Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Invasive Species: a Wicked Inconvenience; a battle royale

A few days ago, I read with a mixture of amusement and dismay a posting , San Francisco Parks Bond: pennies for habitat!, which in itself was not too radical or reactionary. However the commentary encapsulated rather wildly the tangents to which we can fly when invasive species, native plants, land-use and personal immediate satisfaction come together in battle. For those readers who have no occasion to experience first hand a classic argument among the many stakeholders of environmental issues, this is a great introduction.

First shot across the bow seemed to be about the status of the Western Snowy Plover. Since the theme of the posting apparently strove to be a declaration that insufficient funds are being dedicated to natural areas, and therefore, the work to restoring habitat is to take a secondary role, the observation and implied dispute of the Plover’s standing and plight began the opening run of commentary and warfare.

The commentary then moved quickly to a traditional third rail of environmental restoration: “And from the news a couple of years ago, what I remember is that the Natural Areas was CUTTING DOWN TREES and removing bird-friendly plants like blackberries bushes (because they weren’t native).” I wrote down the removal of natives noting the collision of desire between native only proponents and wildlife exponents, who, one would have expected to be on the same page, but, given their different ending goals, arrived at completely opposing positions. We had the "plant anything that can be eaten" versus the "we need to hold the line and try to restore a eco-system that is under attack and failing even though with climate change and increased CO2 levels the questions as to what is native under these new conditions", lurking underneath the discussion.

Somewhere along the line the defender of native-only intuitively reached for the statement that he wanted a fully functioning interactive and interdependent biological system, but did not quite find the words, thereby giving the opponent an argumentative edge. Soon we were treated to an interesting set of implied definitions as to the word eco-system rounded out with a everything goes flourish. “An ecosystem is a system of plants/animals/etc. and their relationship to the physical environment. Some people prefer a native plant ecosystem, some a scented geranium ecosystem, some a eucalyptus ecosystem, etc. In 21st century SF , a small area filled with people, all of the above ecosystems are ‘natural.’”

So far all parties to the conversation had found their wicked problem starting corner by using the end game or goal as a major component of their particular definition. This set everyone up for the expected ad hominem attacks to follow. And so we entered the world of the wicked inconvenience. The trumpets sounded with the battle anthem of “I find your sense of victimization interesting. You, and people who think like you, have won. All but a tiny fraction of public money is spent on the things you want it to be spent on. I guess you won’t be satisfied until -all- of the money is spent on the stuff you care about? You can’t let us tree-huggers have our pathetic 5%, you want it to be 0%? Just declare victory! You’ve won!” These were fighting words, and the fight was joined.

Soon we found the several combatants lobbing steadily increasing verbal rounds at each other with choice and colorful epithets as in ‘….you really aren’t satisfied with your ‘pathetic 5%’.”
After a little more sparring, one side made a sweeping flank attack completely moving the discussion of course and threatening to fold up the line. I quote the comments in full and let the reader sort through the power of this attack. “If you are nativist, perhaps you can answer some questions that the Native Plant Society and Golden Gate Audubon Society don’t like to hear:(1) do you dispute that the nativism movement has it origins in Nazi Germany? (2) Who is to say what was native to an area and when is the relevant period — creation, the Bib Bang”, statehood, etc? (3) There are no plants native to Crissy Field, as it’s all land fill. The only thing that used to be there was sand and water, yet the GGNRA spends tens of thousands of dollars on native plant restoration at Crissy Field. Worse, they decimated the ice plant at Funston with the result that the Bank Swallows fled the area. (4) Why are the nativists so in favor of slaughtering the “non-native” white deer at Point Reyes. Even if there is an argument that they take food from other species, why not relocate them. It’s not unlike the massacre of Buffalo going on in Yellowstone right now. This is a shameful state of affairs, yet much of it is the result of the nativism cult, which is also a racist and sexist cult. As best I recall from school, the only people native to North America were American Indians, and look what our government did to them. Do you favor restoring all their land back to them?”

The flanked line choose to turn and face the attack and tried to hold the line and in doing so, changed the direction of the conversation which was now solidly political and sociological, with some amount of philosophy thrown in. I began to warm up to this thread, being the radical moderate that I am, I found that I could happily exist in the middle of the battle watching the missives fly by.

For some reason the flanker, suddenly decided to return to a frontal assault and brought the battle back to scientific statements or lack thereof. I note that while there seemed to be much information thrown about such as "....is the Snowy Plover native to San Francisco? Absolutely not. In fact, the USF&W Service arbitrarily created the “pacific coast” population of the WSP despite the fact that it is genetically identical to Plovers who number in the thousands outside of California. This is a sheer and utter joke.” About this point I wished that someone would actually site some sources so that I could check on the supposed facts, but a truth about a wicked inconvenience is that substantiation of opinion is not much done and tends to lead to quiet on the battle field and since things were now really heating up, documentation was not forth coming
Somewhere in the battle, a third party attempted a quick sneak attack, and rather than an attempt at being a peace keeper tried to enflame things, a minor non substantive turn of events. This however was followed by direct personal information which was mostly likely important to the folks in the area but most irrelevant to what the original discussion was about. One of the combatants came close to some of my observations with “Cowards have a way of throwing large doses of propaganda out at an uneducated, unsuspecting public, hoping that at least some of it will stick.”, though I tend not to think of stakeholders as cowards.

Then, after the minor diversion to very personal attacks, the original flanking argument was resumed. At some point, we had a classic military battle with a flanking attack and a main assault. Thus, while the flank discussed Hitler, the main attack proffered barrages such as “Additionally, the GGNRA’s own bull-dozing and the erosion caused by the brutal tides at OB have rendered OB an undesirable and dangerous habitat for the WSP.”

It would have been helpful to have had several citations to the claim as I live too far away to see for myself, but of course the expectation is that I should accept the prima facie evidence. As the battle ranged, another party attempted a UN peace keeping effort which I thought would cut to the chase and bring some semblance of order. However, after writing “I truly appreciate and admire the fact that you stayed calm during this exchange with admin — who clearly holds the controlling, upper-hand in this blog.”, I was, as the reader will be, treated to the same writer ‘s unhelpful “…you and your ilk are shameless.”

Do not get the idea that neither side ever presented citations, for they did. And mostly, after removing the personal attacks, managed to get to some deeply rooted underlying contradictory principles which influence the debate on the wicked problems of climate change and invasive species. The problem for me was that it was very hard to keep track of whose- who and what was the real thrust at any given moment. For those who are not involved daily with invasive species controversies, this thread gives you the feeling of being right in the room without actually having to duck.

Then, for some reason, I felt the urge to blog and wrote what I hope is not the final word on this battle. : At the risk of getting into a controversy I tend to skirt, may I be so bold as to suggest reading: The conquest of nature : water, landscape, and the making of modern Germany by David Blackbourn, before assuming that suppositions and information about mid twentieth century Germany is entirely correct. As with most issues related to the environment and related issues, fuzzy definitions are occasionally batted about, contributing to what I call the wicked inconvenience of, not only invasive species, but their obverse, endangered species. Ecosystems are a type of wicked problem, and this fascinating discussion thread highlights the chaos of competing stakeholders’ end views used to create particular group dynamics. I have written about wicked problems and the complexities of sustainability and encourage the present conversation. More detailed expositions may be found at my web log “Invasive Notes”


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you wish to see the evidence as to whether the Western Snowy plover is genetically identical to the plover found in great numbers in Utah and other inland locations in the US, please go to http://oceanbeachdog.home.mindspring.com/id11.html. This would be the first study with this conclusion. There was a second study done which also concluded the inland and coastal plovers were genetically identical. See detaiks of this decision-making process at http://oceanbeachdog.home.mindspring.com/id57.html.

These documents should leave no doubt as to the veracity of the author's statement that the coastal snowy plover is identical to a greater plover population distributed across the US. The plover should NOT be listed as "threatened".