Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Congress Cuts Science Infrastructure - to buy more bullets?

One has to wonder what exactly we are fighting to save overseas when we can not save the science behind our food source; perhaps we think the Chinese will take up the research and give us information from time to time for free? Or perhaps we think corporate America will deign to give the information they find to us mere mortals at no cost - Lincoln created USDA to distribute to all Americans the science and know-how of Agriculture so that all might share equally in the knowledge and build together a better tomorrow.  What exactly are we doing?


"The House continued to make progress on its appropriations bills last week, passing the Military Construction and Veterans Administration bill (H.R.2055) on Tuesday and the Agriculture bill (H.R.2112) on Thursday. The Agriculture bill includes deep cuts to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) R&D, including a 12.9% ($146 million) cut from FY 2011 funding levels to the intramural Agricultural Research Service; a 16.7% ($203 million) cut to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA); and within NIFA, a 13.9% ($37 million) cut to the competitive, extramural Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. The bill also includes an amendment from Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) which prohibits funding for implementing the June 3rd USDA departmental regulation dealing with climate change adaptation." - AAAS Policy Alert -- June 22, 2011 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Wicked Inconvenience of Invasive Species: A Reader in Complexities

    Reading news articles, list-serves and social media clips interspersed with hall-way conversations, it is possible to reduce the world of invasive species to two world views. The first sees danger and the end of the world as we know it invading not only our personal spaces but even the last great natural landscapes thereby brings doom to life as we have know it. The second view takes up the challenge and claims that there is both no problem and, in the same breathe, a problem so large as to be impossible to address; live and let live translated into do whatever you want wherever you may to whomever is there.

    It is perhaps instructive to remind the reader of the US federal definition of an invasive species. The : Executive Order 13112 – 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." In the Executive Summary of the National Invasive Species Management Plan (NISMP) 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." The Invasive Species Definition Clarification and Guidance White Paper (2006) of which I am one of the contributing authors clearly states that "...there continues to be uncertainty concerning the use and perceived meaning of the term [invasive species], and consequently over the prospective scope of actions proposed..." The difficulties inherent in the definition of invasive species is a key indicator of the wicked problem nature of the issue.

    The first world view grows more shrill and inclined to use the tactics of fear to spotlight change while the second view of invasive species annoyed by personal constraints and costs offers reassuring canards that imply inaction is always better. Both sides use the fuzzy consensus-made definition of invasive species to reach a disinterested general public. Recent environmental research history having bequeathed the modifier invasive with its a priori pejorative connotations, the debate now swirls around implicit assumptions that are rarely clearly defined in the general discourse and media exposés.

    In general the layperson is allowed to equate an invasive species with any species not indigenous to a particular location in space and recent time. There is no discussion by this world view of what exactly is native at CO2 levels way above those found in the time scale used to define a "native" species. Sadly the professionals in the field know for certain and discuss often the seldom discussed part of the invasive species definition that involves some measurement of harm to human health and well being. This annoying part of the definition rarely makes it into the general information stream, and its absence allows the world view of nature first to define an invasive species as any species not part of the original ecosystem before the advent of Europeans had a millennium ago.

    The do nothing world view on the other hands deftly spots an opportunity to dismiss the immediately costly outcomes of the first invasive species view and knowing better allows the media and the general public to run with a do nothing proposal that builds hysteria on the extension of the first's ideas to include agricultural species and even man himself in order to create an untenable set of outcomes that allow the assumption that invasion specialist want to exclude humanity from the system. Feeding on the ideas of naturalization being a good, normal idea and pushing the lack of resources or personal cost to actually do anything. the second group weaves a surface argument that implies the first is hysterically whining about nothing really at all.

         In truth, both sides taken together approximate the reality of the situation. Just as a farmer would never wake up one morning and say that because farmers have been removing unwanted plants since the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, from this day forward he would no longer weed the fields (as he would no longer ask USDA APHIS to inspect and interdict imports containing any weed, insect or disease, free entry to the country), so the ecosystem manager in spite of the seeming hopeless task of removing species that change the systems resource services continues to tend the system in the face of Sisyphean odds. The embedded unintended message is that non-natives are bad is the message that bubbles out and up through the varied media are and resonates with the general disinterested public.

    On the other hand, the second world view knows that we must find ways to adapt, that change will happen if for no other reason than the impact of 7 billion people. They struggle with the exclusion of indigenous species such as poison ivy from the lists of invasive species because it is native. When the media attack invasion biology orthodoxy, they in fact are using broad strokes of generalities to expand the definition, but in doing so allow the general public to see a controversy where none actually exists. The complexity of the invasive problem leads interested parties to predefine their expected outcomes and then work backwards towards their personalized definition that is mostly at odds with the next stakeholder group's personalized definition. This leads in finger pointing, allegations and unproductive debates that solve nothing and limit knowledge and solutions. Asian carp in the Great Lakes, Burmese pythons in Florida, emerald ash borer and Asian long horned beetles, lion fish and Lythrum

Further reading:

Invasive Species – A Wicked Inconvenience

Invasive Species; Wicked Inconvenience: part two

Invasive species issues & the danger of being controlled by dogmatic ecological paradigms

Invasive Inconvenience Wicked Definitions

Invasive Species Definitions akin to Herding Cats

Invasive Species Conundrum: A Wicked Inconvenience

Invasive Species Complexities: A Wicked Inconvenience

Invasive Species; Wickedly Inconvenient Still

Invasive species: more inconveniences of a wicked nature

Weeds: Defining Inconvenience, Wickedly

Invasive Species: Simple at First Glance

Inconvenient question: Invasive species

The problem of invasive species and beauty

Wicked Invasives; Inconvenient Issues

Invasive species: The Great Green Divide

Invasive species: "cosmic definitions"

Private preferences, Invasive species & Public values

A Garden or a Jar in Tennessee

RInvasive Species Definitions Defined

Ruminations on the Complexities of Invasive Species

Invasive Species Issues - Flailing in the Wind

The Fuzziness of Invasive Species Issues

The Speed of Climate Change & Invasive Species Impacts

Climate change & invasive species

Are cats an invasive species - a wickedly inconvenient conversation