introduced species, are plants and animals that have been introduced, either intentionally or accidentally, into areas outside their natural ranges and cause economic or environmental harm. These species are capable of having a negative effect on Georgia’s economy, natural environment, and human and animal health.
In response to this challenge, the Georgia Invasive Species Update Advisory Committee (Committee), led by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, developed the Georgia Invasive Species Management Plan to describe the nature and extent of the state’s invasive species problem and propose specific management actions to minimize negative impacts. Given the tremendous scope and complexity of the invasive species problem in Georgia, the Committee members did not attempt to outline detailed management programs for various groups of invasive species. Rather, they sought to develop a document that could serve as a framework to facilitate such critical efforts in the future, by summarizing current activities and priorities relating to invasive species management, identifying gaps in programs and authorities, and providing recommendations for future additions and enhancements.
Over a period of approximately one year, the Committee identified needs and existing tools for responding to invasive species problems within the state. As part of this process, groups on the committee identified 51 invasive or potentially invasive plant species, 107 animal species and 30 disease-causing organisms. Based on this information, the Committee set goals and objectives and proposed strategies for action.
The goal of this effort is to prevent and control the introduction of invasive species into Georgia and minimize the further spread and impacts of existing invasive species populations on native species, environmental quality, human health, and the economy. The plan endeavors to do this through eight objectives:
There are 40 actions in the plan to address these objectives. Some of the first actions are anticipated to be the development of new educational materials relating to invasive species, funding of a statewide invasive species coordinator, and development of a rapid response plan to control or eradicate priority invasive species populations and coordinate responses with full partner participation. The purpose of the Georgia Invasive Species Management Plan is to coordinate support for all state invasive species efforts through collaboration and full communication among agencies and organizations. Not only does such a planning effort improve the effectiveness of field actions, it can also increase funding opportunities for the proposed actions. Cooperation among the Committee members (drawn from 15 state entities, seven federal agencies, and nine non-governmental organizations) was central to the development of this management plan, and will be critical to its execution.
Two groups will be very important for continuing this collaborative effort: the Georgia Invasive Species Task Force and the Georgia Invasive Species Council. The Georgia Invasive Species Task Force is comprised of the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the Georgia Forestry Commission, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and the University of Georgia. For more than 15 years, members of this group have worked cooperatively together in invasive species detection, control, and education. These state agencies have legislative authority and/or mandates for action for invasive species detection and response as well as long established relationships with other state and federal agencies. When exotic pests are detected, each agency has clear responsibilities within the Incident Command System (ICS). This group will serve as the primary interagency task force for detection and control of invasive species and coordination of education and outreach programs relating to invasive species in Georgia.
The Committee also supports the establishment of the Georgia Invasive Species Council. This interagency group will provide broad coordination and support for invasive species management and research programs. The Council will be composed of representatives from all state agencies involved in invasive species management. Representatives of federal agencies and nongovernmental organizations with invasive species management authority or expertise will be invited to participate as stakeholders. The Council will advise state agencies on prevention and control of invasive species, provide a forum for discussion of invasive species issues and policies, facilitate development of a coordinated network among state agencies to document, evaluate, and monitor the effects of invasive species, and prepare and release a biennial report detailing progress toward attainment of the goals and objectives outlined in this plan.