Sunday, November 05, 2006

Invasive property rights

I try to focus my thinking about invasive species on the challenges of definition. The reason can be found in the following article by Peyton Knight, Director of Environmental and Regulatory Affairs, The National Center for Public Policy Research :” Beware of 'Invasive Species' Regulations” (Copyright 2006 The Washington Times). Here is a copy of the National Invasive Species Council’s definition: “The EO defines an invasive species as a species not native to the region or area whose introduction (by humans) causes or is likely to cause harm to the economy or the environment, or harms animal or human health. This definition encompasses all types of invasive species— plants, animals, and microorganisms. The definition makes a clear distinction between non-native (or alien) species and invasive species. Most introduced species are not harmful. In fact, many non-native species— which include most U.S. crops and domesticated animals—are extremely important sources of food, fiber, or recreation. Only a small percentage of non-native species are invasive. However, even a single invasive species can cause great harm.” (Executive Sunmmary Five-Year Review of EO 13112 on INVASIVE SPECIES). And here is the version extract and summarized in the article: “Invasive or "alien species" are defined in Mr. Clinton's order as "any species, including its seeds, eggs, spores, or other biological material capable of propagating that species, that is not native to that ecosystem." (Copyright 2006 The Washington Times).

Allow me to present the following clarification from the Invasive Species Advisory Committee: “Preamble: Executive Order 13112 – defines an invasive species as “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” In the Executive Summary of the National Invasive Species Management Plan (NISMP) the term invasive species is further clarified and defined as “a species that is non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” To provide guidance for the development and implementation of the NISMP, the National Invasive Species Council (NISC) and the Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC) adopted a set of principles outlined in Appendix 6 of the NISMP. Guiding Principle #1 provides additional context for defining the term invasive species and states “many alien species are non-invasive and support human livelihoods or a preferred quality of life.” However, some alien species (non-native will be used in this white paper because it is more descriptive than alien), for example West Nile virus, are considered invasive and undesirable by virtually everyone. Other non-native species are not as easily characterized. For example, some non-native species are considered harmful, and therefore, invasive by some sectors of our society while others consider them beneficial. This discontinuity is reflective of the different value systems operating in our free society, and contributes to the complexity of defining the term invasive species. “

In my earlier post today, I presented an overview of the disconnect inherent in trying to establish a common ground for dialogue. By choosing parts of a definition which suit a position and not addressing the fundamental supporting concepts, the collision quickly descends into incompatible positions. I would venture to guess that the author is most likely not against current agricultural weed laws, because such laws directly benefit an immediate need, and under the short term valuation system are crucial to generating returns on investment.

“Such a sweeping mandate means that nearly every backyard, golf course, farm, lake and stream in America could be considered teeming with so-called invasive species, and thus subject to federal scrutiny and regulation” (Copyright 2006 The Washington Times). On the face of it this is true; every disturbed piece of land has a weed problem, and a long term or short term landscape solution.

“It is far more productive and scientifically sound to evaluate species on the basis of their known harm or benefit, as opposed to their historical origin. In fact, the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is already tasked with identifying and controlling the spread of harmful plant and animal species. APHIS lists on its Web Site 30 "public laws and acts" already on the books that regulate noxious species and their movement.” (Copyright 2006 The Washington Times). In someway, the real question should be whether it makes sense to broaden the understanding of invasive species as they relate to economic harm or benefit, but the author is unwilling to consider this because the cultural mandate to dominate the landscape, supported by 12 month financial goals will not presently accommodate this widening of terms.

As I am not a scientist, I will leave it to professionals to respond to the assertion that the work they are doing is detrimental to science, and comment on the two penultimate paragraphs.

“Some are even promoting regulation of the virtually infinite pathways that certain non-indigenous species travel. This could open the door to endless regulation of human behavior, including that pertaining to private land use, public land access, and how and where Americans travel. Secure private property rights are essential to a free society. Any initiative that seeks to classify and regulate plant and animal species on the exceedingly arbitrary basis of when they originated in a certain environment is a serious threat to these rights.” (Copyright 2006 The Washington Times)

If the underlying valuation system of the best use of the land would change with a longer term horizon, the free market would correct the perception of loss now ascribed to anyone attempting to understand the invasive species issue. The biology of the environment will change and adapt; it will not remain the same for it is a living organism on a larger scale or organization than our current tools for thinking allow. We will find a blance or it will be imposed upon us, not by government, but by nature itself.

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