News & Insights

Great American Outdoors Act and Colorado congressional delegation to combat invasive species on federal lands

The Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) provides an opportunity to combat the growing problem of invasive species on federal lands. Colorado’s congressional delegation can assure some GAOA funds are used to protect the ecological integrity of national parks and other public lands.

Above scene of Escalante River after removal of invasive species

Russian olives displacing cottonwoods

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, invasive species are spreading at “astonishing rates.” It concluded that almost one-third of plants and animals currently protected under the Endangered Species Act are considered to be at risk in part due to competition with invasive species. 

The Bureau of Land Management estimates almost 123,000 square miles of the lands it manages are negatively impacted by noxious and invasive weeds. According to the National Park Service, exotic invasive plants cover about 1.4 million acres managed by the agency. 

The agency has documented at least 42 invasive exotic plant species in Rocky Mountain National Park. That number is growing, and the distribution and acreage of invasive plants is expanding.

The GAOA will provide up to $1.9 billion a year for five years to tackle deferred maintenance on federal lands. Most of the funds will be directed at facilities and utilities in national parks. For example, RMNP has proposed using GAOA funds to rehabilitate the headquarters east water system, and the electrical distribution system in the Moraine Park campground. Unfortunately, the initial list of GAOA projects proposed for funding by the National Park Service included none that address control of invasive species.

More than a century ago, the legislation establishing the National Park Service stated the basic intent of our national park system: “to conserve the scenery, natural and historic objects, and wild life … by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” This mandate was reinforced more than 20 years ago by Executive Order 13112, which gave federal land management agencies the responsibility to detect and control invasive species, and restore native habitat.

Native landscapes and habitat provide the foundation for maintaining the integrity, stability, beauty and natural characteristics of our national parks, including the plants and animals within them.

The wholeness of the biotic community and the interdependence within it is dramatically disrupted by invasive species, which are spreading rapidly in national parks, despite efforts to control them.

It can be argued that maintaining the ecological integrity of national parks is as important as maintaining roads, bridges, campgrounds, visitor centers and utilities.

Taken to its extreme, what good is an improved campground or road in Redwoods National Park if invasive species displace Sequoia sempervirens?

Continued support for invasive species control efforts (Russian Olive or tamarisk on riverbanks) with ERWP - After

The Colorado congressional delegation can help assure that GAOA funds are used to combat the growing invasive species problem on our federal lands. Reps. Lauren Boebert, Diana DeGette, Doug Lamborn and Joe Neguse serve on the House Natural Resources Committee. Mr. Neguse was recently appointed chair of the subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. Sen. John Hickenlooper serves on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Both committees have jurisdiction over GAOA-funded projects. Their bipartisan efforts could help assure GAOA is used to combat invasive species in Colorado’s national parks and other federal lands.

Controlling invasive species on federal lands is a massive need that is massively underfunded. GAOA is a revenue source that could make a material difference in restoring native habitat and protecting the ecological integrity of lands that have not been adversely impacted. Coloradans can make this happen.

Ronald Rudolph holds a Master’s of Science in Energy and Resources from the University of California, Berkeley. He was a founding Executive Committee member of the Renewable & Sustainable Energy Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He can be reached at ronald.rudoph@cardno.com.

Author: Ronald Rudolph is the Vice President of Business Development for Cardno's Americas Region. He is based in Colorado, United States.