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New Senate Bill Would Strengthen Protections Against Invasive Animal Species And Diseases

Bill sponsor Sen. Kristen Gillibrand seeks to prevent the import of harmful non-native fish and wildlife in her second term

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13,  2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Shortly before Congress broke for its pre-election recess, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) took a major step forward to stop the import of invasive non-native animals when she introduced "The Invasive Fish and Wildlife Prevention Act of 2012" (S. 3606). Now that Congress has reconvened, the recently re-elected Senator will begin efforts to generate support for the bill from her Senate colleagues.

"This bill, which updates a key import law that is 112 years old, deserves serious consideration by the 112th Congress," said Peter Jenkins, spokesperson for the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species. "Its companion bill in the House has bipartisan support, and we anticipate the same support for the Senate bill."

This bill will allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prevent new, harmful fish and wildlife from being imported into the country and to more quickly act to prevent the spread of those that are already here. S. 3606 is the companion bill to H.R. 5864, introduced by Rep. Louise Slaughter on May 30, 2012, and supported by 30 bipartisan co-sponsors.

The current U.S. law governing the import of animals has proven to be ineffective in protecting the country from the influx of thousands of non-native fish and wildlife species being imported into the country, hundreds of which are already known to be economically or ecologically harmful, or present disease risk. Often, protections are put in place to limit the spread and transport of harmful non-native animal species only after they have escaped and become established. Recent invasions by imported animal species such as the Burmese python, Asian carp, and red lionfish are together costing federal, state, and local governments tens of millions of dollars annually in efforts to control them. These costs could have been avoided if authorities had considered their risks beforehand and restricted their importation.

"A law enacted in 1900 provides insufficient oversight for the 21st century trade of live animals," said Jennifer Nalbone, director of Navigation and Invasive Species for Great Lakes United. "The best defense against invasive species is to prevent them from being imported into the country in the first place. This bill goes a long way in preventing future invasions and protecting our environment, wildlife, and economy. Congress needs to enact this bill quickly."

As a leading import market, the United States receives hundreds of millions of live, non-native animals each year for use in aquaculture or for sale by the pet and aquarium trades and other businesses. For years, the federal government has come under sharp criticism for allowing the import of invasive animal species that cause extensive damage to ecosystems, are a burden to taxpayers, and present safety or health threats.

The proposed legislation will create a new screening system within six years to proactively review live animals proposed for import to the United States and to restrict those that pose serious risks before they are imported, while also immediately giving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service greater flexibility and authority to make science-based decisions to prohibit or restrict live animals already in trade. The current law regulating animal imports does not require that animals being imported first be screened for invasiveness, for diseases they might carry, or for the risks they pose to humans or wildlife.

"Senator Gillibrand's action provides a critical opportunity for Congress to close the loophole that allowed harmful invasive species like Asian carp, Burmese python, and red lionfish to be imported into the country," said Bruce Stein of the National Wildlife Federation. "S. 3606 represents one of the most significant policy advances we can make to prevent future harmful invasions, and save taxpayers millions of dollars a year in damages and control costs."

Established in 2003, the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species (NECIS) is a national network of 18 major conservation and environmental organizations that provides a united expert and scientific voice on invasive species policy. For more information, please visit www.necis.net.

SOURCE the National Environmental Coalition on Invasive Species (NECIS)

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