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Invasive alien species: toward a national plan for Canada

Mark Hovorka

Environment Canada, 8th Floor, 351 St. Joseph Blvd., Gatineau, Quebec, K1A 0H3, Canada; e-mail: mark. [email protected]


Canada is developing a national plan to address the threat of invasive alien species in response to increasing concerns regarding the risks of invasive alien species to the environment, economy and society. This paper provides context and summarizes progress to date on the development of a coordinated and integrated plan for Canada. It outlines the key elements of the emerging draft national plan, focusing on leadership and coordination issues and actions proposed for the strategic goals of prevention, early detection, rapid response and management (eradication, containment and control). The paper also highlights early priorities that have been identified as components of an action plan to address invasive plants and invasive alien species that threaten plants.


Under Canada’s emerging draft national plan to address the threat of invasive alien species, alien species are defined as species of plants, animals and micro-organisms introduced by human action outside their natural past or present distribution. Invasive alien species are those harmful alien species whose introduction or spread threatens the environment, the economy or society, including human health. These working definitions are intended to be overarching and inclusive of concepts such as plant quarantine pests as defined by the International Plant Protection Convention, foreign animal diseases, aquatic invasive species, and other terms and synonyms.

Canada’s response to invasive alien species is based on the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Article 8(h). Canada ratified the CBD in 1992, and institutionalized its commitment to implement the convention in the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy (1995). The Canadian Biodiversity Strategy is a national commitment that was endorsed by 17 federal government departments and agencies and the provinces and territories. The strategy adopts a collaborative interjurisdictional approach to biodiversity conservation and provides strategic directions for addressing invasive alien species:

1.81 Take all necessary steps to prevent the introduction of harmful alien organisms and eliminate or reduce their adverse effects to acceptable levels by:

a) developing and implementing effective means to identify and monitor alien organisms;

b) determining priorities for allocating resources for the control of harmful alien organisms based on their impact on native biodiversity and economic resources, and implementing effective control or, where possible, eradication measures;

c) identifying and eliminating common sources of unintentional introductions;

d) developing national and international databases that support the identification and anticipation of the introduction of potentially harmful alien organisms in order to develop control and prevention measures;

e) ensuring that there is adequate legislation and enforcement to control introductions or escapes of harmful alien organisms, and improving preventative mechanisms such as screening standards and risk assessment procedures; and

f) enhancing public education and awareness of the impacts of harmful alien organisms and the steps that can be taken to prevent their introduction.

1.82 Promote research into methods and approaches that improve our ability to assess whether or not alien organisms will have an adverse impact on biodiversity.

The 2002 Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development (a report to Parliament by the Office of the Auditor General of Canada) included a chapter dealing with invasive species. Chapter 4 reviewed the federal government’s progress in coordinating the implementation of a coherent and comprehensive national programme to protect Canada’s ecosystems, habitats and species from existing and potential invaders. The audit focused on the government’s progress in implementing the strategic directions set out in Canada’s biodiversity strategy. It concluded that although the federal government had legislation and programmes to protect agriculture crops, forests and human health from specific alien pests, no comparable effort had been made to protect ecosystems, habitats and species from other invaders. The audit observed that invasive alien species that threaten Canada’s ecosystems or their pathways had not been identified; human and financial resources were spread across multiple departments and agencies and were not coordinated; there was no agreement on priorities or understanding of who would do what to respond; and there was no capability to assess progress.

Three audit recommendations were directed toward Environment Canada, recommending that the department coordinate the development of a national invasive species action plan, secure the commitment of all relevant departments and agencies to implement the plan, and put in place a monitoring and reporting system to track the effectiveness of measures taken. Environment Canada accepted the audit recommendations on behalf of the Government of Canada.

Progress to date

In their review of progress on the implementation of Canada’s biodiversity strategy in 2001, federal, provincial and territorial ministers for wildlife, forests, and fisheries and aquaculture identified invasive alien species as one of four priorities for enhanced collaboration between federal, provincial and territorial levels. This joint meeting of resource ministers’ councils (Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers, Canadian Council of Forest Ministers, and the Wildlife Ministers Council of Canada) requested the development of a draft plan by September 2002.

Environment Canada is coordinating the development of the draft national plan in cooperation with federal departments and agencies and the provinces and territories. While some departments and agencies are not represented at the ministerial level in the joint meeting of resource ministers’ councils, sectors such as agriculture, parks, transportation, national defence and human health have actively contributed to the development of the national plan from the inception of the process. Ministerial representatives from the agriculture sector have also participated in recent meetings of the resource ministers’ councils.

As a first step in the development of the plan, a multi-stakeholder national workshop was held in November 2001. The workshop recommendations were then summarized in a “blueprint” for a national plan, which outlined 14 elements for a national plan: leadership and coordination; legislation, policies and programmes; prevention; risk analysis; early detection and rapid response; eradication, containment and control; restoration; taxonomy and diagnostics; research; surveillance; data and information management; education and outreach; stewardship; and international cooperation.

Ministers approved the blueprint at their meeting in September 2002, and further requested the establishment of four thematic working groups to advance the blueprint: aquatic invasives, terrestrial animals, terrestrial plants, and leadership and coordination. Each thematic working group has been given the task of identifying and assessing priority policy issues, invasive alien species and pathways of invasion, and developing recommendations to address them. The working groups were established between December 2002 and April 2003 and have begun to develop action plans for their respective thematic areas.

Ministers met again in September 2003, providing approval in principle for a discussion document (Toward a national plan: a discussion document) that will be the foundation of the national plan. (Its contents are outlined in box 1.) Ministers requested that a final national plan be presented for their consideration and approval at their meeting in September 2004. Pending ministerial approval, implementation of the national plan to address the threat of invasive alien species would begin immediately. (It is now possible to report that An invasive alien species strategy for Canada was approved by ministers in September 2004 and that proposed action plans for aquatic invasive species, invasive alien terrestrial plants and plant pests, and invasive alien animals will be presented to ministers for their consideration and approval in September 2005.)

Box 1: Contents of Toward a national plan: a discussion document

Executive summary
Rationale for action

The invasive alien species problem
Environmental threats
Economic threats
Social and human health threats
International trade dimension
Pathways of invasion
What is working well
Inadequacy of current invasive alien species measures
International progress and lessons learned

A blueprint for action
Policy and management framework

Principles and practices
Roles and responsibilities
Strategic goals

Early detection
Rapid response
Eradication, containment and control

Implementation strategies

Risk analysis
Legislation and regulations
Education and outreach
International cooperation

Priority-setting criteria

Action plans

Terrestrial animals
Terrestrial plants

Toward a national plan: a discussion document

The discussion document (hereafter referred to as the draft national plan) provides working definitions of alien species and invasive alien species, as well as working definitions of risk, risk analysis and associated terms and concepts. The proposed scope of the draft national plan includes: intentional (authorized and unauthorized/illegal) and unintentional (accidental) introductions; species that are alien to Canada, as well as those that are native to Canada but alien to particular ecosystems; the protection of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and their biodiversity, domestic (agriculture crops and forestry) as well as native; and all relevant sectors that are impacted by, or pathways of, invasive alien species, including agriculture, wildlife, forests, fisheries and transportation. The document highlights the need for linkages with human health issues such as zoonotic diseases, particularly where pathways have multiple economic, biodiversity and human health impacts. It also recognizes the role of governments as regulators of intentional and unintentional introductions and as the proponents of some intentional introductions.

The draft national plan articulates a clear “rationale for action” within the Canadian context, which outlines the nature of the invasive alien species problem and highlights significant environmental threats, economic threats and social and human health threats, as well as important pathways of invasion. In addressing what is working well, the document recognizes the contribution of existing plant and animal health programmes to the protection of agriculture crops (including livestock) and forestry, as well as the incidental benefits of those programmes to the protection of native plant and animal biodiversity. However, in analysing the inadequacy of current measures to address invasive alien species, the draft national plan acknowledges three strategic challenges that need to be met to ensure native and domestic biodiversity are better protected:

The need to respond to these strategic challenges is confirmed by international progress and lessons learned from both national and multilateral initiatives. Countries are increasingly responding to invasive alien species through the development of national strategies and action plans (either overarching or sectoral) that are comprehensive, integrated and coordinated.

The purpose of the draft national plan is to establish a coordinated national policy and management framework that minimizes the risk of invasive alien species to the environment, economy and society. The purpose statement is supported by a vision, as well as key principles and practices, including a commitment to not knowingly introduce high-risk invasive alien species, and to prioritize prevention but simultaneously invest in the management of well-established invaders.

Governments and stakeholders alike have highlighted the need to clarify roles and responsibilities, both within and across jurisdictions, and a process is now underway to develop an accountability framework for “who does what” across a range of sectors. Overarching policy commitments and action items are identified under each of the four strategic goals of prevention, early detection, rapid response and management (eradication, containment, control and recovery). In addition, preliminary priority-setting criteria are proposed to facilitate a more strategic approach that identifies priorities within and across sectors. This broad policy and management framework will be complemented by action plans on aquatic invasives, terrestrial animals and terrestrial plants that identify priority invasive species and pathways/vectors for their respective areas.

The following paragraphs outline the key elements of the discussion document endorsed by ministers in September 2003. It should be noted the components of Canada’s final plan may vary from what is outlined below.

Four priority areas have been proposed for enhanced leadership and coordination, and options will be developed to address each of them over the coming year:

Early detection initiatives will include:

Proposed measures to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of rapid responses to incursions of invasive alien species include:

While governments are engaged in the management of problematic invaders, more needs to be done to address both national and regional priorities:

Box 2: Preliminary list of pathways and vectors of invasion

agricultural crops
nursery stock
restoration and remediation
ornamentals and seedlings
packing materials
commodities (e.g. seed, forage, food produce, grains/birdseed, wood products)
spread/movement (e.g. wind, water, wildlife, livestock - including transboundary movement)
hitchhikers on transport
aquarium trade
soil, sod and gravel
escapes from research, botanical gardens etc.
travel and tourism (including baggage)
Internet and mail order

A focus on plants

Under the draft national plan, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency is leading efforts to develop an action plan for terrestrial plants. A Terrestrial Plants Working Group on Invasive Species has been established, co-chaired by the agency and the province of Ontario. The terms of reference of the working group are inclusive; it is mandated to address invasive plants and invasive alien species that impact plants. Invasive alien species that are themselves plants (weeds or pest plants) are an emerging priority, with significant and longstanding weed problems across Canada impacting agriculture, forests and biodiversity. Policy issues identified by the working group as early priorities include: clarifying roles and responsibilities across governments; broadening the scope and application of risk analysis; and developing a coordinated surveillance network. The working group has identified key pathways and vectors for the introduction of invasives relevant to plants (see box 2). The pathways are both intentional and unintentional in nature, with many involving the movement of species within Canada and internationally. Preliminary assessments of these pathways will begin shortly to identify priorities and initiatives that may already be underway and to develop an action plan to address those pathways and vectors.

Invasive alien species and the IPPC: an environment perspective

Under Canada’s draft national plan, the definition of invasive alien species includes the concept of plant pest as defined by the IPPC. Through the participation of Canada’s national plant protection organization, the CFIA, the IPPC’s approach to managing “invasive alien species” is informing and contributing to the development of Canada’s draft national plan. The draft national plan recognizes the contribution of the IPPC to the protection of native plant biodiversity, and seeks to enhance the existing plant health programme framework. Canada is committed to building on what is already working well, and recognizes the IPPC’s interest in applying international standards for phytosanitary measures and other tools to enhance the protection of native plant biodiversity (for example, through the revised ISPM 11, which addresses environmental risk assessment).

Within Canada, the environment sector is becoming increasingly interested in the IPPC, and plant protection organizations are becoming increasingly interested in the protection of native plant biodiversity. It is anticipated that the environment sector will become more engaged in the IPPC as the draft national plan moves from an overarching policy and management framework to an action plan on terrestrial plants.

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