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Invasive species response bill advances

Posted: March 16, 2013 - 9:13pm  |  Updated: March 16, 2013 - 9:17pm

A bill crafted to address outbreaks of invasive aquatic species in Sitka and other locations around the state moved ahead in the Alaska House of Representatives Wednesday, although allocations included in the bill for temporary state employee positions were stripped out.

House Bill 89 from Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, would create a rapid response fund and require the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to work with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and other partners on a management plan for dealing with invasive aquatic species before they become widespread.

It would also allow the ADF&G to use “chemical, biological, mechanical, or physical methods” to control or eradicate them.

Seaton stressed that the bill seeks to counter “incipient” populations of invasive species — those which have not taken firm root and progressed to the “endemic” stage. When an invasive species becomes endemic, he and DNR Deputy Commissioner Ed Fogels said during the hearing, it becomes very hard to manage.

“This is a tactical battle when you have an incipient population,” Seaton said, offering a combat metaphor for the situation. “An endemic population, you’re going to have to have a war. You’re going to have to have a really strong battle plan.”

Invasive aquatic species have moved into several areas of Alaska. Among other non-native nuisances, didemnum vexillumis, or Dvex — a tunicate organism nicknamed “Sea Vomit” due to its pale orange color and the way it covers exposed surfaces — was discovered in Sitka’s Whiting Harbor in 2010, and the hardy freshwater plant elodea canadensis has cropped up in several lakes and waterways in Interior and Southcentral Alaska.

Rep. Mike Hawker, R-Anchorage, indicated support for HB 89, but he proposed an amendment Wednesday to “zero out” its fiscal notes — effectively canceling the bill’s immediate fiscal impact.

“I would much rather have the agency have to argue the numbers back into the bill in front of the Finance Committee than have someone up there have to come back in, try to argue them back down,” Hawker said. “I’d much rather see a more thorough explanation in the Finance Committee (providing) justification for the fiscal notes, and we have the ability to inspire that conversation by zeroing the fiscal notes.”

Hawker’s amendment stripped the bill of fiscal notes of $363,000 for the next fiscal year and $140,900 for fiscal year 2015. According to written analysis attached to the bill, which remained untouched at Seaton’s request, the bill would have allocated funds for four temporary staff members to work on developing a rapid response plan.

After Hawker’s amendment was adopted, H.B. 89 moved out of committee on a motion by Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell. Despite the zero fiscal note now attached to the bill, its next stop is the House Finance Committee.

Mark D. Miller can be reached at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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