Resource Development Council

RDC Comment Letter:
Division of Agriculture Invasive Plants

February 28, 2013

Brianne Blackburn
5310 Bodenburg Spur Road
Palmer, AK 99645

Re: Division of Agriculture proposed changes to regulations

Dear Ms. Blackburn:

The Resource Development Council for Alaska (RDC) is writing in regard to proposed changes in regulations in Title 11 dealing with plant health and quarantine. According to the Division of Agriculture (DOA), the proposed changes seek to more clearly define invasive weeds as pests in the existing regulations and develop a process for the management and eradication of invasive plants.

RDC is a statewide business association comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska's oil and gas, mining, forest products, tourism, and fisheries industries. Our membership includes all of the Alaska Native Regional Corporations, local communities, organized labor, and industry support firms. RDC's purpose is to expand the state's economic base through the responsible development of our natural resources.

RDC members work hard to protect fish and wildlife habitat in adherence to state and federal laws and regulations. While RDC recognizes the need to protect habitat from aggressive invasive weeds that truly pose a serious threat to our natural resources, a number of our members are concerned with the broad reach of the regulations. The regulations as written could potentially apply to virtually all state and private lands and impact all resource industries. Some are concerned the proposed regulations could be abused by a future administration and other interests in ways that could impact private property rights and development on private and public lands.

Other concerns include the potential cost to the landowner for the eradication of invasive weeds, including vast tracts of remote Alaska Native corporation lands. The regulations appear to expand DOA authority to the point where the agency could prescribe to a property owner what treatment and timeline will be required for eradication, no matter the cost. In the case of large property owners or operations, such as gravel facilities, the cost could be enormous or prohibitive. In the case of a gravel operation, the company may be forced to pass on the costs, resulting in significant increases in the cost of public, commercial and residential construction projects. There is also concern with the precedent this sets with regard to private property rights.

The overly broad definition of pest, appliance, carrier, and vector is also troublesome. The amendments to the regulations broaden the definitions to virtually everything from agricultural products and equipment to gravel and logging operations, oil rigs, and mines. The definitions appear to expand DOA jurisdiction over any inter or intrastate commerce, activity or equipment, including private passenger and recreational vehicles, that could spread or carry what the division considers an invasive weed or plant that could potentially harm any natural resource in the state.

There is also concern of how plants and weeds are listed as invasive. As with the listing of a species under the Endangered Species Act, listing a plant or weed as invasive has significant ramifications and should be done through a full public and transparent process, based on science. Opportunities to appeal the listing of specific plants and weeds, as well as prescribed methods of eradication and control, should be provided. Such decisions should not be left to the sole discretion of an agency director.

While RDC recognizes the State needs to be given the ability to respond efficiently and effectively to a major invasive weed outbreak that truly threatens a natural resource, the regulations should not violate private property rights, nor threaten or endanger future economic opportunities and projects that will benefit local communities. RDC is continuing to discuss this issue with our members and will continue to assess changes in the regulations. We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments.

Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc.

cc: Franci Havemeister, Director, Alaska Division of Agriculture
Ed Fogels, Deputy Commissioner, Alaska Department of Natural Resources