Friday, January 30, 2009

Alaska and Invasive Species

Back from Alaska, and two talks given, the first: “The Rise of Ornamental Invasives, A Landscape History”; the second, “Sustainable Landscape, an Alternative Paradigm for Tomorrow” The second is on this weblog without of course the verbal assault on the senses, the comic relief and the timing which comes when I present, but the important things are there.

Alaskans are grappling with some of the same challenges the lower 48 faced and mostly lost. Is Lythrum really invasive in Fairbanks? How cold is too cold for Russian olives, or, more precisely, Alaska is different, our climate will protect us. How can we square the circle of toxic chemical control prohibition versus acres of Canada thistle? My flowers never seed, how could they possibly be invasive if they after twenty years have no seedling about? Where is the science?

My suggestion to Alaskans is to find Alaskan solutions to Alaskan problems but do not ignore the history of the outside rest of the United States. Learn from our successes and our failures, choose what will work in Alaska for Alaskans devising an Alaskan plan. I fear that climate change will overwhelm and change the dynamics of the ecosystems in place now. I told them that they must decide whether it is better to have a salmon run filled with purple loosestrife or with salmon. Alaskans must decide if Marylanders will come to Anchorage to see streams of Lythrum or runs filled with salmon. It is not my place to make this choice, but theirs.

My second trip within a year, I hope I can come back again soon!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Alaska Awaits

I am back from British Columbia and have no time to write as I am now off to Alaska to speak about invasive species challenges and sustainable landscape options. I was delighted to attend the conference on invasive plants in Vancouver, and am excited about the progress being made by the BC Invasive Plant Council which is bringing diverse stakeholders together in common cause. The reports from Australia were dynamic and inspirational, and invasive species policies in both countries have much to offer the United States as we consider the best way to confront the wicked inconvenience of invasive species

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Invasive Plant Council of British Columbia meeting Jan 20 & 21 2009

I am on my way to attend and to speak at the British Columbia Invasive Plant Council's meeting Tuesday and Weds Jan 20 $ 21, 2009 I look forward to meeting new people and exploring new ideas at:

January 20th & 21st, 2009
Delta Vancouver Airport Hotel, Richmond, BC

1:00-1:30pm Assessing Invasive Plants in BC
Val Miller, Ministry of Forests and Range
Update on the development of a collaborative and
efficient invasive plant assessment tool for BC.

1:00-1:30pm Three’s a Crowd
Graeme Johnstone, Northwest Invasive Plant Council
What are the threats, extent and control options
associated with northern BC’s top three knapweed

1:30-2:00pm “Grow Me Instead!” Program
Robert Chin, Nursery and Garden Industry
A guide for gardeners in the Greater Sydney District.

1:30-2:00pm Effectively Controlling Leafy Spurge
Jeff Nelson, Dow AgroSciences Canada Inc.
Looking at the interaction between a biological control agent and an herbicide for improved control of leafy spurge in North Dakota.

2:00-2:40pm Can Commercial Wildflower Seed Mixes
Contribute to the Spread of Invasive Species?
Lorraine Brooks, University of WashingtonA look at the hidden invaders that may be lurking in
wildflower seed packets.

2:00-2:40pm Biology, Ecology and Management of
Marsh Plume Thistle in BCMinistry of Agriculture and Lands
Looking at the biology, ecology, and management ofpriority invasive plants in BC. am on my way to attend the conference on invasive speceis in British Columbia, Canada

3:00pm Keeping the Integrated in Pest Management for Local Governments
Discussing the tools and challenges associated with herbicide use in BC’smunicipalities
Kent Mullinix, Kwantlen Polytechnic University

3:30pm The Silent Invasion
A yearlong campaign to engage Oregonians in the battle against invasive speciesOregon Public Broadcasting

4:00pm Thank you and wrap-up; Invasive Plant Council of BC

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009
7:30am Perspectives Breakfast
9:00am The Invasive Plant Council of BC Welcomes You to “Stop the Spread”
9:15am Keynote Speaker: Being a Credible Leader in the Field of Sustainability
Brian Minter, Minter Gardens

10:30am What Do Invasive Plants Cost Us?
Estimation of damage curves for selected invasive plants: empirical evidence from British Columbia, Canada
Leonardo Frid, ESSA Technologies Ltd.

10:50am Working Together to Stop the Spread
Australian experiences for Canadian outcomes
Robert Chin, Nursery and Garden Industry

11:30am Cross Canada Check-up
Spotlight on collaborative initiatives and priority activities for provincial invasive plantcouncils from across Canada

12:00pm Invasive Plant Council of BC’s Annual General Meeting (AGM)

1:30pm Computer aided weed identification, an alternative to dichotomous keys (or flipping
the pages and looking at the pictures)Demonstrating the most comprehensive weed identification reference available forthe United States and Canada
Richard Old, XID Services, Inc.

2:30pm Linking Research to Practice
An Australian Story of Collaboration Rachel McFayden, Cooperative Research Centre

3:00pm Rise of Ornamental Invasives
Looking at the rise of ornamental plants as invasives.
John Peter Thompson, Behnke Nurseries Company

3:40pm Session Wrap-up and Feedback on the Forum
4:00pm Forum Adjourned

Friday, January 16, 2009

Are invasive species good or bad?

Are invasive species good or bad? This is the question which search engines have directed to my web log over the last few weeks.

The answer depended a little on what is meant by good or bad. If by bad we mean do invasive species cost us money which could be used somehow somewhere for something else, then invasive species are bad. From clogged canals such as water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) to ravenous insects such as Formosan termites (Coptotermes formosanus), from toxic weeds like giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), to disease carrying insects like the Asian tiger mosquito, (Aedes albopictus), from plants such as Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) which reduces harvest, to birds such as the mute swan (Cygnus olor) which reduces habitat, the list is long and impressive.

The danger of attaching a monetary value without careful consideration is that some invasive species may potentially have a monetary value as in kudzu (Invasive species, BARC, Kudzu and Bio-fuel) ) for ethanol, and thus be good becasue they produce money (wealth). Or for that matter, English ivy (Hedera helix) for landscapes as an evergreen ground cover. The two examples have a positive short term market preference value which is not easily compared to long term public interest or good valuation, as well as difficult to compare off-setting costs for destruction of ecosystem services.

Buried in all of this is the native versus exotic definition challenge which places poison ivy and white tailed deer outside the official definition of an invasive species, and thus contributes to confusion for the out-side-not-full-time participant to the discourse and question. .
I wager I did not answer the question, and that stakeholders on all sides of the issue will find absolutes which I missed. Welcome to the wickedly inconvenient world of invasive species. .

Monday, January 12, 2009

Invasive species consequences-unexpected

Invasive species are a wicked inconvenience. We push and pull at solutions and argue over definitions because invasive species are a type of wicked problem. When we try to solve the problem we find ourselves facing what should have been suspect unintended unforeseen consequences. Wicked problems have numerous intervention points, have consequences difficult to envision, and are surrounded by a dynamic uncertainty wrapped in a moving frontier of knowledge.

Thus we present “Efforts to remove an invasive species from a sub-Antarctic island that has been named a World Heritage site accidentally triggered an environmental catastrophe…”

Reading like a nursery rhyme:

Macquarie Island met the cats, some were small and all were fat
And then the lesser gods decreed: bunny rabbits suit our need.
And so they came and ate and grew, large in numbers from a few
Microbes culled the rabbit herds; the cats were left with all the birds.
And now we hear the troubled hollers; this will cost a million dollars!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Invasive squirrel bounty

The invasive species posting are all a twitter with excitement. The British are eating their invasive species, the eastern gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis),. This effectively places a market price on the invasive species and should lead to an unintended consequences so familiar to readers of this web log (The Dignity of Invasive Species, Saturday, October 11, 2008).

A system of control based upon creating a market can have the reasonable effect of inspiring a business plan which calls for the raising for sale of the invasive species, for profit. The next step would then be to make such practice illegal, adding social costs of enforcement, but like addictive drugs and boot-legged computer programs, market pressures and not the law will decide how many are raised for dinner.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Private preferences, Invasive species & Public values

Invasive species issues tend to split broadly along the fault lines of public value versus private preferences. As a generality, stakeholders favoring environmental protection are bolstered by public environmental values, and gardeners are supported by private preference. As with myth many things in the invasive species conversation, the delineation is not neat or precise. Many gardeners, perhaps most, would favor environmental preservation and conservation as their public value of choice. The majority of both interest groups operate with both public values and private preferences oscillating at a high frequency as each individual makes choice from moment to moment. The arrival of the emerald ash borer in Maryland, indeed into North America is an example of a public values failure. Neither the market nor the public sector was able to provide protection for forests, urban or natural.

Complicating the two dynamic lenses of invasive species issues decision-platforms are concepts described in Eco-pragmatism (Farber 1999). Radical uncertainty, and moving frontiers of knowledge contribute to a landscape of fuzzy goals. The mount of information about risk which is unknown is paired with the daily change in scientific understanding which may reverse long held assumptions. The entirety of the complications produces an unsettled feeling in the layman who spend nearly no time at all thinking about invasive species, but may, if he or she is a gardener, be thinking about color, form and texture, as well as patterns, in the form of species and cultivars for use in the garden.

Individual desires when compounded with fragmented ever-changing knowledge coexist with value statements which under close inspection seemingly are at odds. A desire for a Hosta collection comprised of species from Asia is wrapped in the value of adding to diversity, as well as the value of personal expression. The concept of host plants for native insects does not come onto the decision box when choosing the next collectible cultivar. In fact the Hosta’s abilty to withstand insect pressure is seen as a positive trait. The level of landscape literacy (Landscape literacy & the grammar of gardening. Monday, December 01, 2008) ) needed to engage on the conversation of sustainability and environmental preservation quickly rises to a conversation of experts talking to each other with the gardener, whose grammar is different, not speaking to the naturalist. Each side then lines up behind the walls of philosophic castles, value versus market, and demands the surrender of the other.

This is part of the wicked inconvenience of invasive species; contradictory, conflicting coequal values, systems conspire to muddle definitions and understandings (Invasive Species; Wicked Inconvenience: part two. Sunday, February 18, 2007).

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Dream of Sustainability and its Deadly Unintended Consequence

Sustainable is the new watch word. Last year it was security which came with a plethora of unintended consequences as in the limitation of freedom, the point of which was the security in the first place. Complicated issues, reduced to one word or simple phrases, are loaded with unintended consequences. In our ever more complex world we struggle to simplify our lives, and, in doing so, fail to connect the outcomes of our actions.

If we choose to power our car with a battery, we understand that we must power the battery from a renewable source such as wind, and kill the bats, or corn, and drive the price of food high enough to cause starvation. If we carefully plan, and carefully fund, we think that we can overcome the renewable energy challenge without harm to the environment by paying an extra cost to ensure the quality of life for all in the power supply chain.

And so we plug and go without thinking about the battery that lifted us from the bondage of hydrocarbons and increase atmospheric CO2. And the children of Africa die. For there another complex chain of life choices plays out and lead poisons the very earth.

“THIAROYE SUR MER, Senegal — First, it took the animals. Goats fell silent and refused to stand up. Chickens died in handfuls, then en masse. Street dogs disappeared. Then it took the children. Toddlers stopped talking and their legs gave out. Women birthed stillborns. Infants withered and died. Some said the houses were cursed. Others said the families were cursed. The mysterious illness killed 18 children in this town on the fringes of Dakar, Senegal’s capital, before anyone in the outside world noticed.” By HEIDI VOGT, Associated Press, Jan 3rd, 2009

Ultimately, sustainability means sacrifice, and not by someone else, but by me and you. We must decide to share, or we shall condemn our fellow men to live down stream in the shadows of ou environmental justice and down hill from our shining city dreams.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Invasive Species, all/some Roads lead to Washington

By definition, invasive species move because of human activity. These movements are grouped by kind in pathways. Pathways include industry as in cargo and trade, tourism as in hiking and boating, gardening, as in new plant introductions and sales, and ground transportation such as roads. The chart is from a report, Standardising and Structuring Pathways and Impacts of Invasive Species, Prepared for the Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG), October 2003, by James Russell

Invasion pathways to new locations
Local dispersal methods
Acclimatisation Societies
Acclimatisation Societies (local)
Agriculture (local)
Aquaculture (local)
Aquarium trade
Biological control
Escape from confinement
Floating vegetation/debris
For ornamental purposes (local)
For ornamental purposes
Forestry (local)
Garden escape/garden waste
Ignorant possession
Hikers' clothes/boots
Internet sales/postal services
Mud on birds (local)
Landscape/fauna "improvement"
Off-road vehicles
Live food trade
On animals
Other (local)
Mud on birds
People foraging
Nursery trade

People sharing resources (local)
Road vehicles
People sharing resources
Self-propelled (local)
Road vehicles (long distance)
Translocation of machinery (local)
Seafreight (container/bulk)
Transportation of habitat material (local)
Water currents
Ship ballast water
Ship/boat hull fouling
Taken to botanical garden/zoo
Translocation of machinery
Transportation of domesticated animals
Transportation of habitat material

There are three major phases of species invasion: introduction, colonization and naturalization. Given the current federal definition, an ecosystem which is disturbed by anthropogenic factors, an invasion opportunity is provided to an alien propagule. Gradually, it may overcomes the eco–system’s environmental balance and begin to negatively impact the eco-system. Roads are a significant means by which natural eco-systems come under invasive species pressure.
This brings us to the news of the day from Washington which “… would allow Plum Creek Timber to pave roads passing through Forest Service land.” One step forward, 900 miles of roads backwards.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Garden or a Jar in Tennessee

Invasive species issues confound and confuse, they provoke and enrage. Invasive species are wickedly complex and are a wicked inconvenience. The challenge of agreeing on what they, invasive species, are and what their impact is creates tension and disagreement among the various stakeholders. And since the definitions of invasive species are based upon acceptance of seemingly simple terms, such as ‘place’, the definition problem spirals out of control. The failure to define the underlying, moving context upon which invasive species issues are debated is compounded by changes in culture and accepted norms of understanding and comprehension.

A change in perception is taking place which influences the invasive species conversation. Natural area stakeholders conceive of their charges as places; traditional land use advocates and garden stakeholders understand natural areas through its contact with landscapes and gardens. History is with the traditionalists by definition. The space which defines the other, the outside, the beyond is the garden landscape wrought by the hand of man. When the efforts of man were dwarfed by the infiniteness of nature, the border of the garden defined the wilderness. Now the finite resource which is nature can be and is delimited by the work of gardeners, and in a twist on tradition, the garden is the artifice of Steven’s poem, A Jar in Tennessee.

A garden is a place which is defined by its boundaries. The root of the word garden comes from an Indo-European root which means enclosure, to grasp, enclose. A place with no border or limit is indefinable. A place is local; it is here. Nature being infinite is not a place, and is seen, comprehended, or understood through contact with human artifice. Culturally a garden defines nature; nature does not define a garden. A garden is like the far in Tennessee by Wallace Stevens, (Document URL: Last modified: Wednesday, 18-Jul-2007 16:28:57 EDT)

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air.

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Invasive species (non native) Gardening (Plants) meets Eating (beef)

Invasive species issues are linked with climate change and together form a ground for discussions of sustainability. The definitions of sustainable include ideas of native and preservation. There is a danger sometimes of wandering down the preservation at the expense of humanity path, but for the most part the issue is one of conserving resources for the greater good and long term benefit of humanity. Sorting through the implications of terminology and concepts such as ‘native is good/alien is bad’ creates a minefield for stakeholders seeking consensus solutions.

For gardeners the idea that some plants are bad has long been a staple under the heading of weeds. The process especially is the bane of some gardener’s existence. That some species overcome and overwhelm the garden is not a novel idea. What is novel is that a species not found locally is somehow evil and that adding species is bad creates a frustrating principle for gardeners bent on doing good things for the local landscape. The stewards of natural areas are responding just as gardeners to afflictions of unwanted species that produce havoc in natural systems and notice that some of the most egregious happen to be popular landscape species.
It can be therefore both comforting and troubling to read about the challenges to other industries and past times.

Justus Stewart writes that “While not all of us are vegetarian, most of us are aware of the environmental implications of eating meat – and especially red meat. The environmental degradation associated with raising beef cattle in the United States is particularly troubling, and it came up recently in a conversation.”[1] Taken out of context, and used in conversation this becomes a red cape waved in front of an already agitated group of stakeholders.
But the salient feature is the next comment (my words in parenthesis): “Why do we eat beef (garden and plant alien species) in this country, anyway? Because, really, it makes no cultural sense (actually the author makes the case for the cultural sense, but we digress). There were no cows in America when Europeans landed here. The cattle we know today are here because we brought them here. This history lesson really messed with my head when I started thinking about it, as I realized how much of our culture, particularly the unsustainable aspects, come from thoughtlessly imposing an old culture into a new world, to which it was not well suited. Invasive species is an older idea than I realized. We eat beef (garden) because the English (Europeans) ate beef. We have lawns because the English (western Europeans) had lawns. Not just that they had them, but because beef and lawns were status symbols – they are relics of our ‘every man a king’ (the Garden of Eden story) defiance of an old social order. A signal that we no longer need to work the land in front of our houses just to feed ourselves; we no longer need to use the inexpensive bits of the animal (better steak than haggis, yes?).[2]

The coup de main with which gardeners can identify reads as follows: “This train of thought made me wonder, if sustainability requires more thoughtful living, can one solution be to localize a little further by ‘eating American’(planting American)? It is a small part of the large effort we are undertaking, but I am now personally attempting to eat an all-American diet (to garden with natives only). No beef (hybrid roses), but I will eat buffalo (plant cone flowers). No chicken (no Japanese pachysandra), but, but I will eat turkey (Allegheny spurge). I will eat corn and squash and salmon (plant Liatris, Tiarella, and Acer). These things, after all, were meant to live here. Raising native species requires little intervention (gads this will be tomorrow’s web posting..this is a horticultural fallacy on the surface as expressed, but the danger is assuming the truth without exploring the implications), little support. Could this be part of our push to restore the ecology of the United States? What would the benefit be of a nation that ate this way? Would it change our thinking about our stewardship of this land? Is there a wider application of the buffalo commons idea?”[3]

I want to be clear that I am not attacking Mr. Stewart’s position, because, at many levels, I agree with him. The problem is that he assumes and through assumption that all understand and are coming from the came philosophic base and thus can readily accept his premises. By wandering through various philosophic levels and blending them, he clearly reflects the moods and positions that are to be found, but he also gives rise to concerns of those whose perspective comes from a different place.

A final comment, the National Invasive Species Council’s Advisory Committee went to great lengths to provide a common definition of invasive species. Constructed to give a common starting point in discussion about invasive species, the white paper can be found at:

[1] Stewart, Justus, Worldchanging Essay: The All-American Diet., December 15, 2008
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Invasive Species and Gardening as Art

Tucked away in discussions about invasive species and gardening practices, lurks the ideas of the garden as art, the gardener as artist, and gardening as an artful process, an artifice of expression. Defining gardening or a garden is problematic because, among many reasons, it fits nicely in the realm of I know-it-when-I-see-it. Gardening is a process whereby gardens are created much like painting is a process by which a painting is created and sculpting creates sculpture. But these art forms once created are static and dependent on a viewer who stands outside the art form. The audience can not stand in a painting Making music creates an art form which is ephemeral and always in motion. A composition like a garden is the art of change. Neither music nor gardens are static. Even music though finds the listener perceiving through one sense outside the composition. A garden is experienced through motion within, even to the extent of viewing it from outside its boundaries. A garden engages all the senses at once and together.

Gardening is a process and a garden is a creation in perpetual motion. Current marketing ideas have reduced the garden to a product depriving it of its basic functionality and handing it over to the world of ‘accessorization’, itself perhaps an art form. The idea of linking gardening to painting and the western historic connection of paintings to gardens allows analogies of type. As a painter needs to make a blank canvas, so a gardener needs to create a blank piece of land. Herein is a point of contention, for an assumption is made by gardeners that the local ecosystem is a clean slate upon which on may express one self. By wiping clean the existing ecosystem and synthesizing a new one. In doing so, the gardener improves upon the existing arrangement and may even expand the palette of species in the short term.

For those, whose grammar of landscaping, who are literate in reading the complexities of the environment, this gardening action is not constructive but destructive. And so we have diametrically opposed understandings which underlie attempts to find common ground at a higher level of invasive species dialogue. Accordingly, the gardener sees an attack on freedom of expression, and a limit on his ability to add to existing nature, while the naturalist sees a process which includes the introduction of non native species, not diversity in the short term as a positive action, but as additions which may have long term negative impacts on the fragile local eco-system.