Friday, March 28, 2008

BARC & NAL: Funding challenges continue

A new year and new challenges arise for science at BARC, Henry A. Wallace “National” Beltsville Research Center (BARC) and the National Agricultural Library (NAL) at the Abraham Lincoln Building
The Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center10300 Baltimore Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705

Here are the issues of concern and the request for their solution.

1. The people of the United States and the world are being told that we can no longer afford to continue research in long term critical areas of knowledge. The scale insect position systematist within BARC is now empty due to retirement, and the agency’s inability to rehire because of lack of funds. The National Agricultural Research Alliance - Beltsville strongly urges finding a $500,000.00 appropriation to continue this work. Scales are some of the most important invasive insects that damage a lot of our crops and also come ofter through imported agricultural products.

The hemlock woolly adelgid, Adelges tsugae, has been in the United States since 1924.

2. In May 2008 some programs in climate change research will be closed down, at a time when we are having a national and international important and urgent conversation on what are the impacts of, and responses to global climate change. Crucially needed on-going research is marked for termination in the President’s proposed FY 2009 budget. This needs to be avoided, and the program should be continued with its current funding and, if possible, receive more funds.

3. We fully support redirected research in the FY 2009 President’s budget including the proposed relocation staff and program from the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center to Beltsville.

At the Biotechnology and Germplasm Laboratory in Beltsville, Maryland, physiologists Julie Long and Kurt Zuelke evaluate whether turkey sperm are alive or dead in studies to improve the lifespan of stored turkey sperm. Photo by Stephen Ausmus.

4. There is much about the President’s budget to be concerned. The Animals Biosciences & Biotechnology Laboratory (ABBL) at ARS-BARC research mission is to improve the genetic, reproductive, and feed efficiency of livestock and poultry. It is proposed for elimination. A dedicated staff of 32 employees, of which 13 are research scientists, are addressing a number of cutting-edge research issues such as using pig embryonic stem cells to enhance disease resistance in pigs and for clinical use in human liver rescue devices; designing novel antimicrobial proteins for treatment of human (methicillin-resistant staph aureus) and animal (bovine mastitis) diseases; and identifying genetic markers to reduce fetal pig mortality. This cutting-edge work is well regarded in the greater scientific community. Loss of this funding will essentially close out the only research of this type in ARS. It has been suggested that a reason for the proposed closure is inadequacy of facilities. In the judgment of highly qualified scientists, the inadequacy of facilities is not an issue. The research in this laboratory is both basic and applied and is valuable to all of the animal industries. The research addresses the very issue of genetic improvement of animals for those traits that are most desirable to consumers and profitable for producers. In addition, this research has proven to be very valuable to the biomedical community because the information obtained is useful to promote human health. Restoration of funding, $8,401,123.00, for this invaluable research is critically needed.

4. The ARS- BARC Biomedical Materials in Plants program’s elimination is proposed. Plants can be used as factories to manufacture vaccines and other pharmaceuticals for animals and humans. This research focuses on development of tobacco as a crop with this beneficial use. The National Agricultural Research Alliance – Beltsville, NARA-B, urges the restoration of full funding in the amount of $1,808,253.00.

5. The timely and important work in the field of bioremediation of munitions storage sites and bombing ranges in parts of the U.S. have left huge tracts of soils and lands contaminated by highly toxic residues from explosives like TNT. Those soils and lands now are limited because of their environmental damage for use in commercial or agricultural purposes. The funds support ongoing ARS research to determine if forage plants can remove TNT and its metabolites from contaminated sites. Beltsville is a world recognized leader in the field of bio-remediation. This work is not done anywhere else in ARS. The Alliance recommends funding of $118,167.00 for this research.

6. Foundry Sand By-Products Utilization is also cut in the President’s FY 2009 proposal to Congress. Waste sands from the metal casting industry are currently dumped in landfills. This project is working with industry on guidelines for beneficial uses of these sands. We recommend that this research continue and ask for $680,205.00 to be restored.

7. Poultry Diseases and the protection and security of our food chain are at risk with the proposed elimination of on-going research. Coccidiosis, a parasitic poultry disease, costs the industry almost $3 billion per year. This research focuses on understanding the genetics of both the parasite and the host chicken to identify targets that will allow better disease prevention and control. We recommend $434,934.00 be restored so that this research continues.

Microbiologist Harry Danforth and other scientists laid groundwork for development of animal disease vaccines, including one for chicken coccidiosis. Photo by Keith Weller.

8. Funding for Potato Diseases programs are used for research activities on genetic improvement of potato and for diseases of potato. While a small amount of money, these funds are used to supplement ongoing efforts in this important area. We recommend that this research continue to be funded in the amount of $64,545.

The redirected Research budgetary items listed here have not appeared in testimony of previous years. In terms of overall ARS-BARC funding, they are revenue neutral. Essentially, these are “new” programs replacing similar but lower-priority, on-going programs that would be closed out. Ideally, all the research programs, new and old, would continue. All are important lines of research, and we would prefer to see new funding rather than redirection. Nevertheless, BARC can manage within these re-directions if there is no option. We strongly support funding for these research programs.

9. Crop Health - $947,322.00
10. Obesity Prevention Initiative - $1,937,649.00 11. Food Safety - $1,045,629.00
12. Crop Genetic Improvement - $ 938,385.00

13. Meanwhile the National Gardens and Education units, Congressionally mandated programs at the National Arboretum, are proposed to be cut by $2,000,000.00.

14. These programs have much in common with the National Agricultural Library (NAL), which is facing it's own funding problems and challenges. The Alliance concurs that funding for the NAL's AWIC and Special Collections budget must not be cut. The Alliance supports the arguments put forth in this letter sent to Representative DeLauro from Dr. Norma Kobzina, President, USAIN 2007-2008; Librarian, Marian Koshland Bioscience and Natural Resources Library, U.C. Berkeley.

10 March 2008
The Honorable Rosa DeLauro,

Chairwoman, House Appropriations
Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies 2362A Rayburn House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515-0616

Re: Support for the USDA National Agricultural Library (NAL) in the
Proposed Fiscal Year 2009 Budget

Dear Madam Chairwoman:

We are writing on behalf of USAIN, the United States Agricultural Information Network, to ask for your support as you and your colleagues begin the hearings on the proposed Fiscal Year 2009 appropriations for the U.S. Agricultural Research
Services (ARS) and the Department of Agriculture. We appreciate the efforts you
have made in ensuring that the USDA and related agencies are able to meet the
priorities of the new Farm Bill and to provide funding for research, safety for
consumers, and resources for the farming and rural communities.

USAIN is an organization of more than 100 agricultural librarians and information
specialists, with members from five countries on three continents and more than
40 U.S. states. We work at land-grant and other universities, government agencies including the National Agricultural Library, and non-profit organizations. It is the work of USAIN members in their state and regional institutions (land-grant colleges and universities), Cooperative Extension units, as well as the National Agricultural Library, to facilitate access to key historical data and reports as well as to the latest scientific information upon which agricultural research is based.

We are concerned that continued cuts in the budget, and the re-distribution of funding, will make it more difficult than ever to make sure that information resources are readily available to researchers, educators, agricultural extension agents, and others involved in the agriculture-related sector, as well as members of the general public. Immediate access to complete and current research regarding issues of national importance such as food security, renewable energy, and the health of our natural resources is absolutely vital for the future health and economic well-being and of American citizens. Federal support for agricultural research at universities and colleges has been steadily decreasing, and funding for the National Agricultural Library and significant collaborative initiatives such as AgNIC (the Agriculture Network Information Center) has remained flat since 1995. The President's FY 2009 Budget Estimate includes $18 million for the USDA National Agricultural Library, a $4 million reduction from the FY 2008 Budget estimate, and $6 million less than the FY 2007 actual budget for the Library.

Significant changes proposed by ARS include redirecting $993,000 in
AWIC funds to support NAL participation in a new digital portal for veterinary medicine; eliminating funding for the National Agricultural Law Center, the nation's leading source for agricultural and food law research and information, which complements and works with NAL, which does not cover these areas; and most importantly, reducing funding for non-digital content/document delivery/Special Collections by $3,000,000.

"Plate Six, Lepidopterous Archippus" The Natural History of the Rarer Lepidopterous Insects of Georgia By John Abbot and James Edward Smith London, 1797

As a national library, the print collection is core to researchers and the agricultural history of the nation. It is this reduction of $3,000,000 for the print collections that is of immediate concern. In FY 2007, NAL document delivery services filled 29,000
requests from the NAL collection for materials which were available in print-only--not available electronically. In FY 20009, such requests for print-only materials would not be filled.

There is no question about the need for continued, increased support for the creation and delivery of digital content, and the need for more sophisticated systems for access based on new user requirements. NAL has been a leader in facilitating the development of innovative digital projects of national and international importance, such as AgNIC. We applaud the efforts to improve the quality of AGRICOLA, an electronic index to agricultural literature, and their creation of Digitop which provides desktop access of research materials to USDA staff worldwide. New web portals such as and have proven to be invaluable sources of free information for consumers and researchers alike. However, in the United States almost half of the population continues to rely on printed resources, without access to the Internet. Especially in rural communities, including farms and ranches, those who need the information rely heavily on printed leaflets, handbooks, books and trade journals. It is unlikely such material will be made available electronically in the immediate future. At the same time, it is not clear that agricultural information received from worldwide sources will become digitized in a timely fashion.

The ramifications of the proposed reductions or redirections of NAL funding include not only the inability for NAL to fill requests for materials available only in print, but the complete cessation of book and journal purchases, and the inability to catalog and make available print materials already acquired. In addition, cancellation of the receipt of free publications from the U.S. and other countries would have a major impact. In recent years the USDA required all USDA-authored publications to be delivered to the NAL; but what good is this if there no money to catalog them and make them findable? Publications coming from scholarly societies in addition to those from commercial publishers will no longer be available to USDA researchers, and in some instances to researchers, educators and librarians throughout the United States who utilize the collections housed at NAL.

Libraries throughout the United States rely on the NAL as its primary national depository for agricultural literature, in the same way that other libraries and the public rely on the Library of Congress or the National Library of Medicine. It should be noted that the materials collected by NAL are not frequently held in the Library of Congress. Universities and other institutions are also faced with budget cuts, and increasingly, have depended on regional and national partners to ensure that our patrons can access these shared print resources. USDA staff without ready access to the ARS field libraries or university collections would be further hampered in their research.

In addition, one of the more severe impacts of the ARS proposal on researchers, scientists, educators and the general public is the suggested elimination of the NAL Special Collections Program. These collections are what makes the NAL unique and valuable for U.S. citizens, with materials in several subject areas-- entomology, plant science, and pharmacology, among other disciplines. Examples of the materials housed there, which are in constant need of preservation, include early herbals, heirloom plant varieties, the origins of invasive species, and the history of agriculture itself. Seed catalogs are another example of the unique collections housed at NAL. While there has been an attempt to preserve the most significant literature of agriculture and rural life, through grants such as those from the National Endowment for the Humanities ( a program formulated under the auspices of USAIN), the major portions of the Special Collections at NAL are often too brittle to be included in such preservation projects. A high percentage of these special collections have yet to be processed, and it was only recently that there was funding to improve the climate and physical space that is essential to maintain these rare items. Current efforts by the NAL working with several publishers who use the images and information will be difficult or impossible to continue if this funding proposal is approved. We fear the loss of these valuable, archival collections.

We recognize the difficulties you face in balancing budget priorities. However, NAL cannot continue to be a National Library if access to the vast print collections, and the ability to acquire, process and preserve, and make accessible online this material, is taken away. The vision of the National Agricultural Library and cooperating institutions is to create a comprehensive, collaborative information system, and we hope that you will support our efforts to achieve this vision.

We would be happy to address any questions you might have and to provide further input on this issue. We thank you in advance for your consideration.

Respectfully Submitted by
the USAIN Executive Council on behalf of the U.S. agricultural information
community. Dr. Norma Kobzina, President, USAIN 2007-2008Librarian, Marian
Koshland Bioscience and Natural Resources Library, U.C. Berkeley; Heather K.
Moberly, Past President, USAIN 2007-2008Associate Professor and Veterinary
Medicine Librarian at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at the Oklahoma
State University; Katie Newman, President-Elect, USAIN 2007-2008Associate
Professor and Biotechnology Librarian, Biotechnology Information Center,
University of Illinois

Maryland’s Congressional leaders, Mr. Hoyer, Ms. Mikulski, and Mr. Cardin are working to protect the scientific programs at BARC. In January 2008, the Maryland delegation asked USDA for a plan for the operation and direction of thetwo entities.

The Alliance is a full time volunteer effort with no funding. We need your help; please write to your Congress person and Senators asking them to support science at BARC % NAL.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Wicked Invasives; Inconvenient Issues

Final results 31 March 2008
Would you add to or plant in your garden a plant bred (hybridized) to be "deer proof" as long as it was not invasive? (Votes so far: 53 Poll closed )

64% YES; 11% NO; 18% MAYBE; 5% DO NOT KNOW

Updated polling (3-26-08)
hybridized (transgenic, non-invasive, deer resistant) hosta
62% YES; 12% NO; 20% MAYBE; 5% DO NOT KNOW

Would the same small polling sample be in favor of transgenic food?
Is there some concern that perhaps the new hosta species or cultivar might not serve as a food source for local fauna and thereby displace species whose presence might support or enhance diversity?

As I watch in amazement the results the hybrid deer-proof Hosta poll (Invasive Notes, as of March 23rd, 2008, 54% would plant this creation, 24% might, and only 25% would not plant this plant), I notice the wicked inconvenience of a wicked problem showing through the information thus far. Given whom I thought my readership might be this information comes as a surprise. My expectations were that the respondents would be against the idea but that is not what I am seeing. I would expect that if I had used the word transgenic Hosta, perhaps the wave of support would be muted. I may try that wording next.

I shared my results with Dr. Tallamy, Professor and Chair Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, 250 Townsend Hall, Department of Entomology & Wildlife Ecology
University of Delaware Newark, DE 19716-2160, who wrote to me about his response to the poll. “I was afraid of that when I saw the question. People have bought into the idea that aliens are undesirable only because of their invasiveness. If you say it is not invasive, then (they reason) there is no reason not to plant it. How many talks have we attended where big names stand up there and tell the audience exactly that. And that, of course, generates all the arguments about whether a plant is invasive, or maybe it's just a little invasive, etc. We are still a long way from convincing people that the plants in their yards have an ecological job to do, regardless of whether they are invasive or not.”

I wrote back the following:
“Please read this link: . As I try to get funding or spending authority for invasive species efforts this view point or way of thinking is what we face. Similar opinion may be found from other trade association I should suspect. I could get the license for a transgenic Hosta with no problem and actually be paid enough money to work full time on invasive species issues, but of course am horrified that I would be known not as Mr. Invasive but as the guy who introduced the Kill-deer or Eco-system Killer Hosta. I am trying to identify sources of funding so that I could spend my days working on invasive species issues as I already spend most of my free time and some of my working time each week working on invasive species issues one way or another.”

Dr. Tallamy’s one line question (“What generates such extraordinary and baseless paranoia?”) got me thinking, and I wrote back as follows: “Here is my personal explanation of the "what". From my non-scientific back-ground layman's perspective, we have a societal failure to understand the basic tenant of the scientific method. We have forgotten the root of the word science - scire “to know”: sciens, scientes "knowing". Further, we have as a people replaced religious traditional belief systems with a new religion which we call science. We assume that this new religion will answer every question with an absolute answer, forgetting that science presents a hypothesis and, then, attempts to prove over time and through many trials or experiments the validity of the hypothesis. If enough scientific research seems to get the same answer, we have a theory which over time will stand up to repeated inquiry or fall as more information (science) comes to light. Thus ,when one researcher offers a contrarian view, we, the modern body politic, assume that the majority of scientist are wrong because, as in a religious belief system, values must be or are absolute. The very idea that a theory must be tested and retested and perhaps, even to be found wanting, is anathema to modern society which has demonstrated a reluctance to wait for answers.

This lead us to the world of partisan politics and verbal warfare much like the European wars of the 16th & 17th centuries and some of our current challenges around the world today. We confuse religion and science; we are unwilling to wait for answers and uncomfortable with and uneasy with the outcome when our new religion does not rule precisely and exactly at any given time on any given issue. Instead we as a people wait for ex cathedra rulings to be handed down by our new priests of science, who never asked for such an ordination.

Several ideas seem to surround specific issues within the invasive species conversation. Property rights, Judeo-Christian-Islamic temporally linear thinking, the dynamic collision between short term need versus long term need, are among some of the abstract forces guiding the invasive species conversation. These meta-issues created the setting for a story under the guise of news such as the one I just wrote about: Invasive Earmark Reporting from NPR. They operate in one way or another below the surface of any given discussion; they are meta-issues. They conceptually define at an abstract level, one’s belief system and one’s perspective on the issue at hand. Belief system values are absolute. The very idea that a theory must be tested and retested is anathema to the body politic today which has demonstrated its unwillingness to wait for answers. It our compulsion to have it all now, that under-lays our decision making process. It is our culture which both demands an action now based on a axiomatic truth, and inspires us to seek the truth through inquiry which provide the setting for our conversations on invasive species and our personal decisions.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Invasive earmark reporting from NPR

With a certain amount of amazement, I heard a broadcast from NPR which paired up earmarks for Asian long horned beetle funding in Illinois, with a fake prison museum project. While the story does address the problems of our present appropriation mess, it does a disservice to the invasive species challenges. The suggestion that is left in the listener’s ear is that this is a waste of money. I recognize that there are those who would dispute the extent of the impact of invasive species, but I think NPR has done a poor job of researching this issue in its story. The writers saw beetle and figured it would resonant with listeners as an inconsequential and wasteful issue, helping to make their point, and I suppose sales. I thought I was listening to Rush Limbaugh and had gotten the wrong station and missed whatever point they were making. [image above from APHIS:]

As an uncompensated but interested party, I would like to take some time to explain the damage done by this unwanted guest to the forests and eco-systems of the United States in the hope that NPR’s paid staff will do some back ground information gathering the next time they see the words: exotic alien, invasive, beetle or species. As Secretary of the National Invasive Species Council Advisory Committee, I can personally assure the NPR reporters that a call to the NISC staff would have given them all the information needed to assess the impact of the Asian long horned beetle. Thus armed, the reporters could have found another earmark to attack. [Tree dying: image to the left from: Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources - Forestry Archive ]

Scientific name: Anoplophora glabripennis (Motschulsky); Common names: Asian long-horned beetle, starry sky beetle. Anoplophora glabripennis is native to Asia and was introduced to the US around 1996. The beetle most likely arrived accidentally in cargo from Asia.[1] Currently it is destroying hardwood tress in ALB infestations have been found in New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Toronto, Canada. “In July 2006, the quarantine in Illinois was lifted since no more ALB beetles have been found in the area. In order to eradicate this pest, quarantines have been established around infested areas in New York, New Jersey and Illinois in the United States, as well as in Toronto, Canada, where beetles or their damage have been found.”[2] “If the Asian long horned beetle escaped and infested the all urban areas of the lower 48 states, the estimated national impact would be a loss of 34.9% of total canopy cover, 30.3% tree mortality (1.2 billion trees) and a value loss of $669 billion. (Nowak et al 2001)”[3]

It is a true pest and a significant problem which needs to be addressed with a focused, on the ground, local eradication effort before the cost of control is out of control. The 300,000 dollars is a small price to pay to work on the eradication of this pest. It would be wonderful if the White House would submit a request to Congress for an Invasive Species Detection and Eradication program. The likelihood, currently, of that happening is next to zero, so we are dependent on a few Congressmen seeing the damage in their district and directing funds to control the problem before we all have to share in the costs. It is so easy to label a politician with the earmark tag before we actually understand the project. While there maybe funding that seems worthless except to or for the recipient, this is funding that benefits all. I will note that I have not yet found the exact use of this money and will apologize profusely if someone can show me that the money was not going to the eradication, education or research of this invasive species and/or the damage it causes.

There is a National Invasive Species Council which needs funding so that it can truly do its mandated work. I could use your help in letting Congress know that we have a tool to begin the war, a war already here in the US which we are loosing. There are many species which could be controlled or eliminated with early detection and rapid response, but with out proper funding the problem grows until we can no longer have any hope of actually doing anything significant to mitigate the environmental impact on our eco-systems’ diversity.
Please send me any information as to the specifics of the "earmark" ALB funding.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Cultivated Flora of North America Project

As a member of an ad hoc working group’s steering committee which is planning an effort to create a Cultivated Flora of North America, I am excited to be able report on some of the topics proposed at a meeting at the National Arboretum March 5th, 2008. The meeting was led by Dr. Peter Raven and included Steve Clemants, Tom Elias, Clement Hamilton, Kevin Nixon, Bart.O’Brien, Joseph Kirkbride and Alan Whittemore. The importance of the science of systematics in general and its continuing chronic lack of support at a federal level, and for horticulture in particular, continues to occupy my free time. As we move towards ever increasing cycles of regulation and legislation, we also move towards less and less study, research and information. Whole collections are now without curators, such as scale insects at USDA ARS and, to the best of my ability to understand, the rust collection at Purdue, partially due to the belief that all information is already at our collective finger-tips on the web and, therefore, there is no need to have actual real types somewhere. And, partially due to the current mind set that someone else will take care of the problem at no cost to us. This is a mistake akin to thinking that the rivets which support a bridge are in no need of regular review and testing.

A working sub committee of the Flora team consisting of Steve Clemants, Chris Freeland, Clem Hamilton, Chuck Miller, Kevin Nixon, Bruce Ponman, Heidi Schmidt,
Alan Whittemore, John Wiersema, and Jim Zarucchi met in February at the St Louis Botanical Gardens to address the possible functions (anticipated user demands) of a Cultivated Flora of North America.

Under consideration are the abilities of the proposed system to provide or supply:
• A search by Name
• An ability to identify an unknown plant
• A capability to select a plant to satisfy particular horticultural requirements
• A process to browse for information

The flora would present or “know” “standardized” names, and would offer a method to identify a plant (description + illustration) with a way to find by name to confirm identity and/or identify by character states. In addition, the Flora would locate exemplary living specimens, offer horticultural information, give information helpful for buying the plant, assist in the selection of a plant for specific use/situation. The Flora would also provide information about origin, ethnobotany, invasiveness, phylogeny, as well as any legal information.

At this time it is proposed that pages would be defined by taxon:
• Genus
• Species
• Hybrids
• Infraspecific taxa (subspecies, varieties)
• Cultivar groups
• Cultivars

It is clear to the working group that details are many and that these proposals are for further consideration, critiquing and alteration. The group thinks that users should be able to browse by recommended scientific name, though under which authority is still under active discussion. Browsing should also include selective synonymy, common names (recommended w/ selected synonymy), cultivars (incl. groups when appropriate), hybrids at all ranks, and the ever troublesome, trademark names.

Identification of plants would include a short diagnostic description, a full technical description, photographs, and other imaging. Cultural information would include:
• Propagation
• Culture
• Pests/ disease susceptibility resistance
• Soils
• Hardiness
• Moisture
• Sun/shade
• Urban

The Flora’s interactive abilities would include access to detailed assistance on a wide range of horticultural information such as: garden-relevant morphology (e.g., habit, evergreen/deciduous, size, colors); whether the plant is annual/biennial/perennial; its cultural, hardiness, and soil needs; and special landscape uses. Other accessible information under consideration include:
• History
• Origin, provenance
• How used: ethnobotany, economic botany [entrance?]
• Toxicity
• Invasiveness
• Conservation status
• Phylogeny
• Taxonomic information
• Automatic search of literature (Agricola, Google scholar, BHL)
• Genbank
• Treaties
• Federal laws
• State laws
• (Invasive, noxious weeds, conservation status, PBR status

This is a simplified overview, and much preparatory thought and work is still needed and in progress.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Invasive Species: a Wicked Inconvenience; a battle royale

A few days ago, I read with a mixture of amusement and dismay a posting , San Francisco Parks Bond: pennies for habitat!, which in itself was not too radical or reactionary. However the commentary encapsulated rather wildly the tangents to which we can fly when invasive species, native plants, land-use and personal immediate satisfaction come together in battle. For those readers who have no occasion to experience first hand a classic argument among the many stakeholders of environmental issues, this is a great introduction.

First shot across the bow seemed to be about the status of the Western Snowy Plover. Since the theme of the posting apparently strove to be a declaration that insufficient funds are being dedicated to natural areas, and therefore, the work to restoring habitat is to take a secondary role, the observation and implied dispute of the Plover’s standing and plight began the opening run of commentary and warfare.

The commentary then moved quickly to a traditional third rail of environmental restoration: “And from the news a couple of years ago, what I remember is that the Natural Areas was CUTTING DOWN TREES and removing bird-friendly plants like blackberries bushes (because they weren’t native).” I wrote down the removal of natives noting the collision of desire between native only proponents and wildlife exponents, who, one would have expected to be on the same page, but, given their different ending goals, arrived at completely opposing positions. We had the "plant anything that can be eaten" versus the "we need to hold the line and try to restore a eco-system that is under attack and failing even though with climate change and increased CO2 levels the questions as to what is native under these new conditions", lurking underneath the discussion.

Somewhere along the line the defender of native-only intuitively reached for the statement that he wanted a fully functioning interactive and interdependent biological system, but did not quite find the words, thereby giving the opponent an argumentative edge. Soon we were treated to an interesting set of implied definitions as to the word eco-system rounded out with a everything goes flourish. “An ecosystem is a system of plants/animals/etc. and their relationship to the physical environment. Some people prefer a native plant ecosystem, some a scented geranium ecosystem, some a eucalyptus ecosystem, etc. In 21st century SF , a small area filled with people, all of the above ecosystems are ‘natural.’”

So far all parties to the conversation had found their wicked problem starting corner by using the end game or goal as a major component of their particular definition. This set everyone up for the expected ad hominem attacks to follow. And so we entered the world of the wicked inconvenience. The trumpets sounded with the battle anthem of “I find your sense of victimization interesting. You, and people who think like you, have won. All but a tiny fraction of public money is spent on the things you want it to be spent on. I guess you won’t be satisfied until -all- of the money is spent on the stuff you care about? You can’t let us tree-huggers have our pathetic 5%, you want it to be 0%? Just declare victory! You’ve won!” These were fighting words, and the fight was joined.

Soon we found the several combatants lobbing steadily increasing verbal rounds at each other with choice and colorful epithets as in ‘….you really aren’t satisfied with your ‘pathetic 5%’.”
After a little more sparring, one side made a sweeping flank attack completely moving the discussion of course and threatening to fold up the line. I quote the comments in full and let the reader sort through the power of this attack. “If you are nativist, perhaps you can answer some questions that the Native Plant Society and Golden Gate Audubon Society don’t like to hear:(1) do you dispute that the nativism movement has it origins in Nazi Germany? (2) Who is to say what was native to an area and when is the relevant period — creation, the Bib Bang”, statehood, etc? (3) There are no plants native to Crissy Field, as it’s all land fill. The only thing that used to be there was sand and water, yet the GGNRA spends tens of thousands of dollars on native plant restoration at Crissy Field. Worse, they decimated the ice plant at Funston with the result that the Bank Swallows fled the area. (4) Why are the nativists so in favor of slaughtering the “non-native” white deer at Point Reyes. Even if there is an argument that they take food from other species, why not relocate them. It’s not unlike the massacre of Buffalo going on in Yellowstone right now. This is a shameful state of affairs, yet much of it is the result of the nativism cult, which is also a racist and sexist cult. As best I recall from school, the only people native to North America were American Indians, and look what our government did to them. Do you favor restoring all their land back to them?”

The flanked line choose to turn and face the attack and tried to hold the line and in doing so, changed the direction of the conversation which was now solidly political and sociological, with some amount of philosophy thrown in. I began to warm up to this thread, being the radical moderate that I am, I found that I could happily exist in the middle of the battle watching the missives fly by.

For some reason the flanker, suddenly decided to return to a frontal assault and brought the battle back to scientific statements or lack thereof. I note that while there seemed to be much information thrown about such as " the Snowy Plover native to San Francisco? Absolutely not. In fact, the USF&W Service arbitrarily created the “pacific coast” population of the WSP despite the fact that it is genetically identical to Plovers who number in the thousands outside of California. This is a sheer and utter joke.” About this point I wished that someone would actually site some sources so that I could check on the supposed facts, but a truth about a wicked inconvenience is that substantiation of opinion is not much done and tends to lead to quiet on the battle field and since things were now really heating up, documentation was not forth coming
Somewhere in the battle, a third party attempted a quick sneak attack, and rather than an attempt at being a peace keeper tried to enflame things, a minor non substantive turn of events. This however was followed by direct personal information which was mostly likely important to the folks in the area but most irrelevant to what the original discussion was about. One of the combatants came close to some of my observations with “Cowards have a way of throwing large doses of propaganda out at an uneducated, unsuspecting public, hoping that at least some of it will stick.”, though I tend not to think of stakeholders as cowards.

Then, after the minor diversion to very personal attacks, the original flanking argument was resumed. At some point, we had a classic military battle with a flanking attack and a main assault. Thus, while the flank discussed Hitler, the main attack proffered barrages such as “Additionally, the GGNRA’s own bull-dozing and the erosion caused by the brutal tides at OB have rendered OB an undesirable and dangerous habitat for the WSP.”

It would have been helpful to have had several citations to the claim as I live too far away to see for myself, but of course the expectation is that I should accept the prima facie evidence. As the battle ranged, another party attempted a UN peace keeping effort which I thought would cut to the chase and bring some semblance of order. However, after writing “I truly appreciate and admire the fact that you stayed calm during this exchange with admin — who clearly holds the controlling, upper-hand in this blog.”, I was, as the reader will be, treated to the same writer ‘s unhelpful “…you and your ilk are shameless.”

Do not get the idea that neither side ever presented citations, for they did. And mostly, after removing the personal attacks, managed to get to some deeply rooted underlying contradictory principles which influence the debate on the wicked problems of climate change and invasive species. The problem for me was that it was very hard to keep track of whose- who and what was the real thrust at any given moment. For those who are not involved daily with invasive species controversies, this thread gives you the feeling of being right in the room without actually having to duck.

Then, for some reason, I felt the urge to blog and wrote what I hope is not the final word on this battle. : At the risk of getting into a controversy I tend to skirt, may I be so bold as to suggest reading: The conquest of nature : water, landscape, and the making of modern Germany by David Blackbourn, before assuming that suppositions and information about mid twentieth century Germany is entirely correct. As with most issues related to the environment and related issues, fuzzy definitions are occasionally batted about, contributing to what I call the wicked inconvenience of, not only invasive species, but their obverse, endangered species. Ecosystems are a type of wicked problem, and this fascinating discussion thread highlights the chaos of competing stakeholders’ end views used to create particular group dynamics. I have written about wicked problems and the complexities of sustainability and encourage the present conversation. More detailed expositions may be found at my web log “Invasive Notes”


Garden web cast Saturday March 15th, 2008

Sometimes direct self promotion is in order. I hope to soon have a blogcast in which I can explore through conversation and interview the intersection of traditional gardening and environmental issues, but, until then, ten minutes of fleeting fame is the order of the day.

"Behnke Nurseries Chairman of the Board, John Peter Thompson will be on the radio show. He will be talking about what’s blooming now."

Consumer RadioTime: 12-12:30 Saturday March 15thWhere to listen: Blog Talk Radio

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Amaryllis recycling

You too can get Amaryllis to bloom year after year and begin to add new plants to your collection. I have said this to many people but never actually tried it myself. Getting you Amaryllis to re-loom has to be among the easiest thing to do in the garden. Last spring, we let the flowers fade away and then cut off the flower stalks. We fed the plants regularly from bud to bloom right through to the time we placed them outside in a pile of leaves, pot and all. Then we ignored them until the rains stopped in the middle of the summer, when we occasionally recalled that the bulbs in their pots were partially hidden in the decomposing pile of leaves, and added water. On or around October 1st, we put the plants under a porch and stopped watering; when the leaves began to soften and wilt, we cut them off. We had expected them to turn brown, but I suppose it was not quite as dark as I thought. We left them under the porch until Thanksgiving when we brought them into our cool basement and forgot about them. Around the middle of December, we say sign of life and quickly re-potted the bulbs in new potting soil,removing the young bulblets which we potted together in new pots. Do not bury the bulbs rather plant them about half way into the soil, just deep enough to hold them upright We brought the plants into our sunny garden room, cool at night warm in the day, and began to feed with the plant food de jour, following the directions of course.

What can I say, but that you can do this with my assurance that it is less work than the time and money needed to get into your car and buy new bulbs. I figure that I spent a total of ten minutes on this project for the entire year.

If you have additional tips, or just a question, leave a comment or write to me at And yes, those are re-cycled geraniums which spent last year in pots outside and will return to their decorative summer time positions after the danger of frost has past.
Happy Gardening!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Invasive species: "cosmic definitions"

A possible popular and broadly accepted definition of an invasive species is a species which may cause or is causing or is contributing to economic, environmental or aesthetic harm to the environment or an eco-system. Even this sweeping definition is complex, reflecting the challenges of finding agreement among stakeholders as to intermediate solutions and end-system state objectives. This obscuration of the definition by competing stakeholder goals such as complete restoration of a local or regional eco-system versus the traditional impulse to regulate, replace and renovate a landscape creates a dynamic undercurrent when the parties attempt to agree on possible jointly-held positions or short-term solutions.

The natural area manager or conserver is seeking to protect, enhance or preserve a fully functioning eco-system. The natural system is, by at least part of a definition, self regulating. In the complexity of the stable system may be found a broken symmetry. The reflection or result of an unstable but uniform, and ecologically symmetrical system, includes and sustains organizing hierarchies of time and process. The simple result is a system which is not simple in its functioning and is built upon interlocking random events. The diet of an herbivore is controlled by biological abilities to ingest and process certain chemistries, and so is a defined controlled variable; the random event which directs herbivore towards or away from a digestible bio-mass is random. The traditional landscape designer or architect is attempting to restore syntactic literacy by replacing the natural area’s hierarchical and temporal complexities and perceived randomness with a symmetrical system. The traditional landscape trades functional stability for domain uniformity.

An invasive species may be seen as a symptom of a stressed or failing, dynamically complex, self perpetuating and self regulating environmental system. Or, it can be seen as part of the process of returning to a symmetrical state. The invasive species is also representative of the loss of biological granularity; the impacted system is in the process of returning to large structure domains and ultimately to system uniformity. One way to reconstruct symmetry in a finely granulated system is to apply heat. The increase in climate temperatures are, to some extent, impacting and furthering the spread of invasive species. As heat is applied, the system will move to a point of uniformity as hierarchies of process collapse and are aggregated. For example, as the food chain within a system becomes limited and or broken, the number of species will become smaller.

Traditional land use options all result in the application or addition of heat to the surrounding eco-system, though at differing levels and rates. Conservation or mitigation efforts are at some level attempts to maintain an equilibrium measured by sustainable diversity. Thus, two major stakeholders, horticulture/agriculture and land managers/environmentalists, find themselves at unspoken and, mostly unrecognized, high-level, philosophic odds.

Therefore, we find ornamental gardeners attempting to introduce “horticulturally” controlled and defined diversity which may require the addition of hydrocarbons in the form of fuel or fertilizer to off set the removal or collapse of the previously existing complex system. Meanwhile, using accepted definitions as to natural, domesticated, and cultivar, conservationists are in direct opposition to the “cultivation” of species imposing immediate short term cost constraints upon production. A controlled collection of native seed is sown to produce mitigation plants, however only three generations of collected plants would be qualified as native or natural, the fourth generation being considered domesticated.

The short term costs versus long term costs mirror the small/fast activities of a functioning system versus the large/slow events. A stable system with its broken symmetry is complete with various interwoven short and long term processes. The activities of human tend to influence random events with in the time horizon of the human species; I suspect that this is a general constant; that all species respond and interact based upon the temporal limits of the particular species. Accordingly, bacteria are not reacting to human time level events let alone geological events, and humans are as a rule not responding to eco-system level events such as climax succession. And, therefore, the system is not responding directly to human level time boundaries.

We are faced then with the challenge of life, which is to stay alive, a short term decision constraint, while not destroying the same system which provides the opportunities needed for the same life and are long term decisions. We have a balancing act full of pitfalls filled with unintended consequences. We find ourselves again in the grip of the wicked inconvenience of invasive species.