Invasive Species as a Trilateral Challenge

Report on the Plenary Session at the VIII Trilateral Committee Meeting


Albuquerque, New Mexico

April 29, 2003


Prepared by Andrea Grosse and Bill Gregg, USGS

July 11, 2003



For the first time within the Trilateral Committee framework, the Committee held a daylong plenary meeting to examine a specific theme as it relates to Trilateral Committee activities. The objectives of this plenary were to discover who is addressing invasives species issues among Trilateral Committee participants; define the invasive species information requirements of the Trilateral Committee participants; inform plenary participants about planned and on-going North American invasives projects; consider the context for a North American strategy on invasives; consider additional action the Trilateral Committee might take regarding invasives; and to make recommendations to the Executive Table of the Trilateral Committee. During the morning, information was presented on the plans and strategies for addressing invasive species at the national, regional, and global levels. These presentations stimulated the afternoon roundtable discussions among participants and provided the basis for recommendations to the Executive Table. The topics covered during the morning presentations were the Global Invasive Species Program; North American Invasives Strategy; North American Invasive Species Information Hub; Inter-American Biodiversity Information Network’s Invasive Species Information Network; Davis Declaration; Aquatic Invasive Species Initiative of the Commission on Environmental Cooperation; Mexican National Strategy on Invasive Species; Mexican National Invasive Species Information System; Canadian Draft National Invasive Alien Species Plan; US National Invasive Species Management Plan; and West Nile Virus. The afternoon session consisted of discussions—in five separate break-out groups on prevention, information, and control and management of aquatic species, terrestrial species, and wildlife diseases—and concluded with a presentation of each group’s highlights. The moderator’s concluding remarks underscored the vulnerability of North America’s biological heritage to the increasing threats from invasive species, and the particular opportunities for the Trilateral to facilitate cooperation in addressing the threats.


To encourage participants to define their ideas and come prepared for a focused discussion, a concept paper was distributed in advance (see annex). Speakers and moderators included Laura Arriaga, CONABIO; Christopher Brand, U.S. Geological Survey; Gabriela Chavarria, National Wildlife Federation; William Gregg, U.S. Geological Survey; Sharon Gross, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Hans Herrmann, Commission for Environment Cooperation; Beth MacNeil, Environment Canada; Jose Maria Reyes, SEMARNAT; Guy Rochon, Environment Canada; Dana Roth, U.S. Department of State; and Annie Simpson, National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII).


The plenary was a great success. Participation in the breakout groups was vigorous and the presentations caught the attention of the audience. Over 60 people attended, more than anyone expected. In the audience were the Director and Deputy Director of USFWS, the President of the Mexican National Ecology Institute, the General Director of Wildlife for the Mexican Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, and the Director of the Biodiversity Convention Office of Environment Canada. The plenary was a successful example of trinational and multi-agency collaboration. The U.S. acting co-chair of the Biodiversity Information Table provided leadership for organizing the plenary, and facilitating discussion and consensus on the session’s agenda and structure among trinational Biodiversity Information Table co-chairs, invasive species specialists, annual meeting coordinators, presenters, and other participants. Presenters, moderators, and breakout-group facilitators were selected to ensure that all countries were represented. The concept paper was written with trinational input.


Copies of the agenda and other meeting documents are available from



Highlights of the Presentations


The Global Invasive Species Programme (GISP) was initially developed in January 1996 and established in 1997 to address the global threats caused by invasive alien species and to help support implementation of Article 8(h) of the Convention on Biological Diversity. GISP seeks to improve the scientific basis for decision-making on invasive species; develop capacities to employ early warning and rapid assessment and response systems; enhance the ability to manage invasives; reduce the economic impacts of invasives and control methods; develop better risk assessment methods; and strengthen international agreements. GISP strives to develop public education about invasive species, improve understanding of the ecology of invasives, examine legal and institutional frameworks for controlling invasive species, develop new codes of conduct for the movement of species, and design new tools for quantifying the impact of invasives.


The Mexican National Strategy on Invasive Species is being developed cooperatively though a series of workshops, with experts from academic institutions, governmental agencies, NGOs, industry, and policy makers. CONABIO, one of the leaders of this effort, has completed the draft on pathways, prevention, control, and informatics. The focus now is on public awareness, regulatory measures, and intergovernmental cooperation. Mexico has a prototype application for a National Information System on Invasive Species, which will organize the available information concerning invasive species for terrestrial and aquatic environments. This system will be used to determine priority species for further ecological studies; to model potential ecological niches of species, and to develop risk assessments. Several risk assessments case studies have been completed.


The Canadian National Invasive Species Plan draft is being developed now and a policy and management framework with associated early actions will be presented to resource ministers in September 2003. Possible early actions may include ballast water and live fish and aquarium trade. Some of the key policy issues that need to be addressed in the national plan include: trade issues, the precautionary approach, risk assessment, enforcement, alternative methods for control, access to proprietary information, lead agencies and accountabilities.


The U.S. National Invasive Species Management Plan, approved in 2001, sets forth national goals and recommends actions for interagency implementation in nine priority areas: leadership and coordination, prevention, early detection and rapid response, control and management, restoration, research, information management, and education/public awareness, and international cooperation. Among the actions focusing on international cooperation, the National Invasive Species Council is developing information and concepts for a North American Invasive Species Strategy [html | Word]. The presentation identified some key gaps and players, and invited input from Canada and Mexico.


The Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC) addresses regional environmental concerns in North America, helps prevent potential trade and environmental conflicts, and promotes the effective enforcement of environmental law, all as part of its mandate under the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation. The CEC has initiated a project that seeks to protect North America’s marine and aquatic ecosystems from the effects of aquatic invasive species. The project is encouraging the development of a North American approach to prevention and control to eliminate the pathways of the introduction of invasive species into the coastal and fresh waters of Canada, Mexico and the United States. The CEC recommends that cooperation in North America focus on promoting the use of shared vocabularies for indexing and accessing information on invasive species; increasing taxonomic capacity; promoting free and open access to information on the identity, occurrences, spread, and risks; creating a directory of North American government agencies and other institutions dealing with invasive species; understanding regulatory frameworks; identifying invasive species of common concern; identifying North American priorities for vectors and pathways; and identifying regional actions required to heighten awareness of invasive species problem among the public.


The West Nile Virus is a pathogen of significant public health, veterinary, and wildlife concern that has spread rapidly across the North American continent. There is particular concern about the impact it may have on threatened and endangered species. The establishment of a prototype Wildlife Disease Information Node as part of the National Biological Information Infrastructure offers a means to report WNV and other diseases in wildlife can be facilitated. Although still in its early stages, the node is envisioned as a collaborative effort among all wildlife disease entities (state, federal, and international) in providing information on wildlife diseases such as near real-time reporting and surveillance maps, technical assistance and training, and links to various databases, organizations and other sources of information. Trilateral participation in this Node, including enhancement and integration of wildlife disease programs in Mexico, can expand the usefulness of this Node to the wildlife, veterinary, and public health communities as well as the public. The Trilateral Committee could endorse and facilitate international collaboration in the development of biosurveillance programs for WNV (and other pathogens) in wildlife; collaborative research and information dissemination on the distribution, spread, and impacts of WNV in wildlife; and investigations of control and prevention methods, particularly for threatened and endangered wildlife species.


The spread of the cactus moth would be devastating to native Opuntia cactus species, affecting commercial and natural lands in Mexico and USA. Mexico puts a high priority on pursuing collaborative efforts to prevent the spread of Cactoblastis across the U.S. and into Mexico. Mexico requested that US governmental agencies promote and coordinate some preventive actions in collaboration with the Mexican agencies. Some additional background on the species is needed, including history of use as a biocontrol agent in Australia and elsewhere in last century, recent introduction into Florida and subsequent spread along Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and potential threat to North American centers of Platyopuntia in the southwestern USA and northern Mexico.


Coordination on development of invasive species information networks has been a growing regional emphasis, facilitated by GISP, NBII, CONABIO, and other partners. There have been two meetings of experts to define a framework for a North American Invasive Species Information Hub, and the Davis Declaration was the result of the first. The second encouraged cross-agency compilation of invasive species resources in a standardized way, as emphasized by the IABIN Invasives Information Network (I3N). I3N was implemented two years ago as a pilot program to promote cooperation and information exchange. Participants from 11 countries of this hemisphere use the Internet and a widely available database program to create interoperable catalogs of invasive species lists, experts, projects, and datasets. In the U.S., the NBII has established an Invasive Species Information Node to facilitate coordination and integrate invasive species data involving the NBII network of information nodes and cooperating agencies and organizations. A Cross-Node Working Group on Invasive Species has generated an evolving list of approximately 250 invasive species of concern. The NBII’s Invasive Species Node is closely linked with research and technical assistance through the new USGS National Institute of Invasive Species Science (NIISS). A major focus of NIISS is to support early warning and rapid response to new invaders. The National Invasive Species Council has developed preliminary guidelines to assist those that wish to establish or evaluate early detection/rapid response systems.



Highlights and summary of the discussions


Invasive species are a significant problem on the continent. The Trilateral is the ideal platform to enhance the effectiveness of existing approaches to the invasive species problem by exploring collaborative opportunities. Opportunities identified by the break-out groups include the following:



·         Emphasize public awareness, regulatory measures, and intergovernmental cooperation.

·         Increase training for wildlife biologists, government officials, resource managers, public health officials, policy makers, and resource users.

·         Develop training programs for border crossing and rapid response to potential invasions.

·         Encourage creation of identification aids.

·         Expand public education on invasive species of priority concern by compiling facts and quotations on impacts, case studies of success and failures in cooperative responses, acceptable alternatives to the use of invasive species.

·         Develop, manage, and integrate databases on invasive species, and apply standards and methods to facilitate access to information. Each country should adopt and continue to develop the I3N standards, in collaboration with IABIN.

·         Translate documents.

·         Identify gaps in legal frameworks.

·         Establish joint preventive measures to avoid the possible expansion of Cactoblastis cactorum in the USA and Mexico.

·         Evaluate pathways, such as aquaculture.

·         Identify shared waters at high risk of invasion.

·         Develop or agree upon having common positions in the International Initiatives (i.e. CBD) concerning the introduction of extra-continental species.

·         Explore a double customs system.

·         Analyze international and domestic regulatory and non-binding frameworks.

·         Share risk assessments among countries and agencies.

·         Harmonize trade/importation/quarantine regulations.

·         Encourage use of native species for aquaculture.

·         Develop economic incentives to change behavior to prevent invasives.

·         Identify and coordinate research needs on life history of invasive species.

·         Establish rapid response strategies focusing on specific geographic areas.

·         Develop alerts and highlights of new invasive species based on early warning/reporting of new occurrences/monitoring.

·         Create work groups on particular species and issues.


Control and management

·         Harmonize the “black lists” in the three countries.

·         Evaluate where a small amount of budget could result in an efficient strategy for the 3 countries.

·         Examine restoration as a tool to bring back native species/systems.

·         Address cultural aspects related to the introduction of alien species.

·         Improve communication between thematic groups (aquatic and weed specialists).

·         Link national and regional planning with local cooperative initiatives.

·         Encourage establishment and support of cross-border invasive species management areas.

·         Increase technical assistance in building capacity to use innovative control methods.

·         Improve access of managers to tools for prioritizing species and assessing innovative methods for cost-effective responses on a landscape bases.

·         Coordinate of development of biological control agents and methods for determining priorities in their use.

·         Coordinate control methods and priorities with state/local/regional entities.

·         Evaluate socio-economic values and impacts of invasive species.

·         Address Asian carp, which are prolific invaders in the Mississippi River system and may continue to spread into the Great Lakes.

·         Address Emerald ash borer, which is causing rapid mortality of ash species in the Midwest and Ontario.

·         Address Chronic Wasting Disease, which has been found in free-roaming or captive deer or elk in 12 states and 2 Canadian provinces.



·         Determine geographic, taxonomic and thematic information needs.

·         Develop informatics tool kit for regional hubs.


·         Promote the modeling of bioinformatics predictions, promote shared vocabularies, and improve taxonomic capacities.

·         Compile a directory of who is who in invasive species.

·         Create a directory of legal and information frameworks.

·         Provide information on sources of funding and technical assistance for local control action.



·         The wildlife disease group recommended that the Trilateral create a working table for wildlife diseases to identify key pathways and emerging pathogens, such as the pet trade; address the overlap of authorities and responsibilities in managing diseases in free-ranging wildlife; develop information-sharing mechanisms; and enhance the infrastructure for wildlife diseases in Mexico and link them with U.S. and Canadian Wildlife diseases organizations. Invasive wildlife diseases of concern to various participants in the group include pathogens such as West Nile virus, Lyme disease, sylvatic plague, malignant catarrhal fever, epizootic hemorrhagic disease/blue tongue, heartwater, and foot and mouth disease.

·         Establish a new Trilateral Table on invasives: the invasive species issue is too complex and broad to be adequately covered by existing tables (invasive species is rapidly becoming a focus of concern, planning, and action in the Trilateral agencies and merits a separate table to help identify priorities and opportunities for cooperation – including issues not readily addressed by other tables [e.g., priorities for early warning/rapid response, harmonization of monitoring, assessment, and response methods].


The results of the questionnaire on potential focus areas for the Trilateral suggest that within the theme of invasive species, prevention is the area of highest interest among Trilateral participants overall. The issues of highest interest in each Break-out group are indicated in the Table below.


Break-out groups

Issues of highest interest to participants of each break-out group (not in order)


prevention, aquatics, disease

Control/Management – Aquatic

prevention, control & management of aquatic species, information


prevention, control & management of terrestrial species

Control/Management – Wildlife Disease

insufficient number of responses from participants


insufficient number of responses from participants



Outcomes of the plenary


·         The international context and key issues were brought to the attention of fish and wildlife administrators and managers of the three countries.

·         An outline by a U.S. federal inter-agency committee on how to advance the fight against invasive species was distributed to representatives of Mexico and Canada for input.

·         A relationship was begun between the Wildlife division of the Mexican Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and NBII Wildlife Disease node on collaboration related to West Nile Virus issues.

·         The Biodiversity Information Table submitted formal recommendations, based on the plenary discussions, to the Executive Committee. All recommendations were approved. (A copy of the formal recommendations is available from The Biodiversity Information Table recommended that the Trilateral Committee:

§         Endorse a workshop on invasive species in conjunction with the next Trilateral Meeting. The Biodiversity Information Table accepted responsibility for developing this workshop.

§         Revisit the question of an invasive species Table next year.

§         Endorse initiation of a cooperative project, including a planning workshop this year, to address the threats from the rapid spread of cactus moth, which could include modeling and surveillance in coastal protected areas, and public education.

§         Consider other potential projects: e.g., West Nile virus effects on migratory birds, emerald ash borer, chronic wasting disease, tamarisk, Asian carp, and leafy spurge.

§         Endorse the creation of a page on invasive species in the Trilateral Web site with links to information sources and points of contact from each country.  [The Biodiversity Information Table has created this page at,, and Content will be added in the coming months.]


All plenary documents and presentations are available on the Website from a single page (