Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wicked Invasive Swans

Invasive species issues invite strongly-held differences of opinion. The very definition of an invasive species, and, therefore, the concept itself, is constantly shifting from one group to another. One person’s invasive is another’s favorite collectible ornament of artistic expression. The central idea of an outside species, a new comer taking over the neighborhood with disastrous results for the current residents, is reflected in local political debates on land use and the common good. Like all thing political, invasive species issues are all local.
The impact of invasive species on the Chesapeake Bay eco-region and its eco-systems is so large and complex, both in geographic as well as temporal scale as to render the issue unsuitable for sound-byte driven media. Invasive species negatively impact 23 of 24 eco-system services from those that regulate to those that inform. Invasive species of the Chesapeake Bay region effect storm dampening, and erosion, genetic diversity through habitat loss, as well as reduction of food, fuel, feed, fibers, flowers and forests. And invasive species upset cultural and informing services from recreational use to educational examples.

Some invasive species create a common opposition. Kudzu has few friends and the Norway rat is still feared by many. Purple loosestrife and the mute swan on the other hand cause opposing camps to form. In the case of Lythrum spp. and Cygnus olor the major constituencies split the eco-system services matrix in two. Those who would remove control or manage the invasive species place a higher value on the eco-system service of regulation and its direct impact upon the providing (habitat) service. The other group that would wish to keep, encourage, or enhance the inclusion of non native species currently labeled invasive, place a greater value on the informing (cultural ) eco-system service and its relation to the provisioning (agriculture, forestry, hunting) service.

A recent article by Ashley Halsey III, Washington Post Staff Writer, on Saturday, May 16, 2009, clearly lays out the great divide. In the words of a colleague, charismatic mega fauna get all the glory and attention especially when they are not eating up the food chain but down. In a blog post in 2007, I noted the swan conundrum as a model of impossible choices, and recently posted Lythrum & Lionfish - Invasive Beauties which addresses the same challenge. Because each side moves straight to the dichotomy before it seeks common ground, hyperbole and excess spring forth to battle. This is the wicked inconvenience of invasive species.

Because invasive species issues are a wicked problem, stakeholders, falling to understand that there will be no right or wrong answer, just better or worse ones, develop their own individual solutions and work back from the goal to a group specific definition. The result is a myriad of competing definitions most out of sync with each other that invite sharp-edged controversy rooted in definitions of exclusion. Layered upon this messy debate is the conflict between those who hold to the precautionary principle and those who follow the proactionary principle, as well as market preference versus public value choices. So, one side wants to remove the exotics, claiming the good of the commons and the community. The other side claims individual rights and freedom to invoke the non est disputandum gustibus clause of the constitution as well as the show me the incontrovertible scientific proof first chapter of the declaration of independence.
This the dialogue is not about the various valuations and accordingly the importance of the Chesapeake Bay’s eco-systems services to all of us collectively and individually, but rather about, broken necks and fairy tale birds as environmental hazards. We should be trying to find the common ground, we rather climb to the ramparts. We need the ecological systems of the Chesapeake Bay to be functioning well to receive the full value of the services, but we need to remember that this is not a grand effort to exclude the works and art of mankind from the world. We are more than cogs in a grand machine for we are masters of technology that can be used to maintain and sustain the eco-system services upon which we depend.

Life is about making many choices simultaneously, some better than others. Life is about finding the next breathe of air, and then moving on to another more pressing problem, until the next breathe of air is required. Life is about compromise and consensus, choices and challenges. Today we seem to be dividing into to philosophical camps, each that thinks it knows whence the next breathe of air comes. Each of us oscillates between our internal public vale set and our current market preferences not always finding that they are congruent with in ourselves. We must find common cause to not only defend the Chesapeake and the regions around it, but to live in it and with it sustainably.

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