Saturday, September 18, 2010
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.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
In 2006, I blogged about Maryland's early attempt in 1663 to deal with pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland is still trying to figuire out a solution almost 350 years later. Many states have issues which they try to fix through repeated legislation through the ages. Florida trying to get its presidential voting straight comes to mind, with two tries at the apple so far, 1876 and 2000. Now, I offer up Connecticut's multi-century attempts to ban plants starting with barberry in 1726 and again in 2004. Below is a copy of legislation in the colony of Connecticut – a first try at a plant ban predating the establishment of the United States.
An Act concerning Barberry Bushes. Whereas the abounding of barberry bushes is thought to be very hurtful, it being by plentiful experience found that, where they are in large quantities, they do occasion, or at least increase, the blast on all sorts of English grain, Be it therefore enacted by the Governour, Council and Representatives, in General Court assembled, and hy the authority of the same, That the inhabitants of the several towns within this Colony may, and they are hereby fully impow'red, at their annual town meetings, to determine and agree upon the utter destroying of the said bushes within their respective townships, and the time when and manner how. And if any of the inhabitants of such town or towns so agreeing shall oppose the cutting down said bushes within their fields and enclosures, and forbid the other inhabitants coming thereinto for that end, they shall incur the penalty of twenty shillings, to be paid into the treasury of the town wherein they dwell. And if any such person shall thenceforward continue to oppose the cutting said bushes as aforesaid, they shall also incur the penalty of ten shillings per month until they shall declare to the selectmen their free consent for their entering into such inclosures and destroying the said bushes therein growing. Said penalties to be recovered by distraint on the goods and chattels of the person or persons so offending.
Provided nevertheless, That if any person or persons have any of said bushes, the which they make use of or depend upon for a fence, such person or persons shall not incur either of the aforesaid penalties till after just satisfaction to them made by the town, as they and the selectmen can agree, or as by two or three indifferent men, chosen by said parties or appointed by the civil authority, shall judge reasonable. (page 10-11)
Works CitedHoadly, C. J. (Ed.). (1873). The Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut from May 1726 to May 1735 trasncribed and edited in accordance withwith a resolution of the General Assembly (http://www.archive.org/details/publicrecordsofc007conn ed., Vol. 7). Hartford, Connecticut: Case, Lockwood & Brainard.
Friday, September 03, 2010
Invasive species are in one sense a giant symptom of the speed of change of climatic conditions. Invasive species, moreover, are a reflection of the change in mankind's relationship with nature; once nature was asymmetrically arrayed against the efforts of men; now the work of men is overwhelmingly arrayed against the random diversity of the natural world. Invasive species issues are dangerously close to being an accepted state of the human process, an externalization of our social dynamics. Humanity is a decision or two away from saying it is not necessary to weed the garden we call Earth; that the few species left should be of no concern and allowed to move freely with trade and people across the globe without concern to their possible negative impact to indigenous species at a local level. As we homogenize our resources through the "McLeveling" of business choices, so we are homogenizing the landscapes of the world. Moreover, invasive species problems are hard to quantify before hand in economic terms, as we more or less severely underestimate the value of infinity. We have yet to successfully quantify the opportunity costs of invasive species. Society's needs are moving us towards rapid hybridization of new bio-solutions to resource demands faster than invasive risk assessments can be constructed and performed. Already we hear that bio-fuels may spring forth to save us, from genetically modified algae and microbes. What is the risk? How do we measure this risk against the human condition? In some sense we are conversing with Dr. Malthus, of whom many of us have conveniently forgotten, when we speak of invasive species; for we are speaking of natural resource access and the resiliency of the planet's ecosystems. It took ten thousand years to figure out how to feed 3 billion people; 75 years to work out the food production for another 3 billion. What then is our plan for the next 3 billion citizens of the world coming in 30 years? Invasive species will be nibbling away at our resources and harvests. Invasive species will respond in unexpected ways to our actions or lack thereof.