Elodea in Sport Lake, Kenai Peninsula, Image by USFWS

Human Dimensions of Aquatic Invasive Species in Alaska: Lessons Learned While Integrating Economics, Management and Biology to Incentivize Early Detection and Rapid Response


This chapter links human and ecological systems research to analyze resource management decisions for Elodea spp. (elodea), Alaska’s first submerged aquatic invasive plant. This plant likely made it to Alaska through the aquarium trade. Initially discovered in urban areas of the state, elodea has since been introduced to remote water bodies by floatplanes and other pathways. Once introduced, elodea changes freshwater systems in ways that can threaten salmon and make floatplane destinations inaccessible. As a result, elodea affects fisheries and tourism, which are both vital for Alaska’s economy. Here, we integrate multiple social and ecological data to estimate the potential future economic loss associated with elodea’s introduction to remote freshwater locations. We describe how economic loss varies among stakeholder groups and regions. We find that upfront management (i.e., eradication) of all existing infestations is the optimal management strategy for minimizing long-term loss. Even though the range of future economic loss is large, the certainty of long-term damage favors early investments to eradicate current invasions and prevent new arrivals. In light of the common goal of protecting Alaska’s productive ecosystems of national and global significance, we describe the past management steps, challenges, and various outcomes associated with coordination of local partners, and state and federal agencies. We present a case study of rapid response on the Kenai Peninsula that can encourage other countries to manage elodea and other aquatic invaders (e.g., Egeria densa, Hydrilla verticillata, Myriopyllum spicatum) more proactively as these organisms spread north into a warming Arctic. We end this chapter by outlining steps for future policy making targeted at effective risk management investments that aim to retain the ecological integrity and economic value of Alaska’s vast freshwater resources.

In Alaska: Economic, Environmental, and Social Issues, Lewis, T. (ed.), Nova Science Publishers, Inc.