Saturday, September 18, 2010

Stink bug species invades our space

    Invasive plants are spreading through parks, woodlands and natural areas. These new species alter the landscapes and in many instances reduce the free services that local ecosystems provide. Their damage is quiet and increases without fanfare hidden from the view of much of the public and most of the media. A rampant new invader like wavy leaf basket grass gets little mention. Like an oil spill's under water plume, what is not obvious is not of much interest in our event-filled lives. However, when the invasive species comes inside our homes, then we get excited. The multicolored Asian lady beetle (Invasion of Ladybugs: Friends or Foes? 2006) and the new "hot" brown marmorated stink bug, Halyomorpha halys (Stal), invade our homes and create a news buzz. While we are very concerned about these unwanted house guest, until recently, they seemed rather benign to the natural area landscapes as a whole, and even, in the case of the lady beetle, possibly beneficial as biological pest control agents that could reduce the need for chimerical pesticides.

    Surprise, surprise; the stink bug has exploded as a major agricultural pest. Very soon business and industry will be calling for effective control at public expense, and the engines of state quarantine programs and federal programs may be brought to bear to protect the crops of farmers and our food supply. We will hear gnashing of teeth and calls for public funding for more protection and control efforts. We may consider restricting the movement of certain products if deemed productive in the control of the spread of the harmful new invader of our agricultural landscapes. Notice well that the engines of early detection and rapid response start rolling only when the interests of private business come calling. Who, I ask, comes calling on behalf of natural places?

    The same stakeholders that resist any efforts to control natural area invaders will be calling for stringent policies to reduce the damage from this new farm pest. If the invader is destroying trees in a forest on public lands, however, then the only voices are those of the agencies charged with the management of the public lands and a few environmentalists who found themselves arrayed against the interests of business and the marketplace. But woe unto the novel species which attacks business interests, for then the full force and majesty of the government is expected to weigh in with all the regulation and legislation necessary to control the invader.

    If on the other hand the invasive species is simply upsetting the balance in natural areas because of trade, commerce and the movement and production of goods, then business interests are fully committed to stopping any government program that might mitigate the spread of the invasive species and the collective impact it may have. For example, creating a voluntary program to certify that landscape plants transferred from state to state or county to county are free of insect and diseases known to wreak havoc in natural areas is mostly unsupported by the nursery industry as an unnecessary additional cost that fixes a problem not existing adding to to the current suite of programs and policies that overwhelm business today..

    Someday the consumer will ask for a third party invasive species free certification of the plants they buy, but by that time the change or damage in our natural places will be so great as to be mostly an academic effort. The homeowner today expects that when he or she buys a plant, it is free of harmful pests, and the industry has worked tirelessly with government agencies and researchers since 1912 to insure that that is indeed true – for pests of horticulture that would harm the plants in the garden, greenhouse or designed landscape. A pest that hitchhikes and hops off into the woods is not considered a problem of the nursery industry or for that matter a problem of the gardener for, after all, the gardener is busy trying to transform the woods in the first place so why should there be a worry about some invasive species altering the system ahead of the planned disturbances of the gardener.

    In the end the problem of invasive species, like the problem of oil spills or other ecosystem "spilsl" is one of externalizing the costs of our immediate desires onto the held-in-common processes of the biological and physical landscape in which we live. We throw the clippings and refuse from our gardens and our lives over the fence in to the park and our community commons because, we tell ourselves, we are recycling, or because, we believe we are doing no harm in the disposal of our unwanted detritus of our search for well-being. We plant the vine because it grows fast and has pretty flowers, and never think about the impact it may has when it escapes and begins to alter the ecosystem that surrounds us. An most importantly because the ecosystem services that are being damages are those that are "free", we think there is no cost to our actions and are unwilling to pay to protect the free services themselves. It is only when the stink bug runs amok that we begin to panic, much too late, after the feral cat is out of the bag so to speak, do we begin to react. In our endless pursuit of human well being and quality of life, we do not see the dramatic changes and the decline in the ecological systems services that havce supported humanity since the dawn of our time on this planet.



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