Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Invasive Species – A Wicked Inconvenience

The invasive species issue involves many diverse stakeholders. Land managers and environmentalists, botanists and biologists, farmers and gardeners, zoning authorities and private developers, the Department of Defense and the Department of State are but a quick and extremely cursory recitation of stakeholders involved. Many know or recognize each other’s claim and involvement on and with the issue; many are unaware of each other’s existence. Native plant societies may not think about recreational boating associations when thinking about their own specific stake in the complex world of invasive species. The depth of complexity and, accordingly, the information needed to understand the problem is self referential, and depends upon one’s ideas, level of involvement and scope of understanding in order to find a solution or solutions. How one chooses to define the problem colors the solution matrix.
The gardener thinks about weeds, and is in sympathy at some level with the farmer, but the ecologist may at first be thinking about self sustaining eco-systems. The property owner may be focused on near-term valuation, which itself is partially based on accepted normative thinking, and is partnered with the developer in maximizing the short horizon societal valuation outcome.
In addition, since invasive species issues are continuously evolving and changing to meet the flow of new information which is constantly being produced, the issues have no objective criteria for ending. There is no final solution, and the issue will never go away until the stakeholders lose interest, deplete available resources needed to continue tackling the concept or decide that the current results are subjectively acceptable under conditions at that future time.

Since there is a generally accepted impulse to attempt a linear solution by all parties, quick term fixes such as legislation are promulgated with an expectation that the problem will be thus be solved. No importation of exotic species is seen as primary defense strategy, but this can create unintended consequences. Ban something without a market correction and a black-market is rapidly created which now is beyond regulation and which will begin to deplete the available societal resources allocated to the initial problem.

As stakeholders are drawn into the controversy, the starting point for the discussion of the issue is usually a counterproductive tactic which is revealed by the fight for right or wrong answers. The discourse, based upon a particular point of view requiring a true or false answer can lead to fights over lists which may or may not contain exotic aliens. The assumption that everybody at the table, or near the table, agrees on the basic definition quickly leads to inaction. The truth or rightness of any particular answer in accepting or rejecting answers or information pertaining to the issues is strongly dependent upon the stakeholders’ point of view. This would suggest that invasive species questions are a matter of better or worse, not true or false.

Each stakeholder is right in his own mind, and has an obligation to understand that all the stakeholders are right to some unquantifiable degree. So we have stakeholders who work with basic assumptions such as the possibility of invasive natives. And what are we to make of invasive earthworms, especially when it comes to the received wisdom taught to the next generation that earthworms are our friends?

Invasive species defy both immediate and ultimate solution tests. Any project enacted as a solution will, in fact, create rippling casual reactions many of which will be unintended, unpredictable, and spread over a significant period of time potentially generating their own set of challenges, issues and problems. Without an opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly and generates its own set of problems This slide towards the idea of infinite, undefined solutions without end is in itself a cause of new stakeholder vertigo. The inability to count a finite number of problems to be solved and solutions to be gained is a problem outside of the issue of invasives, and yet integral to any conversation.

Because the purpose ultimately is not to discover a revealed truth, but to improve some characteristic of the world inhabited by people, each stakeholder defines particular causes uniquely generating multiple definitions. Piled onto the complexity of the process needed to begin a discussion is the revelation that invasive species issues are bound up with other equally contentious challenges such as global warming. Remove a forest; change the weather. The hierarchy of intertwined related complex issues becomes a hard to conceptualize issue in its own right.

. “Some problems are so complex that you have to be highly intelligent and well informed just to be undecided about them” – Laurence J. Peter Here then is the key I think to begin a conversation about invasive species. The more I learn the more I know how much I do not know. The issue is one of constant learning and willingness to update and change a closely-held world view. By now some of you may have determined the epiphany I have had, as I found out about the science and theory of problem solving and realized that I need not reinvent a vocabulary and process for working on and with invasive species. I am deeply indebted to the following web sites especially the first one I tripped over, http://jurisdynamics.blogspot.com/ , which led me on my further search:

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