LONG BEACH - U.S. Rep. Brian Baird will host a forum on the health and future of the Willapa Bay Oct. 23 and 24 in Long Beach.

Baird will bring together local businesses, officials, conservation groups and research scientists to discuss how the bay's challenges can best be met to ensure the future vitality of the region's economy and environment.

Willapa Bay has many challenges to face including environmental factors, particularly invasive species such as Spartina alterniflora, a noxious weed that threatens the region's $20 million shellfish industry. Spartina also degrades the bay's ability to function properly as habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife. Given the terrain, alternatives for treatment of invasive species are difficult to implement or are controversial.

Recent decisions regarding pesticide use in Willapa Bay have given rise to concern among local businesses and the environmental community, potentially placing the future health of the bay and its economy in question. Baird believes the summit will facilitate discussion on the current uses of the bay and generate an action plan to sustain Willapa Bay's resources while addressing the needs of the local communities.

"This summit will provide a better understanding of the resources and challenges that Willapa Bay faces," said Baird. "By bringing all of these groups together, I hope we can understand the difficulties that we all face and work together towards solutions to promote the economic and environmental vitality of the bay."

The Willapa Bay Summit will begin with a stakeholders dinner on Oct. 23 at 5:30 p.m. This will provide an opportunity for groups interested in the bay to meet and learn of one another's viewpoints and concerns.

The summit will continue with an early morning boat tour of Willapa Bay on Saturday, Oct. 24, giving participants a first-hand view of the challenges and opportunities that the bay presents. Immediately following the boat tour, the forum will meet at WSU Long Beach to discuss their findings and thoughts on the bay's future.

Baird has been active in promoting the health of Willapa Bay since coming to Congress in 1999. Earlier this year, Rep. Brian Baird successfully secured $700,000 in the Fiscal Year 2004 House Interior Appropriations Bill to eradicate Spartina alterniflora from Willapa Bay.

The funding will continue ongoing efforts of a six-year plan to rid the Willapa region of spartina. This will be the second year of eradication efforts in Willapa after Baird secured funding in the FY 2003 as well.

Last year Baird secured $1 million for spartina eradication efforts at the Willapa Refuge, as well as $750,000 for land acquisition to the refuge.

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