Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Minority involvement in environmental conversations

I have been asked to testify on behalf of two bills before a committee of the Maryland Senate on Thursday January 31st,. 2008. Below is a copy of the substance of my remarks. Minority involvement in environmental conversations must be enhanced and encouraged.

I am pleased to be able to come before you this afternoon and speak on behalf of Senate bills 99 and 100. Today I am here as a citizen of Prince George’s County who spends much of the working hours of the week engaged in national, state and local environmental issues. As an industry representative to our Maryland Invasive Species Council, as a founding director and Past President of the Mid Atlantic Pest Plant Council, a Past President of my professional organization, the Maryland Nursery and Landscape Association; as well as Secretary of the National Invasive Species Council Advisory Committee which advises over forty federal agencies, I have a unique opportunity to see the breadth and width of the involvement of various groups and organizations currently engaged in environmental issues. I am here to tell you that it is white, and middle to upper class. That is not to say that there is no involvement by minorities in ecology or the environment, - far from it - but I find their voices and concerns muted and far from the fore front of conversation.

More importantly, we find ourselves making decisions which may be perceived as luxuries by those who face the immediacy of education, health and public safety choices, which, rather more than not, preclude a Prius in the day’s budget. Yet the environment is a concern of all Marylanders. Issues ranging from pesticide use to climate change directly impact health, whether in urban or rural settings. Clean affordable water is dependent on so-called free eco-services, which are not free and not infinite. Being able to find any water can be a challenge when confronted by wages which do not cover immediate daily needs.

As I travel across the United States I cannot help but notice that the world of the progressive environmental movement does not hear on a regular basis the views and concerns of those who must make hard choices constrained by income or by history. As I work on a technical sub committee, writing national sustainable landscape standards, standards which will affect all of us, I notice the absence of minorities. To paraphrase Dr. Patricia Limerick, ''If we save the planet and have a society of inequality, we will not have saved much.'' The environmental movement maintains that there is an interconnectivity inherent in everything, that all things are interrelated. Biological diversity is key to sustainability, so it would seem to follow that diversity of interest groups should be equally important and encouraged.

“People are either thinking about civil rights or they are thinking about climate change. Rarely are they thinking about both.” The two issues are linked according to Majora Carter who spoke at a panel on “green collar jobs” at the Center for American Progress.
[2] The two bills before you today, would extend the conversation about the future of our environment to currently underserved stakeholder groups. Reaching out and taking advantage of “green” collar jobs as well as professional opportunities in environmental science and service are, as I see it, a major benefit of this legislation. There is a “green” economy coming; we must make sure that all of Maryland is ready to take advantage of this financial tide. We must be sure that the coming investment in “green” does not unintentionally leave out a significant part of our society. We must provide opportunities not only for traditional investors but for those who, as of yet, have not been a force in the discussion of environmental concerns and matters.

Bringing the unique historic perspective of minorities to the conversation on land use and eco-services, climate change and preservation, parks and recreation, alternative energy sources, and quality of life, cannot not be ignored; we must not rely on a few interested and knowledgeable parties. The creation of a minority environmental center and trust would begin the outreach and inclusion of Marylanders who may not have heard or may not have been reached. Maryland’s strength like the strength of a functioning eco-system is found in diversity. This legislation begins to provide answers for our future.



Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Invasive, Species, BARC, and Borlaug

Wikipedia features invasive species and Dr. Borlaug at The coming budget cuts will severely damage our national abiltity to conduct long term science in human nutrion, the environment and biological research in general that has been condecuted for over 100 years by BARC and USDA ARS. We are getting so confused politically as to the advantages of long term scientific inquiry versus so called pork spending as to allow the restriction of the latter to damage the former. Our National Agricultural Library can no longer afford to buy foreign scientific journals, or repair leaking windows, our cutting edge genomic research at BARC is researched in 70 year old facilities without the mone to upgarde the infrastructure, research on the impact of climate change on food crops and the biota of our environment is discontinued.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Invasive Clues

Scientists Look for Clues into How Tree Populations Become Invasive By Stacy Kish
By studying the Callery Pear tree, scientists have determined how nonthreatening plants have become invasive, as the trees are now dense and thorny and are expanding into urban locations they were never intended to grow in. Ornamental plants, like the Callery Pear, were originally planted in the United States for their beauty and were not considered an invasive threat because they did not produce fruit. Over the past decade, the Callery Pear has evolved to become a significant invasive tree species. Besides producing fruit, which can be messy and cause the population to expand into inconvenient locations, the newly evolved trees are dense and thorny. Scientists are using the Callery Pear as a model for studying the factors that contribute to the evolution of invasive traits in introduced plants. Callery Pear trees were first introduced to the United States from China in the early 1900s and became one of the most popular ornamental tree species planted in urban areas. This species, which includes the Bradford, Aristocrat and Cleveland Select varieties, was chosen because it produces an impressive springtime flower display and vibrant fall foliage and is tolerant to drought and pollution. Within the last decade however, wild type Callery pear trees, Pyrus calleryana , have begun producing fruit, allowing them to multiply in natural areas, especially in disturbed sites along railroads, roads and park boundaries. Urban backyards are not immune to the tree expansion and the fruit is appearing in neighborhoods where it was not invited. The situation is aggravated by bird species, such as starlings, that disperse the tree fruit. In addition, the seedling plants differ from its cultivated parent, growing densely and producing impressive thorns that make controlling the new tree a challenge. Theresa Culley and Nicole Hardiman at the University of Cincinnati published their findings in the December issue of the journal Bioscience. The scientists determined that having multiple varieties planted in the same area can lead to the production of a new and invasive variety. This is known as intraspecific hybridization between the widespread รข€˜Bradford' variety and other newer varieties. Because Callery pear varieties are so well established as landscaping trees in urban settings, there is an urgent need to monitor the impact of the newly evolved P. calleryana on the ecosystem. This study provides the first step to combat this potential problem. By understanding the factors that contribute to the evolution of invasiveness in an introduced species, scientists can provide practical suggestions for how the horticultural industry can monitor plant introductions and implement effective methods of control to prevent introduced plants from becoming invasive and spreading within the United States. The USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES) funded this research project through the NRI Biology of Weedy and Invasive Species in Agroecosystems program. CSREES advances knowledge for agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being, and communities by supporting research, education and extension programs in the Land-Grant University System and other partner organizations. For more information, visit # Media Contact: Jennifer Martin, (202) 720-8188 This impact is a service of the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service. News on other research can be found on the CSREES newsroom at

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Invasive Species & Climate Change

Invasive species and climate change are intertwined and interrelated. Discussing invasive plants without a grounding in climate metrics including CO2 levels will generate more hot air and fewer answers. It is interesting to me that invasive species awareness seems to have risen with CO2 levels. That CO2 would impact plant processes and growth is no surprise. I paraphrase Dr. Lewis Ziska, USDA BARS BARC, noting that one expects a change when one adds or subtracts water or nitrogen for example, so why should we not look for changes when we add or subtract carbon.

Some plants will process CO2 more efficiently than others; they will have a compentitive advantage which mat result in invasive response. Since Invasiveness is in some sense an ability to out compete, some species which can take advantage of the extra carbon will be in a position to out-compete other species. This phenomenon may perhaps explain why some plants, while introduced a century ago, are only now becoming a problem. Naturally, human disturbance and habitat alteration and or destruction play a role in the increased proliferation of invasive species.

C3, C4 and CAM photosynthetic pathways are also a consideration in the analysis of invasiveness and the upsurge we now are experiencing. Species with an inherent ability to process more carbon will perhaps have an innate ability to successfully compete with those plants which cannot use more carbon. As a tangential observation plant species which do not have supporting infrastructure such as branches and trunks, and which process carbon more efficiently, may divert their energy systems into growth. Vines such as kudzu provide and example of this potential, and explain somewhat the proclivity of vines to be problematic.

As we consider the impact of increasing carbon in the atmosphere on invasive plants, we also find that changes in basic climate such as temperature and precipitation produce stress in ecosystems which allow certain species to compete more efficiently. This brings into play the questions of native. If the climate changes, then we have a challenge with our simplified definition of native that is based on geography and a short time horizons. As invasive species solutions are offered which encourage the use of native only, we will necessarily quickly have to look for carbon increase effects as well as general climate modifications.

Moreover, invasive species issues constitute a core concern of eco-services which are found in a fully functioning self-sustaining eco-system. The complexity of the issues results in the wicked problem, or the wicked inconvenience (Invasive Species Conundrum: A Wicked Inconvenience) of which I have written previously. As we look for easy answers to complex problems, we provide avenues of unintended consequences. In a world which wants easy to digest, sound byte answers to everything, invasive species issues defy the desire. Banning plants without scientific inquiry and without thinking through the implication of climate change effect on the species behavior creates a set of alternative mitigation challenges complete with its own stakeholder groups’ attempts to simplify the resulting issues.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

A call for case studies on pet/aquaria industry best practices

Although pets bring companionship and joy into many people's lives, thosewhich are abandoned or escape into the natural environment can becomeinvasive species. For example, abandoned Burmese pythons have becomeestablished in Everglades National Park, Florida (USA) where they consumelarge quantities of native wildlife. In parts of Europe, formerly peteastern grey squirrels (native to the USA) have displaced the native redsquirrel.Because the "pet release" pathway poses risks to biodiversity in allregions of the world, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) willmake it a topic of focus at two upcoming meetings: by its scientific body(SBSTTA) in February and governing body (COP) in May. Preparatorydocuments for the February meeting include a request to the GlobalInvasive Species Programme (GISP) and other relevant organizations for:"best practices for addressing the risks associated with the introductionof alien species as pets, including aquarium species, such as fish,reptiles or insects, and as live bat and live food."(UNEP/CBD/SBSTTA/13/6draft recommendation)Historically, the private sector has not taken a particularly active rolein the CBD process. However, the discussions associated with this forumprovide an opportunity for business leaders to expand partnerships withgovernments and other bodies, provide information on lessons learned andbest practices, and foster industry-informed decision making. The PetIndustry Advisory Council (PIJAC) and the Global Invasive SpeciesProgramme (GISP) are therefore calling for the private sector to providecase studies on activities to minimize the risks of the "pet release"pathway to the environment or human health. These case studies will becompiled and presented to governments at the upcoming session of the CBD'sscientific body as a resource for deliberations and in future efforts tocompile best practices. Such information could also provide guidance fordirect application at the national level.Case studies might, for example, include examples of outreach andeducation to consumers and retailers, best practices for choosing whichpets to buy or sell, standards for inspecting pets for disease andparasites, and/or guidelines for compliance with government regulations.Please include the following information if possible:1) Business type: company, industry association or type of business;location and size;2) Business purpose: area of focus (import, propagation, distribution,retail (store or internet), species of focus, etc.);3) Business practice: the program or activity used to minimize risks ofpet abandonment or release (include information on the target audience,methods for delivery, partnerships, etc.);4) Incentive/rationale: the reason for initiating this work (e.g.,government regulation, risk management, ethical responsibility);5) Measures of success: indicators to identify the impact of the programor activity; and6) Contact: points of contact for further information, web addresses, etc.Given that this process will develop recommendations on how to progress inthis area, additional thoughts on types of guidance or tools that would beuseful for industry are most welcome.Case studies and inputs are requested by 31 January, although we willcontinue to compile examples after that date.Please send your responses via email to: Drs. Stas Burgiel( and/or Jamie K. Reaser( circulate this request to colleagues or other relevant outlets, andfeel free to contact us if there are further questions.Best regards,Jamie K. Reaser, Ph.D., Senior Science and Policy Advisor - Pet IndustryJoint Advisory Council (PIJAC)Stas Burgiel, Ph.D., Technical Liaison - Global Invasive Species Programme(GISP)-- Jamie K. Reaser, PhDSenior Science and Policy AdvisorPet Industry Joint Advisory Council1220 19th Street, Suite 400Washington, D.C. 200361-434-990-9494

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

"Cultivated Flora of North America" effort underway

At the Missouri Botanical Garden, on December 3rd and 4th, 2007, a meeting, guided by Dr. Peter Raven of representatives of private and public arboreta and gardens, universities, and various professionals met to discuss the need and practicality of initiating, planning, and producing an updated and detailed accounting of all native and exotic plants that are found in cultivation in North America north of Mexico. The product would be a web-based information framework with resources that link knowledge that has been and will be generated and held at numerous sites throughout the world. The project will use centralized, constantly updated, specialist-generated lists of relevant species, varieties, and cultivars of concern that will have forward electronic links to specialized data resources.

Such a flora of cultivated plants would be of interest and use to designers of gardens, managers of landscapes, land-use planners and managers, agricultural, horticultural and recreational businesses, climate change interests groups, government planning and regulatory agencies, supplemental and alternative energy interests, and stakeholders across a large spectrum involved in quality of life issues. Knowledge about plants and other organisms existing in North America is crucial for wise maintenance and future planning initiatives within the region. A logical and complementary effort focused on providing knowledge about cultivated plants in North America north of Mexico.

The consortium of participating organizations initially will include representatives of various free-standing museums, universities, governmental and non-governmental agencies, and representative professional and amateur societies whose reason for existence includes the advancement of knowledge about plants, especially those plants found in cultivation

The project’s core concept comes from several famous and recognizable publications including the six-volume European Garden Flora, a work whose last volume appeared in 2000. Those printed volumes announced themselves to be the “definitive manual for the accurate identification of cultivated ornamental plants” and was designed to “meet the highest scientific standards.” Furthermore, that work was “kept as uncomplicated as possible so that the work is fully accessible to the informed nurseryman, gardener and landscape architect, as well as to the professional botanist.” These same concepts also form the central platform from which the proposed electronic “Cultivated Flora of North America” is based.

A steering committee was appointed and will be seeking interested parties and supporters as the project moves forward. The steering committee will be working to gather information on design, scope and execution, as well as seeking financial support through direct grants as well as indirect support of funding opportunities. This will be a ten year project that will provide detailed, authoritative information about plants found under cultivation in North America north of Mexico. It will include data on plants that are grown for food, other non-edible uses, and about those that add pleasure to our existence.