Goals and Mission
The Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council (SE-EPPC) is a regional organization established in 1999 at the annual symposium of the Tennessee Invasive Plant Council (TN-IPC) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. A goal of creating the regional organization was to foster development of a network of state Exotic Pest Plant Councils (EPPC) within the framework of a regional organization. The state chapters would operate autonomously at the state level while the SE-EPPC would coordinate regional activities and serve as an umbrella organization. The overriding purpose of the SE-EPPC was to establish an organization comprised of chapters that would share the same mission and goals and be modeled on the founding principles established in Florida in 1984 while working together within a regional context. The goals of EPPC are as follows:
A Brief History of EPPC
The EPPC originated in Florida as an outcome of an interagency effort to control the widespread invasion of melaleuca (Melaleuca quinquenervia) in Everglades National Park. This interagency approach proved successful and in 1984 gave rise to the establishment of the EPPC. In addition to the initial government agency members, EPPC broadened its participation to include other land managers, ecologists, botanists, researchers, native plant enthusiasts, and all others who were concerned about this insidious threat. It moved from an ad hoc interagency council focused on melaleuca to a statewide organization addressing all issues related to the spread of invasive exotic plants in natural areas. The Council differed from all other weed societies or groups in that its focus was natural areas and wildlands. The EPPC became the first non-profit organization to solely address this problem.
In the early 1990’s EPPC grew to other parts of the country. The second EPPC was established in 1992 in California, the third in the Pacific Northwest in 1993, and then the fourth in Tennessee in 1994. By 1995 a national organization was established when the four Councils met in California and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) outlining the organization’s purpose. One key reason for the emergence of the National Association of the Exotic Pest Plant Councils was to address national issues that were beyond the scope of the state and regional organizations. With the exception of agricultural weeds, there was little awareness of this issue at the national level. Therefore, one of the original intents of the NAEPPC was to foster a national awareness about the threat of invasive exotic pest plants to natural areas and wildlands, and at some level, the organization’s emergence was successful in this objective. President Clinton signed Executive Order 13112: Invasive Exotics in 1999 that led to the creation of the National Invasive Species Council and the first National Invasive Species Management Plan. Today NAEPPC continues to participate at the national level and meets annually in Washington D.C. as part of National Invasive Weeds Awareness Week.
The Emergence of SE-EPPC
A second goal of NAEPPC was to develop strategies for formation of new state or regional EPPC units. The idea of a regional Southeast EPPC had been discussed in 1994 when the Tennessee Invasive Plant Council was formed. There was much discussion by its founding board members whether to become a state or regional organization. It was determined that a state organization should be established, create some successes, and then look to the future with the possibility of morphing TN-IPC into a regional EPPC. Tennessee quickly adopted a combination of the Florida and California EPPC bylaws, and then applied for and received its IRS non-profit status. It began printing a quarterly newsletter and created a website. It also began hosting annual symposia that generated much interest and participation from surrounding southeastern states.
By 1998, TN-IPC was beginning to develop into a regional organization from its existing structure. That spring it held a symposium in Chattanooga, inviting those interested from surrounding states. During the summer the Board of Directors held a special meeting in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to specifically address establishing the SE-EPPC. It was decided that the SE-EPPC would be launched at the next symposium to be held in Oak Ridge. TN-IPC would provide seed money to hire a part-time coordinator to help build the organization and assist in this transition.
When the Oak Ridge symposium rolled around, the groundwork to establish the SE-EPPC had been completed. During the final session of the Oak Ridge meeting there was an open forum with representatives from various surrounding states leading a panel discussion. The panel discussed the positive attributes of establishing the SE-EPPC, and the regional organization was officially empowered by a motion made from the floor.
A meeting of those interested in participating on the Board was held at the end of the Oak Ridge symposium. This led to the election of officers and board members. Initially the founding board had a strong constituency from Tennessee and Florida and had many other key participants that had been identified as leaders in their respective southeastern states. The non-Florida/Tennessee board members would be important in getting their state chapters up and running. The newly hired coordinator had been actively involved in organizing this meeting, inviting the key people and drafting a set of proposed by-laws. Knowing that face-to-face board meetings would only be held twice a year, one of which would occur at the SE-EPPC annual symposium, it was understood that getting a fast start from the very beginning was important.
In this process, TN-IPC briefly disappeared as a state organization. It changed its name from the TN-IPC to the SE-EPPC with the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office and submitted an application to the Internal Revenue Service to become a group exemption organization. This was a seamless process that required a onetime payment of $600. It was completed by filling out a one-page application that transferred TN-IPC’s original tax exemption status as a state organization to the SE-EPPC, thus creating the regional non-profit 501C3 organization.
This action granted SE-EPPC group exemption status that gave the organization the authority to provide tax emption status to newly forming state chapters in a very simple manner and with no additional application charges. A new chapter under SE-EPPC would only be required to fill out a one page SS-4 form that SE-EPPC would submit to the IRS with a copy of the newly formed organization’s SE-EPPC-approved bylaws. The newly formed chapter would then become an SE-EPPC member with its own tax exemption number. TN-IPC was the first state chapter to do this and was reconstituted as a state chapter immediately after the SE-EPPC was formed.
North Carolina was the next state to form an EPPC. The second annual symposium was held the following March in Durham, North Carolina and was hosted by the newly formed NC-EPPC. About that time, the Florida EPPC agreed to help in the expansion of the organization by providing additional funding to support the part-time coordinator position through the end of that year. This money supported a small salary and travel expense. By the third symposium, in Athens, Georgia, the coordinator had helped raise funds for this symposium. SE-EPPC became financially stable at that time, and state chapter support for the part-time position was no longer required.
Georgia was the third state to become an EPPC member in 2001, followed by Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama (Invasive Plant Council), and South Carolina. The coordinator was responsible for helping establish these state chapters and attended inaugural meetings to foster the development of newly forming organizations. The coordinator worked with states to help plan the SE-EPPC annual symposia, are held in alternating southeastern states each year. The symposium was often held in states where chapters were newly formed and the meeting could help the hosting state gain membership and attract qualified volunteers to serve on their board of directors.
In addition, SE-EPPC worked with states outside of the region to help influence the formation of new EPPCs in pursuit of a broader range of participation in NAEPPC. The SE-EPPC coordinator attended meetings in the upper Midwest (Michigan), New England and the Mid-Atlantic region in support of their organization’s building efforts. SE-EPPC extended group tax exemption status outside of the region to the Michigan Invasive Plant Council to help them get up and running. It worked with founding members of Mid-Atlantic EPPC and provided them examples of bylaws to help them get started, and initially hosted the Mid-Atlantic EPPC website on the SE-EPPC website.
Today’s Projects and Focus
The website (www.se-eppc.org) has been an important outreach tool and serves as a valuable means to communicate with members and all others interested in the SE-EPPC’s accomplishments. Recently the SE-EPPC created the “National Association of EPPC” website through Bugwood at the University of Georgia. SE-EPPC has been fortunate to have Bugwood’s involvement and support since it maintains the SE-EPPC website and its listserve. Its webmaster is a GA-EPPC board member and chairs the SE-EPPC data-mapping project committee. This committee is charged with implementing the regionally significant mapping of invasive species occurrences throughout the southeast.
The data-mapping project was rolled out in May, 2006 at the 8th Annual SE-EPPC symposium in Raleigh, NC. The Bugwood team presented an instructional workshop, which requires state chapter participation. Ultimately, a major goal of the project is to provide an accurate level of distribution records for invasive exotic pest plants across the southeast. New occurrences of invasive plants within a state or the region can be reported and early detection and rapid response can be accomplished. Records are entered in the SE-EPPC website and state chapter committees are responsible for verifying the validity of records entered for their respective state. Among other data, records require lat/longs and photo documentation. The database does not require collection of voucher specimens but does highly encourage it.
Because this project relies on field reports indicating the location of species occurrence records, the project provides data that will help refine and improve existing state chapter invasive species lists. SE-EPPC will be working with state chapters to standardize how lists are developed utilizing this data. Furthermore, the data collection will provide an opportunity for SE-EPPC to implement a regional assessment process to help stem the misguided but still legal introduction of invasive plant species by industry.
The data-mapping project is being implemented through training workshops that SE-EPPC is developing with state chapters. Populating the accompanying maps with the records will increase distribution accuracy over time as state chapters become fully vested in the process and provide the needed data. The outcome of this project will improve efforts to accomplish early detection and rapid response throughout the region, to provide guidelines and standards for improving state invasive exotic pest plant lists, and to enhance the ability for SE-EPPC to do comprehensive regional invasive plant species assessments. These outputs are all examples of what a regional organization can do to facilitate positive actions by working closely with its state chapters.
Presently there are eight state chapters in the SE-EPPC that include Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. The Michigan Invasive Plant Council also received its tax exemption status under SE-EPPC. The SE-EPPC Board of Directors is comprised of one representative delegated from each state, four officers elected by the Board, and the past president. Each state chapter has its Board of Directors with officers, and they are autonomous organizations that must act within the parameters of its SE-EPPC approved bylaws.
In addition to annual symposia, the SE-EPPC website, and its listserve, SE-EPPC provides information to its members through a quarterly electronic newsletter and Wildland Weeds, a quarterly publication of the Florida EPPC. The SE-EPPC state chapters and their members provide article submissions and news information to Wildland Weeds, which is sent to all of the SE-EPPC’s 650 members. Keeping its members informed is an important goal of the organization. The regional and state organization’s publications can be accessed through the SE-EPPC website along with state organization invasive weed lists.
Raising Awareness and Creating Strong Partnerships
Raising awareness about the threat of invasive exotic pest plants remains an important goal of SE-EPPC. It strives to organize people to create a unified voice on this issue in order to be heard by policymakers. While SE-EPPC continues to refine its mission at the regional level and develop new projects to assist its state chapters, it also continues to participate at the national level. It has been instrumental in developing bylaws for NAEPPC and currently has four of its board members serving as NAEPPC officers. The National Association of EPPC continues to grow and has expanded from four organization members in 1996 to a fifteen EPPC/IPC (Invasive Plant Councils) member organizations in 2006, representing more than 2,500 members.
Its relationship with the Natural Areas Association (NAA) has also been important. In 2003, the organizations entered into a formal agreement through an MOU to work together on all issues related to invasive exotic pest plants in natural areas. This fit works well for both organizations that are both solidly represented by land managers who work to control invasive exotics.
While EPPC continues to be the only organization singularly focused on invasive exotic pest plant issues in natural areas and wildlands, NAA has always been in the forefront of this issue. For example, the Natural Areas Journal dedicated a special issue on invasive exotic species in 1980’s before the issue was widely addressed. NAA also published a compendium on exotics in 1997, updating it in 2003.
The two organizations will combine their energy and create synergy in Nashville in 2008 when the Natural Areas Conference will be a joint conference of the Natural Areas Association and the NAEPPC. The focus of this conference will be to raise the issue of invasive species to even a greater level and provide the very best information on this issue to all those who attend. See you there.