Sooner or later, I am asked what the purpose of invasive species control and eradication is; why the furor, what is the ultimate end game? This line of thinking about invasive species goes to the heart of a wicked problem's fundamental properties: that interest groups, overwhelmed by the complexity of the issue, define the issue in terms of their own end goal. Dr. Anna Sher writes that “While tamarisk control often appears to be our focus, we must not lose sight of the real goal: ecosystem restoration, of which removal of tamarisk is only one of many components.” [Tamarisk Coalition]
I think we can enlarge her purpose when the work of Dr. Lew Ziska, Crop Systems and Global Change Laboratory, USDA-ARS, Beltsville, MD is introduced. Assuming we can get Congress to pay attention, Dr. Ziska proposes to: “Determine the value of Kudzu as a biofuel crop, develop harvesting and handling procedures needed as a feedstock for gasification and/or ethanol fermentation.” He is in no way suggesting the planting of kudzu, but given that kudzu cover about 8 million acres of marginal, unproductive and abandoned farmland in the eastern United States, he sees a positive eradication and the restoration of this land to either environmental restoration using natives or to continued food and or fuel production using non invasive agricultural crops.
Here from an extract prepared for educational use, he writes that “Mature stands usually have a plant every 1 to 2 square feet and may contain tens of thousands of plants per acre.
Production of biofuels has primarily focused on crop species that are high in sugar and starches since these materials can be easily converted in ethanol. High biomass plants are being considered as an energy feedstock for gasification, in the short-term, and as a feedstock for cellulosics ethanol production in the long-term. Kudzu roots may be as high as 30% starch, and above ground leafy production may be both a feedstock and source of cellulosic ethanol.”
And just to be absolutely clear let me reprint his policy statement: “Policy. Establish an incentives program for the utilization of Kudzu for biofuels that includes a program to re-establish Kudzu-free acreage to be planted to a more sustainable, non-invasive, bioenergy crop.” Here then is a direct, possibly for profit reason to eliminate kudzu which does not require a complicated understanding of the relationship of our well being to natural areas, but one that is easily understood. Remove the aggressive plant, keep corn in the food chain replace the invasive species with agricultural crops which can be maintained and controlled, most likely with those which do not need the rich fertile soils that corn wants.
The mass migration of farmers from the fields of the south to cities in the middle part of the twentieth century left millions of acres unworked and open to invasion. Now we need these fields and the plants which they could support and projects such as Dr. Ziska’s enhance the definition of invasive species.
If you are interested in this project please write your congressperson; ask them to support funding. Remember too that this request is what we call pork, an ear-mark, if you will. Do not be dissuaded; there are good cuts of pork and then there are those cuts open for discussion. One man’s needed project is another’s bridge to nowhere.