Andrea Fowler, David Lodge, and Jennifer Hsia (University of Notre Dame) examined the efficacy of the Lacey Act in their research communication, "Failure of the Lacey Act to protect US ecosystems against animal invasions." The study appears in the September issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.
With over 100 years on the books (passed in 1900), the Lacey Act is the main legal defense against invasive animal species. The "injurious wildlife provision" of the Lacey Act seeks to regulate foreign invasive species that may damage ecosystems, replace native populations, and kill off valuable natural resources and fisheries.
"If the US is to reduce the probability of future damage from invasive animal species, revision or replacement of the Lacey Act's injurious wildlife provision is essential," say the authors. "The contemporary threat of invasive species has far outstripped current authority and practice under this statute."
Examining all Federal Register documents, Fowler and colleagues searched the listed names of organisms, references to the Lacey Act, and references to injurious wildlife to determine which species were listed, considered for listing, and either added or not added to the list.
Many animals were already established when they were added to the list and continued to spread after their listing. The most common way to begin the process of listing a species in the last 25 years has been by petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, by March 1, 2007, when the authors wrote the paper, it took an average of more that three and a half years to list a species in this way.
According to the report, the lack of an efficient and consistently applied risk assessment procedure undermine the Lacey Act. Currently, most imported species only need to be declared to customs or permitted through the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The act was expanded from mammals and birds to include mollusks, crustaceans, reptiles, and amphibians in the late 1960's and early 1980's. In the 1970's there was a movement to limit importation to a list of low-risk wildlife, but the list was never implemented.
Fowler et. al. point out that the Lacey Act contains no authority or funding to manage the spread of established wild invasive species, which will do little to slow down organisms already present in the US.
The researchers suggest that prescreening, as well as switching from the use of a list of banned animals to approved species, would better protect the nation's environment and natural resources.