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Invasive Species Projects


The Environmental Law Institute’s Invasive Species Program promotes the development and implementation of laws, regulations, and policies that prevent introduction of and minimize the harm caused by invasive species.

The program focuses its efforts in three areas: linking climate change and invasive species policies; strengthening state and federal invasive species policy and practice; and encouraging cooperative management of invasive species. As show by the following representative projects, we work with government agencies, foundations, and other stakeholders to promote effective policy reform.


  • Predicting the effects of climate change on invasive species policy: In 2006, ELI convened leading invasive species scientists and managers to identify aquatic invasive species research and policy needs in the context of global climate change. ELI and its partners used these insights to publish a special section in Conservation Biology; together, these articles have been cited more than 120 times.

  • Building climate change into aquatic invasive species management: Working with the EPA’s Global Change Research Program, ELI studied how state aquatic invasive species management plans adapt to changing climate and other variables. The resulting report, published in 2008, identified a clear need to imporve adaptive capacity and recommended steps to better integrate climate change into the management planning process.


  • Developing state ballast water laws to protect the Great Lakes: Ballast water discharge is a primary pathway for the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes. ELI research supports state efforts to close off this pathway. In 2006, ELI compiled an inventory of relevant state laws and considered whether and how pending federal legislation would preempt them. After defeat of the legislation, ELI followed up by considering how financial responsibility standards could enable states more effectively to implement and enforce their existing ballast water discharge laws.

  • Obstacles and oportunities for state early detection/rapid response actions: Early detection and rapid response are critical to enable eradication of new invasive species, but too often responses are hindered by problems such as inability to access private land. In 2007, ELI studied state laws and regulations in 13 states to identify legal and policy constraints to effective detection and response of invasive forest pests and pathogens. The Continental Dialogue on Non-Native Forest Insects and Diseases is using our report in support of its efforts to reform USDA’s plant importation rules.


  • Harmonizing invasive species management in the Chesapeake Bay: Invasive species are a serious issue in the Chesapeake Bay, but effective prevention and management require the cooperation of multiple agencies in six states and the federal government. With state and federal agency partners, ELI analyzed existing legal authorities and management practices to identify legal and practical hurdles to cooperation and opportunities to harmonize policy on an inter-state basis. Some ELI reccommendations were adopted by the Mid-Atlantic Panel on Aquatic Invasive Species, and ELI continues to work with the panel and Bay states alike to encourage effective policy reform.

  • Applying the Clean Water Act to invasive species problems: Some states have begun regulating invasive species under the Clean Water Act. ELI has explored how different states have used the TMDL Program to designate waters as impaired due to aquatic invasive species. We also identified the legal authorities enabling states to apply the Clean Water Act in this context. EPA and the states alike are using ELI’s report to inform their ongoing policy development and TMDL determination processes.

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