Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Recent News
Home / News / U seeks funding for terrestrial pest center
Chris Penwell

U seeks funding for terrestrial pest center

saxhaug invasive

Brian Buhr, interim dean at the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, testified before a Senate panel about plans for terrestrial pest research center, as Sen. Tom Saxhaug, right, listens.

In response to apocalyptic visions of lakes and rivers overrun by Asian carp and zebra mussels, lawmakers have been ramping up the funding for aquatic invasive species for years. On Monday, a Senate panel took its first look at a plan to combat the exotic landlubbers that imperil the state’s forests, prairies and swamps.

The bill, authored by Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, calls for the establishment of a Terrestrial Invasive Species Research Center at the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS).

Along with studying harmful insect pests such as the emerald ash borer and the spotted wing fruit fly, the center would look for ways to reduce damage caused by pathogens such as soybean rust and invasive plants such as leafy spurge weed.

Unlike the U’s current bonding push for a new Aquatic Invasive Research Center, there is no call for brick and mortar investment. Instead, the bill provides funding for up to 10 research positions for graduate students, at roughly $40,000 per position. With other expenses, the U pegs costs for this “virtual center” at about $9 million over the course of a decade.

That’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated $3 billion economic toll exacted by terrestrial invasive species in the state, according to Brian Buhr, the interim dean at CFANS. Buhr called the $3 billion figure “conservative.”

Buhr said center would conduct research into pest that are already present in Minnesota and would develop a “rapid response” plan to deal with emerging threats.

Some members on the Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Finance Committee expressed skepticism about the proposed center.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said “a lot of money has spent over the past few years” fighting invasive species, with limited results. He noted the continued spread of zebra mussels in the Alexandria-area lakes.

“How much has been spent fighting terrestrial invasives?” he asked.

Susan Thornton, director of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), estimated that such expenditures totaled about $20 million over the past two decades. But Thornton said the proposed center would establish clear research priorities for the Legislature and the LCCMR. Some members of the LCCMR have complained in the past that funding is doled out to “the critter du jour,” she said.

Noting that it is difficult to eradicate invasive species once present, Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said the center’s efforts would probably be best focused on prevention.

Dave Zumeta, executive director of the Minnesota Forest Resources Council, agreed that “the key is slowing the spread.”  But Zumeta said eradication efforts can work on a local level. He noted that gypsy moths have been eliminated from some pockets of the Twin Cities, while the Asian longhorn beetle has been successfully eradicated in Chicago.

Combating new forest pests has been a major priority for the council since 2012, Zumeta said. Speaking in favor of funding, he said the proposal represented “a major step toward improving collective understanding.”

With little further discussion, the committee laid over the bill for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill.

On Tuesday morning, the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee heard similar testimony on the proposal.  No dollar figures were included but the bill’s sponsor in the House – Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock – said he would argue “for as much funding as possible.” Committee chair Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, said the bill will likely be wrapped into the chamber’s omnibus environment bill, which the committee is expected to vote on next week.

Leave a Reply