Saturday, February 28, 2009

Invasive Species and Ecosystem Service Loss

Yet another species’ existence is threatened by a non native to the ecosystem, recently introduced invasive. We know about the potential loss of baseball bats (ash trees) as the emerald ash borer mines its way through the forests of the United States and Canada (Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ontario), and possibly the region around Moscow. Now we learn about a killer isopod, an invasive species perhaps introduced as a hitchhiker on the trade routes with our Asian markets. The target, a west coast mud shrimp (Upogebia pugettensis), of the parasitic exotic, “blood-sucking bopyrid isopod Orthione griffinis”, does not have the cache of a 90 foot tall, dead tree crashing through the roof of a suburban home. And of course the litany of species extinction delivered one species at a time results in a dreary resignation or indifference to the loss. The reaction to the species homogenization tends towards the ‘who-cares’ model. picture above:
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Image may be subject to copyright.

Keeping to the theme we have the “…zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) (which) is a small, non-native mussel originally found in Russia.” This non green card bearing visitor causing “…the near extinction of native American unionid clams in Lake St. Clair and in the western basin of Lake Erie.” And to add to the sense of impending doom, the invasive zebra mussel is now moving west with recreational America.
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Daniel Simberloff offers a sober assessment of biological loss in his article, “Introduced Species: The Threat to Biodiversity & What Can Be Done.” (An original article). A list of loss over time includes:
· GONE: American chestnut and ten moth species that could live only on chestnut trees
o Asian chestnut blight fungus
· GOING: sawgrass
o Australian paperbark tree
· GONE: ten of the eleven native bird species from the forests of Guam.
o brown tree snake

This collect of loss sounds like a chant from the Dies irae and is irritating to those who feel that nature exists as a raw resource to be exploited with no cost. Forests are meant to be logged, bogs drained and paved, mountains mines and leveled, schools of fish caught until extinct, herds of buffalo eliminated for food and sport, and insignificant plants such as Leopold’s Draba verna reduced to the obscurity of no present value.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Invasive Species Definitions Defined

Reading through some web postings, I note a tendency to define invasive species vaguely, a sort of know-one-when-I-see it vernacular. Akin to this laissez-faire definitional approach is the nigh unto gospel ‘resignational’ sigh that every plant is invasive somewhere so what is the problem. This resignation percolates into unexpected quarters, even rumored to infect the Nature Conservancy itself. Yesterday, we were told that there was no scientific evidence of invasiveness; today we are told that the non existent problem of yesteryear is far too big to be solved, and therefore logically we should continue as before, somewhat ostrich-like.

Difficult non linear problems, in the case of invasive species, a wicked inconvenience, need working definitions which are build by stakeholders finding common ground upon which to build consensus. As with making laws and sausage, the construction of common definitions is not a pretty sight and for some the resulting definition is too wide, to small, too unwieldy, to narrow, too inoperable, too controlled, too inaccurate; however it is something agreed upon which allows for a starting point in efforts to move forward together.

Executive Order 13112, for better or worse, currently, defines an invasive species as “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” To clarify somewhat the term invasive species is further clarified and defined as “a species that is non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.”( Invasive Species Definition Clarification and Guidance White Paper Submitted by the Definitions Subcommittee of the Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC), Approved by ISAC April 27, 2006 )

At the heart of the defintional challenge are the complications explained in the white paper “…concerning the concept of invasive species (arising) from differing human values and perspectives. Differing perceptions of the relative harm caused or benefit gained by a particular organism are influenced by different values and management goals. If invasive species did not cause harm, we would not be nearly as concerned. Perceptions of relative benefit and harm also may change as new knowledge is acquired, or as human values or management goals change.”
The definition white paper explores the seeming incongruous notion that white-tailed deer are not invasive species on the east coast of the United States, and more importantly why they are not form a definitional point of view. I of course think of them as a scourge when they eat all the sweet corn but that is a different posting. The paper discusses feral animals versus domesticated herds, opening the door for irate supporters of the rights of feral cat to infest natural areas and decimate the ecosystem rather like the activities of the humans which brought them in the first place.

The white paper examines the negative impacts on ecosystem services which invasive species cause. The examples are extensive and worth reading in order to gain a context for the issues. The summary does a good job of laying out the case: “Invasive species are those that are not native to the ecosystem under consideration and that cause or are likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human, animal, or plant health. Plant and animal species under domestication or cultivation and under human control are not invasive species. Furthermore for policy purposes, to be considered invasive, the negative impacts caused by a non-native species will be deemed to outweigh the beneficial effects it provides. Finally, a non-native species might be considered invasive in one region but not in another. Whether or not a species is considered an invasive species depends largely on human values. By attempting to manage invasive species, we are affirming our economic and environmental values. Those non-native species judged to cause overall economic or environmental harm or harm to human health may be considered invasive, even if they yield some beneficial effects. Society struggles to determine the appropriate course of action in such cases, but in a democratic society that struggle is essential.

Many invasive species are examples of "the tragedy of the commons," or how actions that benefit one individual's use of resources may negatively impact others and result in a significant overall increase in damage to the economy, the environment, or public health. In ISAC’s review of Executive Order 113112, the public domain is specifically represented; however, the implementation of the NISMP has prompted concerns over the rights of personal and private property owners. Property rights are of great importance in the U.S. and one outcome of the NISMP should be to recognize the right to self determination by property owners and promote collaboration on invasive species management. The right to self determination is an important concept in a democratic society, however, with that right comes personal responsibility and stewardship, which includes being environmentally responsible. The natural environment that our society enjoys, recreates in, and depends upon to support commerce must be conserved and maintained. Effective invasive species management is just one aspect of conserving and maintaining our nation’s natural environment, the economies it supports, and the high quality of life our society enjoys.”

If you are new to invasive species issues, then the white paper is a good place to start your reading.

Invasive Plant Science and Management 1(4):414-421. 2008 doi: 10.1614/IPSM-08-089.1
Invasive Species Defined in a Policy Context: Recommendations from the Federal Invasive Species Advisory Committee
K. George Beck, Kenneth Zimmerman, Jeffrey D. Schardt, Jeffrey Stone, Ronald R. Lukens, Sarah Reichard, John Randall, Allegra A. Cangelosi, Diane Cooper, and John Peter Thompson
*Professor, Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523; Lone Tree Cattle Company, P.O. Box 910, Bellflower, CA, 90707; Florida Department of Environmental Protection, 3900 Commonwealth Blvd., Mail Station 705, Tallahassee, FL 32399; Professor, Oregon State University, Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Corvallis, OR 97331; Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, P.O. Box 726, Ocean Springs, MS 39566; Associate Professor, Center for Urban Horticulture, University of Washington, Box 354115, Seattle, WA 98195; The Nature Conservancy, University of California–Davis, Mail Stop 4—Robbins Hall, Davis, CA 95616; Northeast Midwest Institute, 218 D Street S.E., Washington D.C. 20003; Taylor Shellfish Farms, SE 130 Lynch Road, Shelton, WA 98584; The Behnke Nurseries Company, 11300 Baltimore Avenue, P.O. Box 290, Beltsville, MD 20705. Corresponding author's E-mail:
Approved by ISAC April 27, 2006
Received: April 16, 2008; Accepted: August
2, 2008

Invasive Species: A Reflection of Values

The work of regional invasive species centers such as IPANE (Invasive Plant Atlas of New England) is a new and exciting if as of yet terribly under-funded resource for those who seek answers to landscape sustainability questions. A recent article by Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu on February 23rd, 2009, “UConn efforts help curb spread of invasive plants in state” lays out some of the work that is being done to address the impacts of invasive species. As reported in the article, through the efforts of Les Mehrhoff “(A)n official list has been compiled of 96 non-native plants considered invasive or potentially invasive in Connecticut, 81 of which are now banned by law from being sold, purchased, transplanted, or cultivated in the state.” These include Japanese barberry, Asiatic bittersweet, purple loosestrife, and other, less showy plants, such as garlic mustard and mile-a-minute vine, newly recognized as invasive.”

Without surprise, this invasive species issue has not been received well in all quarters as noted further in the interview. “The work is sometimes controversial. Not everyone agrees on all the species that are invasive, Mehrhoff says. In addition to ecological considerations, there are economic issues at stake. “Some are big money plants for the nursery industry or the aquatic trade,” he says. “Some aquatic species are sold in every pet store.”” I have previously written about the conflicted meeting of wills at the nexus of Euonymus alatus on my Invasive Notes web log: Thursday, October 12, 2006, “Invasive traditions; burning bush”.

The collision of stakeholders end goals, one which is to protect natural areas, and the other which is to enhance human landscapes, is a reflection of the tension between the two categories of ecosystem services (Sunday, February 15, 2009, “Sustainability's Ecosystem Service Matrix”): the natural system services of regulation and provision and the “artifice-ial” or cultural serves of providing and informing. In a recent exchange of ideas, John Waugh wrote to me that we need to consider eliminating “…the false dichotomy of human and ecosystem health (and) change the values of the system to favor biosecurity (sustainability) and incorporate ecosystem health.” Is insight reflects the problem which currently gives no quarter pitting ornamental gardeners against naturalists in a battle with no end.

Because arguments about plant choices are conducted at a surface level called politics, we seldom address the root underpinnings of the value system supporting our work, goals, expectations, and decisions. Cultural imperatives of the past assume endless, infinite resources upon which we will work our will as humans. We see the land as a blank canvas making choices as if natural areas’ unimproved state has little market value (Thursday, January 01, 2009,
“Invasive Species and Gardening as Art”). We are driven to make nature better, and in fact we historically and culturally define nature through our artifice of the garden. Nature is the great beyond, the fearful other that needs be tamed. And through our human actions and constructs nature takes shape (Saturday, January 03, 2009, “A Garden or a Jar in Tennessee”)

Our cause at this place in time is to find a partnership with nature. We must set aside our notions of living part and outside of the natural world and forge a new set of values which uphold our place within the natural world, as part of nature. We must value the finite nature of our resources and adapt through human ingenuity and skill making our lifes’ work one of creation not destruction. We must become the gardeners of the planet, stewards of the earth, care-takers of the world.
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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Invasive species and ecosystem services; good and bad?

Invasive Species: Not Always a Bad Thing? makes the case for the ecosystems service matrix which I began to explain in an earlier posting; Ecosystem services are nested hierarchical processes with two fundamental parts, one being the "natural" system services and the second nested higher level systems being the human, or artificial (artifice-cial) services. for more on this please link to: Sunday, February 15, 2009, Sustainability's Ecosystem Service Matrix

The two parts of ecosystem services are not exclusive from a human perspective, they are linked together as necessary for the continuation of the human species with a quality of life expectation assumed.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Open letter to TNC re: Global Invasive Species Team Decision

Roger Milliken, Jr.
Baskahegan Company
Cumberland, Maine

Chairman of the Board
The Nature Conservancy

19 February 2009


This is an open letter written to express concern about the decision to end the work of the TNC Global Invasive Species Team. The loss of this team exacerbates the losses of natural areas and their ecosystem services to the arrival and establishment of invasive species. From the negative impacts on regulating services such as clean air and erosion control to services which include habitat protection and enhancement through resource and raw material production to informing services such as recreational use, the work of the team focused efforts to encourage a wide range of disparate stakeholders to find common ground. Quietly without fanfare your team provided a focus nationally for wide ranging efforts to stem the destructive spread of invasive species.

Invasive species are a symptom of a larger challenge, the survivability of our culture and of our current expectation for life on this planet. Currently there are groups who excel at raising awareness of other crises, but invasive species issues have been for so long centrists’ issues of insiders that no one actually notices that there is any urgency. There other major issues brewing which share a similar fate, such as the increase in world population over the rate of food production yields. Boring and seemingly non controversial, with no champions of notoriety in tow, invasive species issues slumber in the cloudy sub consciousness of our public policy attic.

Without champions at a national level, there are no funds. Without vocal demands for extreme action, there are no champions; the issues of invasive species are not glamorous. Scary perhaps, but not enough for the big time celebrities which we need to fire us up as we need the celebrity stamp of approval. Invasive species are a slow fire taking place just below our daily time horizons, too slow to make an impact until too late to stop. We expect as inevitable that kudzu will cost two states 500 million dollars annually, and then we wonder why our states are going broke. But we do nothing, we say nothing, and we learn nothing, because other issues are more important having been identified for us by the chic of the moment, by trend setters of style.

We are engaged in a public policy battle on climate change without understanding that invasive species are linked at the hip to the issue. We speak of carbon negative landscapes without knowing that invasive plants make, in general, wonderful carbon sinks. Complex webs of interactions take too much time to digest, and we have no time because we are in a hurry to get to the next new thing, and therefore wind up paying for the old thing which we failed to understand in the first place. Too hard for us to assess and respond in time; too hard to prove a negative, we build costly prisons after the fact ,just as we allow invasives to establish themselves and then deal with the expense later as if they were always a problem though we knew it cheaper to react early thereby deflecting or avoiding the coming crisis.

Our political systems work by catering to extremes; solutions driven successfully from the consensus center receive no attention and with invasive species it is no different. Successful collaboration with diverse stakeholders has led to complacency and even malaise. We move quietly towards a center, while loading future costs one upon another. 22 million acres of ash trees are dead and gone, and now a few impacted residents of the Midwest wonder why, and more practically how they will afford to cut the dead trees down, as all the while the general warning went unheeded. Some say we cannot predict well enough to protect, and convince us that it is better not to try. This is the mantra that said we could not go to the moon or cure polio and were wrong.

Invasive species are crippling the environment which provides us things we need to live: clean air, soil for food, clean water, medicines, and recreational release to name a few. Invasive species are giant hammer blows of a 900 pound canary singing in a mine, tolling for the future, warning of the change which is coming. Surrounded by so much quiet desperation, we teeter on the edge of inaction unwilling to assume one more crucial issue and so we shunt invasive species to the does-not-matter-compared-to-the-everything-else-we-must-solve arena.

But the failure of our ecosystem infrastructure will be costly whether we acknowledge it or not, and ignoring invasive species will simply pass costs on to repair and maintenance until we can no longer afford to clear our canals of the water hyacinth that can curtail our transportation of goods, or until the citrus greening removes the last orange juice tree. Do we truly believe that hardwood trees, the oaks of North America are not important as a pathogen begins to take them down on the west coast? What price to lose elms and chestnuts and maples and ash and then oaks? What tree do the un-aroused suggest take the place of all that is lost? What price to pay for cooling when the hardwoods are gone?

The homogenization of the world is refreshing at first, for we can go anywhere and find McDonalds knowing that our first meal will taste the same with no surprises. But who will visit Alaska to see salmon runs with no fish, waterways covered by Lythrum, a flower readily visible in the backyards of over 24 states of the lower 48? We want a green English landscape in the desert, but after the initial view did we actually travel to the desert to see Windsor palace or did we come to see the diversity of our planet and to recognize the power of this diversity? Our activities from trade to style encourage the introduction of species much as our city development encourages the introduction of Starbucks. We trade familiarity for uniqueness in order to get efficiency through predictability. We want this sameness because it makes us comfortable. And we are paying a price which so far we are willing to pay.

But the piper will be paid. Our system of systems that regulates life on earth will increase the costs of this homogenization until we cannot pay, much as an evening of over eating and drinking will cause a payment to be rendered of the system so abused. We expect our marketplace providers of goods for consumption to lower costs and encourage them to dismiss or not consider the environmental assessment. We do not place a price on shipping containers coming in without inspection for lack of funding and for time considerations, while we spend billions looking for grenades and bombs. We blithely ignore an unidentified ant, which loves to eat electrical wiring and is headed for Houston Space Flight Center. Rather than paying to deal early and cheaply we will suffer a five minute sound bite of recrimination when we have to move the Space Flight Center, spray it with toxins or encase it in ant proof new buildings or loose its wiring to an invasive species.

Why have a plan when we can couch the inevitable in terms of our inadequacy of knowledge, an endless loop of where is the science. We are still waiting for the complete science behind the loss of the Chesapeake Bay’s oysters when we could have done something we found reasons to delay, and now we find reason to move on as if we have lost nothing off importance. We accept the destruction of our landscapes because we have become landscape illiterate. Isolated in our silos, totally depended on our urban system services, we have forgotten that these same services are built upon the foundation of the ecosystem services whose loss we no longer cry for. We have forgotten the lessons of Aldo Leopold; perhaps we never learned.

This we need an effort such as your GIST. Surely the resources can be found to continue to protect our environment by keeping the Global Invasive Species Team in place.

Invasive species, food supply, and funding

I have written extensively on this site about the plight of US Agricultural Research. My efforts include the creation of a 501(c)4,, to advocate on behalf of the people and programs of the National Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, (BARC) , Maryland. If you are interested in supporting this effort please contact me.

A recent article in the Washington Post begins to bring the message home; of the connection between our food supply and the effects of invasive species while never mentioning the largest agricultural research facility in the world in the Post’s own backyard. Of course it is not only the flagship of the US Agricultural Service that is in trouble but the whole national system. Trying to get something to happen is an effort intense action going nowhere for lack of public support. What will it take for us to prod the administration and Congress into action that funds food research which is a necessary part of our quality of life?

There seems to be an assumption that someone somewhere will take care of future research on behalf of the people of the United States. We are complacent even though there is no longer funding for our National Agriculture Library (NAL) which would allow subscriptions to foreign scientific journals or add to the special collections. And when it comes to our food supply, we, the public fail to be concerned about the lack of funding to support basic identification services at our borders, while allowing our irreplaceable systematic collections to atrophy. Where is our national food plan? Who is concerned about the impact of CO2 on food production? Where is stimulus funding for long term food research? Where is the special interest group which represents the general public’s interest?

For two decades now, the National Research Center for Food, Feed, Fiber, Fuel, Flowers and Forests has been in a slow chronic decline losing almost half its researchers, from almost 500 to around 255 today. How does this make sense? Who do we think we are going to get our next meal from? Do we really think that large international corporations are going to do public service research and offer the technology to the private sector as USDA does now? Who are we kidding?

To top this off we give no money in the current spending spree to USDA ARS programs (money will be coming for building and infrastructure we hope) such as ARS climate research, and we totally ignore the impact of invasive species on every ecosystem service. “A virulent new version of a deadly fungus is ravaging wheat in Kenya's most fertile fields and spreading beyond Africa to threaten one of the world's principal food crops, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.” [By Sharon Schmickle, Special to The Washington Post Wednesday, February 18, 2009; Page A08] . The US rust collection is without a curator presently, and what are our politicians and leaders doing about it? Invasive species whether pathogens, insects or animals reduce crop yields or destroy natural ecosystems both of which our country needs. The article continues: “Coming on the heels of grain scarcity and food riots last year, the budding epidemic exposes the fragility of the food supply in poor countries. It is also a reminder of how vulnerable the ever-growing global population is to the pathogens that inevitably surface somewhere on the planet.”

Research at BARC is ongoing with soybean rust already here in the US. Citrus greening threatens the orange juice supply of Florida (Citrus Greening: What ARS Is Doing) and ARS is struggling for funding. Do we think that we can buy food as we currently buy oil…from somewhere else at a reduced price? I note how well that is working for fuel thus far. Do we think that invasive species are not a threat and that we will simply trip over an alternative to the destroyed crops or ecosystems? Where is the public outrage? Do we think that these problems will not come here? How then do we explain fire ants, and the new crazy ant, or even the aforementioned soybean rust now plaguing the south eastern US? While we search for bombs, we let the silent invaders in, not because USDA does not try to stop them but because we have no commitment to fully fund the efforts of USDA and other federal agencies. Invasive species are Congressional afterthoughts if they think about them at all. And 22 million acres of dead ash trees in the Midwest, casualties of an invasive species? Will we find away to coordinate our efforts to keep our quality of life?

The point is that invasive species reach across traditional disciplines and do not fit neatly in to pre-described boxes. And our public notions of agriculture are inadequate to the present reality of an interconnected food chain which stretches from farms to natural areas and back again in intricate feed back loops. To think of agriculture separately from natural areas is to invite chaos at a policy level. Our food does not come from a different planet it comes from the system of systems which is our ecosystems linked together.

The following is a list of links:
Saturday, February 07, 2009 The Continuing Loss of Scientific Infrastructure - Decline of Systematics
Monday, June 30, 2008 Invasive Plant Research and Partnership
Friday, June 13, 2008 BARC & NAL: The front line in the attack of killer tomatoes and other agents of terror
Thursday, May 01, 2008 Foods, Fuels, Fibers, Flowers & Forests
Tuesday, April 22, 2008 Congressional call for a plan for the Beltsville "National" Agricultural Research Center & the National Agricultural Library
Friday, March 28, 2008 BARC & NAL: Funding challenges continue
Saturday, January 12, 2008 Invasive Species & Climate Change

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

TNC Global Invasive Species Team is being disbanded

Invasive species have a further challenge as a cornerstone of national efforts to deal with the impacts of invasive species is closed for budgetary reasons.

News from the Global Invasive Species Team
----------------------------------------------------------News from the Global Invasive Species Team1. GIST closing shop
From: Barry Rice (brice(at) a result of the budget cutbacks announced this week, the Global InvasiveSpecies Team is being disbanded and will close down much of its work overthe next few weeks and months. Fortunately, our Forest Health work focusedon preventing and containing forest pests and pathogens is fully funded andwill continue. In addition, many TNC state and country program staff whowork on invasive species and make up our extended Team will continue theirwork. Over the next few weeks we hope to modify our communications networkto ensure that the folks who continue to work on invasive species acrossthe Conservancy can communicate, share information and work together.For now the Forest Health group will remain in the Conservation StrategiesDivision and the core staff involved can be reached as follows:
Frank Lowenstein: flowenstein(at)
Faith Campbell: fcampbell(at)
Leigh Greenwood: lgreenwood(at)
John Randall is slated to remain with the Conservation Strategies Divisionuntil mid-August, 2009 and can be reached at jrandall(at) orjarandall(at)
Other core GIST staff positions will end within the next 1-8 weeks.
Contact information for some of these folks are:
Stas Burgiel: sburgiel(at), sburgiel(at)
Barry Rice: brice(at),
Mandy Tu: imtu(at),
Valerie Vartanian: vvartanian(at), vvartanian(at)
It has been FABULOUS working with you guys!!!!!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Will the Obama Interior and Agriculture Departments Avoid Their First Mistake?

Invasive species open editorial from a colleague, a former Chair of the National Invasive Species Council Advisory Committee.

"With President Obama signing the stimulus bill in Denver today, his natural resource agencies and Congress may be on the verge of their first unintended environmental policy mistake.

The ‘green jobs’ language for Department of Interior agencies in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (stimulus bill) is biased toward projects such as facility repair and road maintenance in our national parks, national forests, and wildlife refuges. Instead, the stimulus bill’s funding should prioritize the battle against the invasive terrestrial and aquatic species ravaging all our federal lands and waters.

The dedicated Department of Interior staff that prepared stimulus recommendations to Congress erred by focusing on fixed assets like buildings and roads instead of helping the fish and wildlife resources that make our public lands valuable to Americans in the first place. The U.S. Forest Service took a similar narrow approach to economic growth, offering a job package which focused on road maintenance, facilities repair, and wildland fire management.

Painting buildings and filling potholes on public properties may provide short-term jobs. However, the longer-term solution for declining revenues in our national parks is to ensure healthy habitats for the birds, fish, and wildlife that draw millions of people there in the first place. And, as it happens, restoring these habitats can create countless jobs for many years to come.

Yes, the facilities maintenance backlog is huge, but the natural assets within our parks, forests, refuges, lakes, rivers, and rangelands are more important. Benefiting fish and wildlife resources should be job one for the Obama Administration’s Departments of Interior and Agriculture. Vigorously combating invasive species will create just as many jobs as facilities repair and road maintenance.

All conservation-oriented jobs are not equal. Shovel-ready, boots-on-the-ground jobs preventing, controlling, or eliminating invasive species should be prioritized ahead of building repairs. Recent estimates by state invasive weed coordinators in the West indicate that stimulus funding can create thousands of on-the-ground jobs to fight invasive species nationwide and effectively manage an additional 12,000,000 acres!

When America’s rivers, lakes, forests and parks are made healthier, the nation’s economy benefits over the long haul. After all, abundant fish and wildlife populations are the reason our public conservation lands are valuable to visitors. Better buildings and roads help also, but they aren’t the reason citizens pack up the minivan and show the kids their natural heritage. Elk, deer, bison, trout, salmon, bears, and landscapes filled with wildflowers are the real reasons that Americans flock to our national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges! Our nation’s natural heritage – our wildlife and their habitats – are being destroyed and permanently altered by invasive species. It is critically important that these problems are addressed with prioritized funding from the stimulus bill.

Congress, President Obama, and Secretaries Salazar, and Vilsack can use the stimulus package jobs to shift priorities in our natural resource agencies. All natural resource stimulus jobs are not equal. Healthy habitats deserve, if not demand, priority over building repair and road maintenance! "

K. George Beck, Ph.D.
Colorado State University
Healthy Habitats Coalition

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sustainability's Ecosystem Service Matrix

The concept of a tool for designing, creating, executing and maintaining a sustainable landscape involves the integration of several wicked problems among which, but not limited to, are climate change, invasive species, biodiversity, and social engineering. Because of the inherent complexities of nested hierarchies and issues of scale, discussions about sustainability begin with the classic challenge of wicked problems: “Every problem interacts with other problems and is therefore part of a set of interrelated problems, a system of problems…. such a system [is called] a mess (Ackoff).” The results of the system of systems, that is outcomes of a wicked problem, bring stakeholders together with preconceived solutions as the preliminary basis for their proposed definitions, classically blinding them to the definitional possibilities of other stakeholders. For example, a stakeholder approaching sustainability through the definitional matrix of climate change (regulating services) and its impacts will seek to weigh rules and outcomes heavily that favor carbon neutrality or negation. At the same meeting, while recognizing the importance of climate change’s impact on ecosystems, urban land development planners may tend to weigh transportation and housing factors (informing services) more heavily. At the same time, traditional gardeners and natural area managers will be focused on their turf war in the invasive species arena (provisioning versus providing services). Each of the four stakeholders will acknowledge the other’s concerns, but will be focused on issues which seem to directly impact their pre-definitional-outcome expectations which color the individual interpretations and expectations of the proceedings.

A broad consolidated definition of sustainability is offered by the School of Architecture at Washington State giving us: “Sustainable developments are those which fulfill present and future needs (WECD, 1987) while [only] using and not harming renewable resources and unique human-environmental systems of a site: [air], water, land, energy, and human ecology and/or those of other [off-site] sustainable systems (Rosenbaum 1993 and Vieria 1993).” The “future needs” in the consolidated definition of sustainability may be understood as the outputs of ecosystem services, where an ecosystem is defined as “… an area that contains organisms (e.g., plants, animals, bacteria) interacting with one another and their non-living environment. Ecosystems can be of any size (e.g., forest, meadow, and log).”

At work in the discussion are two assumptions, one completely wrong which assumes natural resources to be infinite, and the other which at a high level presumes linear solutions for non-linear problems. The first function , a type of group integration of resource expectations, is the foundation for the at best absent stakeholders who see not need for a sustainable solution because their operation model predicts no longer problem; their absence is a major stumbling block because wicked problems require all stakeholder to be equally right and at the table. The second problematic function looks towards a linear solution model of the type: first do this then to that and a goal will be met. Ban all non natives is a linear solution to a wicked problem’s non linear complexities.

Bearing in mind the two problematic models, we begin to assemble a list of services provided by an ecosystem. The services can be arranged in four nest hierarchies. The foundation is the regulating and supporting services which provide the mechanism for the next group which are the provisioning and preserving services, followed by providing and then informing services . The actual individual services can be expressed either by Constanza et al or deGroot et al but either way need some a priori agreement.

This system is based on an anthropomorphic view point which drives the two part dynamics of the matrix and serves to further confuse initial conversations. The first two services regulating/supporting and provisioning/preserving function with or without Home sapiens. At the same time human activity can wreak havoc on the function of these two levels of ecosystem services. In other words, while we are not necessary to the workings of the services therein, we are fully dependent, and fully engaged, and completely able to become a very large determinant variable with in the system altering the system’s ability to sustain itself in historic and predictable ways. Our human technological abilities give rise to the providing services whereby we manipulate the ecosystem for resources such as food, fuel, fiber, feed, flowers, and forest. At this point human cultural needs are expressed by the informing services completing the four part system.

The next consideration is related to the problem of scale. Regulating/supporting services operate at micro scale levels with macro scale effects. The regulation of atmospheric gases is on a molecular and cellular levels (small/fast operations) which when taken together over time have a large/slow effect on climate. The aggregation of many small/fast operations over a non delimited area accounts for the impact of the services at this end of the continuum. Intuitively attempting to establish a metric for these aggregated services by delimiting artificial boundaries seems inadequate. The scale is one of micro to macro and may be thought of as without bound or limit; that is unconstrained by human artifice.

The scale reverses as we move up the system to the informing system which fits very nicely with in human constructs and is defined at least in bard by boundaries which give context to the informing nature of the ecosystem services. We rather expect a delimitation of the soccer field garden or sacred space. Here the efforts of human endeavor attempt to reduce the fast small and slow large functions to human time scale, and in doing so reduce the immediate effects to an artificial boundary with the reverse functionality of the regulating services. That is we have one operation/operator at a time on many distinct bounded areas. And thus we use macro operations which have micro effects such as planting an alien exotic species which is a macro event with micro effects.

To this we now bring the economic valuation component expressed in terms of public value. This matrix places the regulating and provision services within the realm of public goods and the providing and informing within the realm of private goods, and demonstrates the natural fault lines of initial sustainable conversations. The tension between large interests groups splits in the expected private property, market preference versus common good and public value. In addition, the artifices of boundaries overlay neatly with the implications of the matrix.



regulatingnaturalunboundednon excludablenon rivalrous
provisioningnaturalunboundednon excludablerivalrous
informingculturalboundedexcludablenon rivalrous

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Invasive Species Intercepted By Customs and Border Protection

Invasive species cause environmental and economic damage. Once established, eradication of an invasive species is economically impossible, leaving long term continuous control which is very costly. ED&RR is the most effective method of mitigating the potential negative impact of invasive species. Of course completely sealing the border and preventing the introduction in the first place is the most effective method, but, given our global economic web of trade, not a realistic approach. So Early Defection and Rapid Response (Monday, June 30, 2008 Invasive Plant Research and Partnership) is the front line strategy of choice. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Port of Charleston, S.C interdicted several non native, exotic alien threats to our eco-systems as noted in the posting included in this posting. The snail interception is an ongoing challenge in importation of ceramic tiles, which are snail magnets. CPB working with its federal partners such as USDA APHIS and ARS as well as the Smithsonian Institution continues to offer front line defense of our country and its resources.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the Port of Charleston, S.C., recently made a first-time interception of a leaf bug in the continental United States. In total, six insects and one snail were intercepted as a result of the examination.
The pests were found in a cargo shipment of ceramic tile arriving from Italy. They were submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for identification. Final determination revealed three of the insects and the snail to be quarantined significant pests. The leaf bug, which can carry disease, is known in Alaska and some western provinces of Canada, but it has not been established in the lower 48 states.
The shipment of ceramic tile was sent for fumigation, and the leaf bug specimen was sent to the Smithsonian Institution for inclusion in their collection.
“This is an excellent example of the work performed by CBP agriculture specialists,” said Robert A. Fencel area port director in Charleston. “This interdiction is important as it is the first time this pest has been found in the continental United States. The fact that the Smithsonian Institution has requested this specimen highlights the significance of the interdiction.””

Sunday, February 08, 2009

English ivy: Invasive Species podcast English Ivies to Know and Grow
R.W. Henley and R.J. Black
Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council Invasive Plant Manual Plant Conservation Alliance, Alien Plant Working Group.

Invasive Notes web log English ivy (Hedera helix) posts

Invasive Species: Selling on the Front Lines

Sustainability in the Landscape & Invasive Species

Are invasive species good or bad?

Sustainable Sites Symposium (NAED), Feb 2009, Austin Texas

John Peter Thompson will participate as a member of the technical team's sub committee on vegetation
University of Texas at Austin:
Sustainable Sites Symposium
February 13/14 2009

This symposium will focus on presenting, evaluating, and connecting the various sectors of research and applied knowledge available for developing, maintaining, and monitoring sustainable sites.
Participants will present existing research and look at gaps or limitations in the knowledge base to support efforts to measure and promote sustainable sites.
The Symposium will focus on five research areas that support the Sustainable Sites Initiative: soils, water, vegetation, materials, and human health.
Panels of experts will (1) present Sustainable Sites Initiative findings and metrics developed from these findings to date, and (2) present case studies from projects related to each of the five topic areas.
Participants will discuss findings and their applications as a group, looking for connections and disjunctions that can be shared broadly and that form the basis for future research.
The National Academy of Environmental Design (NAED) represents more than 500,000 members.
People involved in NAED activities come from both industry and academia and are among the world’s most knowledgeable in their field.
The NAED membership provides the leadership and expertise required to accomplish complex research projects on issues such as climate change, resource depletion, and energy security.
The existing National Academies arose during times of extreme need for the nation—the Civil War, the Space Race—and the NAED is developing in similar fashion.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Invasive Species Podcast

Our very first podcast..a test mostly of our ability to flourish as an immigrant to the cyber world; a very brief invasive species poem and poof we are gone, but now that we know the secret, we are planning to be back soon!

The Continuing Loss of Scientific Infrastructure - Decline of Systematics

The state of systematics in the nation and at the National Agricultural Research Center, BARC, is grim. Trying to build a coalition of support with zero funding is daunting. I seem to be talking to myself on Capitol Hill. Advocating on behalf of systematics is like lobbying for rivets underneath a bridge - no one cares until the bridge collapses, then everyone points fingers and bemoans the poor state of the failed infrastructure. Somehow, we as a people think that everything we need to know can be found on "Google", and that research which is not "sexy" is not useful and can be provided by someone else somewhere in the ether.

As to those involved with the impacts of invasive species, systematics is the core upon which all decision will be based. We can not legislate or regulate what we cannot identify.

An online-accessible report notes that "Beginning in 2005, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) called on Federal agencies to focus attention on integrated support and planning for their care and use of Federally held scientific collections."

I have linked to a report of the Interagency Working Group on Scientific Collections
for the following information:

"We need to keep items collected in the conduct of research because advances in science depend on a strong and cumulative evidence base. Scientific collections comprise an important part of that base. To build that base, researchers use the scientific method, an approach that includes systematic accumulation of data, the testing of hypotheses, and scientific replication. It is only through repeated observation and documentation that a consistent evidence base is developed and a finding can stand the test of time."

"Immediate access to collections: Urgent problems can call for immediate access to scientific data."

"Maintaining scientific collections can provide users with immediate access to critical specimens."

"Replacement costs. The passage of time, technical challenges, or prohibitive costs make it all but impossible to replace the contents of a collection when it is needed at a later date. Some locales may be physically inaccessible for a variety of reasons."

"Irreplaceable object. Many specimens collected decades ago can no longer be recollected because the locality has either disappeared or a species has gone extinct."

"Critical Redundancy. Research organizations keep collections in different places and maintain large collections of similar specimens for several reasons such as in the event of natural disaster."

"Research is a distributed enterprise. Federal research serves a wide range of constituencies and issues. To serve their mission efficiently, researchers and the collections they use need to be located in many different places."

"Variation in nature. Studying the variability within and among biological populations and geological specimens often reveals the processes that underlie their nature; this study of variation is a basic component of the scientific method. Large sample sizes are often needed in order to make statistically significant interpretations."

"Safety in numbers. Scientific collections of living specimens reduce the risk of catastrophic loss by guaranteeing that a pool of genetic variability is available to protect and ensure diversity, and to ensure the reintroduction and replenishment of the genetic stock."

Friday, February 06, 2009

Sustainability in the Landscape & Invasive Species

Why are invasive species so bad? One answer is that they negatively impact ecosystems; they bring an imbalance which at the very least causes stress and may under extreme conditions begin to destroy integral relationships and interaction necessary to a functioning ecosystem. The introduction of kudzu or Lythrum may result in a monoculture or biological desert. The complex web of food chains between trophies levels is eliminated and the system simplified. The ecosystem resources ability to provide services are correspondingly reduced to, for example, a possible regulating service such as erosion control on the part of kudzu or an informing service (aesthetics) on the part of Lythrum . The complex web of weak ecological interactions is reduced.

Sustainability in a certain sense is the process of maintaining the homeostatic relationships of an ecosystem. Invasive species reduce the efficiency of an ecosystem by replacing a web of weak interactions with a few strong interactions. Invasive species interfere with the feedback mechanism of an ecological system. An addition of a top predator such as mute swans, feral swine or cats can quickly bring an imbalance to the system. The feedback mechanisms which would normally tend the system towards equilibrium no longer function and the system begins to fragment.

The premise that this is a bad thing, the imbalance and degradation of the ecosystem is based upon an assumption that the ecosystem services as a resource have a value and a cost. A person who assumes that the resources are infinitely available would take strong issue with the idea that his or her use of these services should be restricted or should cost. The introduction of an invasive species, therefore, is an extranality to which the person is entitled by right. This sets up the dichotomy between market preference and public value. Our economic system and assumptions is based upon this infinite resource premise; it is hard to borrow money if you own a bog without a plan to drain it and pave it. A bog has “no” value for it generates no measurable return (ecotourism aside).

This in a world of infinite ecosystem services (regulating, provisioning, and providing) which are considered free, the introduction of Hedera helix, English ivy, in Maryland is not a problem but rather a solution to a short term landscape need accordingly a use of a high level ecosystem service, that of informing. The possible negative impacts to lower level ecosystem services are not easily measurable in a market preference sense and thus are not taken into consideration.
A sustainable landscape would “value” the complete palette of services attempting to support complex interactions and relationships. At the very least it would try to do no harm. So we wobble between our values system and our market choices a dynamic political tension with no linear solutions and great probability of unintended consequences no matter which side we take. Do nothing is not an option.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Sustainable Landscapes - Invasive Species

When invasive species are removed from the garden, our landscapes are on their way to being sustainable. As on of the volunteer members of the technical sub committees working on the Sustainable Sites Initiative, I have had the privilege to learn and contribute to a comprehensive design paradigm which addresses sustainability in the landscape. An article in the Washington Post begins the marketing of the sustainable garden idea. The idea of invasive species in the garden can be unsettling, and has in the past created animosity between those who would protect natural areas and those who would enhance ornamental areas.

At the heart of the Sustainable Site program lie ecosystem services. The ecosystem provides humanity with functions mostly taken for granted and assumed to be free. Services and processes such as moderation of weather extremes, dispersal of seeds, mitigation of drought and flood, protection of living organisms from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, regulation and movement of nutrients, protection of stream and river channels as well as protection from erosion along coast lines, detoxification and decomposition of wastes, control of agricultural (food, feed, fiber, fuel, flowers, forest) pests, maintenance of biodiversity, generation and preservation of soils and renewal of their fertility, contribution to climate stability, purification of the air and waste, regulation of disease carrying organisms, pollination of crops and natural vegetation, creation and support of recreational activities.

Sustainable landscapes mitigate the negative effects of invasive species to ecosystem services. Sustainable landscapes are about much more than just invasive species, of course, but since invasives from pathogens to animals, including some favorite garden plants negatively impact ecosystem services, choosing a sustainable alternative makes sense.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Unsettling Invasive Species

Thinking about invasive species can be an unsettling task. They are everywhere and affect everything. So, many of us would prefer just not to think about the issue at all. Invasive species are a problem for some, but for me they are a symptom of a coequal and coevolving challenge: the challenge of adaptation to current changes in climate and the needs of humanity. So large is the issue that many choose to deliberate only once in a while when compelled, if even then. Invasive species issues are part of the great question of our environment and our existence, and solutions tend to produce unintended consequences, but inaction produces equally unpleasant results. Doing nothing is of course always a choice which rarely leads anywhere in the long run.

As we stir the climate pot and add heat, not necessarily where you live, but over the entire globe we begin to alter the ecosystems which supported our human domination of the earth thus far. But heat alone is not the entire challenge, but one part of a complex alteration of precipitation and the change in chemical make-up of the atmosphere. Some interested parties would have us go back, others would have us ignore or disbelieve; I simply call for adaptation in a sustainable sense.

Examples of unintended consequences such as the poor Australian Island abound lately as well as climate effects on invasive populations. The dynamics are bewildering and are coming faster as the pot begins to figuratively boil. The complexities of trying to do the right thing environmentally produce disconcerting results. A housing development in California is built to save the trees which were there before development. The homeowners “valued” the trees, and created a retreat and an enhancement for their community. Unfortunately, trees and wildfires and California go hand in hand, and so market preference pressures, including insurance and public safety considerations create a market decision for removal of the trees as a result of risk/benefit assessments. An invasive species introduced to control erosion covers the old Confederacy, the unintended consequence of trying to stop the destruction of levies and railways. The introduction of “pest” free garden plants partially planted to reduce the need for pesticides brings plants to the local ecosystem which can not provide habitat or food service to the system and, therefore, may out-compete local natives, reducing diversity. The desire to bring firewood home to heat the house unleashes an insect that has devoured over 20 million acres in the mid west and may eliminate baseball bats as the ash trees die.

Part of our societal challenge is that we want linear direct quick solutions that have limited side effects and can be “decreed” so that we can go back to the business of personal self interest and immediate needs. Unfortunately, environmental issues are a kind of wicked problem, a wicked inconvenience when it comes to invasive species. The non linear nature of the problems and the lack of fixed solutions, the never ending problems so to speak, invite distress and discomfort. We have an obligation each and every one of us to come to the discussion, to be fully engaged and to be right about our views in order to weld a new direction and consensus of adaptation for tomorrow.

We have choices, we have issues, we have challenges and we have the world. We can find a new paradigm which says that a world of limited resources and growing populations needs a new way of thinking. We can take from the past, and we can boldly create a new world for tomorrow. Invasive species compel us to decide, do we want to live in a weed patch or in a garden?