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Feds To Fight Exotic Species

President Clinton is expanding government efforts to combat the increasing economic and environmental problem posed by the invasion of exotic foreign plants and animals.

Citing the growing threat from non-native species, Clinton signed an executive order Wednesday directing agencies to "mobilize the federal government to defend against these aggressive predators and pests."

Predatory species, such as the zebra mussel that first surfaced in the Great Lakes and the Asian long-horned beetle that attacked maple trees in Chicago and New York, have caused widespread economic and ecological harm.

The order creates a new interagency Invasive Species Council that will develop a broad management plan within 18 months to minimize the economic, ecological, and human health impacts of these species and keep them from spreading.

The president's budget, sent to Congress earlier this week, also calls for an additional $29 million to be spent on combating invasive species and on research on restoring damaged ecosystems.

Exotic species have found their way into the country in numerous ways, by clinging to ships, burrowing into wooden shipping crates, in food, aboard aircraft, or in water discharged from foreign freighters.

These unwanted pests "threaten to wreak major economic and environmental havoc," said Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, unless they are brought under control or kept out of the country altogether.

Glickman will chair the new council along with Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Commerce Secretary William Daley, White House officials said.

Biologists estimate that more than 6,000 plants and animals have been introduced into the United States from abroad by accident or misguided intentions. Many of these species enter the country in ballast water that is discharged from freighters.

In the Bay Delta area around San Francisco alone, there have been 234 non-native exotic species recorded, with a new species entering the bay every 14 days, says Linda Sheehan of the Center for Marine Conservation.

"Exotic species are wreaking havoc on our coastal ecosystems," Sheehan said.

A group of West Coast environmentalists recently petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate ballast water discharges from ships, calling such discharges "the single largest cause of exotic species invasion."

There has been no reply to the petition from the EPA.

Nowhere has the potential damage from invading species been more dramatically demonstrated than with the East Asian long-horned beetles, which devoured thousands of maple trees in Chicago and New York City.

The beetle apparently entered the country in wooden shipping crates from its native China. Beginning in mid-December, new regulations require such crates to be heated and chemically treated to kill the beetle.

In the Great Lakes, the zebra mussel, believed to have entered the United Stats in ballast water aboard ships, has dramatically altered the ecosystem and spread as far as Oklahoma.

Damage from the zebra mussel has been put as high as $5 billion, officials said. It has clogged water supplies, power station intake pipes and caused problems for factories.

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