Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tax Choice: for Children or for Invasive Species Issues

With invasive species issues not being exactly front page news, the idea of a government whereby citizens directly indicate which programs each wants funded is attractive. Given that most invasive species issues are discussed by a small circle of interested parties, talking to or at each other, unable to connect their personal issue of interest with the "it" of the moment, such a system would at least put a few dollars towards the issue of their choice. Of course, realistically meaning fewer dollars, many of us would feel good for a few minutes every April 15th.

Sponsor a child, or a noxious weed Monday, 29 September 2008

Taxpayers will have the option (in Hungary) to redirect 1% of their income tax to a scheme to reduce child poverty and sponsor talented youngsters, the government announced last week. Under an existing scheme, Hungarians can opt to have one percent of their income tax donated to a charity of their choice, and a further one percent to a church or religious organisation. Among other possible targets of the scheme mentioned by a government spokesman was an initiative to eradicate the allergenic giant ragweed that is rampant in Hungary.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Invasive Species: Selling on the Front Lines

Sunday, I took to the sales floor of the garden center to help with sales. Within five minutes of getting there, invasive species opportunities arose in force. As I was helping a customer select a few native plants for her shade garden, I saw and heard a gentleman running after the nursery’s IPM consultant shouting, “Wait! I need to get information on an invasive plant for the shade. Wait!”

Of course the consultant moved on and my wife directed the anxious customer in my direction, pointing out with the approval of the consultant that I was the invasive guy. “I need an invasive plant for my shade garden,” the customer said.

Customer service dictates that rule number one should come into play. Rule number one in retail: The customer is always right. Rule number two: If the customer is wrong, see rule number one.

I now had the delicate job of explaining that he had just approached the National Invasive Species Council Advisory Committee's acting vice chair, and that perhaps there was some information that I could share before we went too far in the actual selection of an invasive species for his garden. I pointed out that on the continuum of bad choices, we could offer to sell him natural area (Maryland) public enemy number one, English ivy, or perhaps just slightly less problematic, periwinkle, and if I had talked him out of those two, Japanese spurge might seal the deal and my doom. Fortunately, he had decided for personal reasons of style and taste that pachysandra was out, and that he had enough vines already.

With further conversation, I was able to introduce him to Christmas fern, and then frantically began to look for Asarum canadensis, only to find that we did not have any in stock. The entire dialogue left me thinking how much work there is to be done at the retail level. We need to provide information in a fashion that allows our customers to make informed choices. Trying to be positive about a negative when someone is trying to give you his money is a touchy, dicey proposition.

Having recovered from this first engagement on the sales floor, I moved to our euphemistically named “chemical” room. I have tried without success to get our staff to call this something else, anything else for years, but after 80 years in business I am stuck with a name appropriate to the 1950’s. A continuous stream of radio traffic from staff includes the phrase :chemical” room while drecting customers to our organic choice area. The irony is apparent only to me So, I thought I would go see what our customers were doing.

Of course, when a customer sees a bug, those who choose the “chemical” room want the maximum toxicity. They usually are not in quibbling mode, so working this part of the business takes a certain deftness on one’s feet not to enrage a home-owner with natural solutions or a live and let live theory of the problem. I was expecting to hear, “Sell me an easy to use, weapon of mass destruction, not to oexpensive solution to my pest challenge.”

What I heard instead, inspired this posting. “I just took some stems and seeds from my buddleia plant to my vacation house and threw them in the woods. They are growing just fine. Can I take some stems this fall after the leaves drop and stick them in the area around the back of my property; will they root?” I was to say the least astonished. I said, “Can I perhaps have discussion with you,” after my sales person told the ladies that I was the wrong person to have overheard the conversation; that I was the resident invasive species…guy, but I did not hear the guy part.

This customer was trying, it turns out, to combat awful weeds along the property line, honey suckle, multiflora roses, et al, by planting or encouraging butterfly friendly plants. Hence the butterfly bush program. After giving the by now standard, this is who I try to be speech, by now refined a little, I pointed out that while she was indeed attracting butterflies, she was missing the point by not planting host plants for the eggs and caterpillars that would eventually become the creatures of beauty she was trying to encourage. I noted that she was bringing one problem to combat another problem and iin the end just encouraging the final destruction of the butterfly habitat she was trying to encourage.

These two chance encounters within the same hour, sent me to the keyboard, to write about invasive species, mostly to those who already know about the problem. Trying to reach my own customers, who walked past my three foot by five foot warning signs and my staff who thinks I have lost my mind, brings to mind Seneca, I think, per aspera ad astra.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Invasive Species Issues need ITAP

The complexities of invasive species issues demand that we know what we are talking about, that we actually can identify the organisms which we find and that we have some awareness of their relationships to their native ecosystems, so that we can better understand the implications of possible introductions to alien ecosystems. To this end, we have ITAP, Federal Interagency Committee on Invasive Terrestrial Animals and Pathogens.

"ITAP's mission is to support and facilitate more efficient networking and sharing of technical information for program planning and coordination among Federal Agencies and Departments involved with invasive species research and management. ITAP focuses on several major taxonomic groups of invasive species for which improved technical coordination is essential to facilitate effective Federal responses. ITAP's mission parallels and complements the missions of the Federal Interagency Committee for the Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds (FICMNEW) and the Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force (ANSTF)."

The lack of understanding which accompanies systematics, the core of all identification id abysmal. This lack of support is resulting in a decline of taxonomic programs, and a looming problem as experienced systematics professionals retire with no specialists to follow. The various collections of the United States, and the world are in various states of decline. Somehow, we think that everything we need to know is on the Internet and that a "Google" search will tell us everything. But "Google" can not replace the type collections; it cannot replace the actual specimen, and without on ogin research it cannot update information that is critical to invasive species decision making.

Friday, September 19, 2008

In my historic town of Upper Marlboro, near the Patuxent river in Maryland, my county has decided to place a waste transfer station one mile from the river next to wetlands in the middle of endangered species surrounded by park land recently acquired to preserve the river eco-system over looked by a restored colonial house. This they do while claiming the tile of environmental legislators. You can find my rants which are diverting me from my invasive species issues for the time being at my other web log: http://princegeorgian.blogspot.com/

The incredible hubris that thinks this is a good idea is at least partially based upon the short term benefits of pretending that natural areas are simply blank canvasses upon which we need to impose development for our common short term good. It is the development version of the current mind set in our financial markets: who needs regulation as long as many are getting wealthy. Of course when things go wrong then the very same people immediately demand that the rest of pay up so that they may continue to take risks with out bounds.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Invasive Inconvenience Wicked Definitions

September finds the invasive species discussion in full swing. As befits a wicked inconvenience, interested parties present their views, each in the bubble of indignation and subjective attack. We are expected to find a simple linear answer bereft of complexity and choose sides. The challenge of invasive species conversation prevents nuanced discussion. As a wicked problem, parties to the controversy are required to be right, in their particular world view, and then actually begin to have a discussion.

On September 7th, 2008 feralkevin stated for the record that there “There are no objective definitions of “invasive” and “native.” I would have liked him to cite a source or sources for this claim, but none was forthcoming. Specifically, I wonder what an objective definition might be. How many people must be polled in order to decide a definition is objective, and is this how the scientific system is supposed to work? I rather thought that the idea was to posit a hypothesis and then subject the idea to multiple tests of the proposition until such a time as the theory is accepted by a majority of researchers, a majority being a rather broad aggregation of current work by specialists in their fields.

In the discussions of environmental issues, issues which are a wicked inconvenience, the choice of words is critical. However because of the complexity of the issue at hand, and because there are multiple stakeholders at the table, the precise meaning behind words is often assumed or presumed. Worse, words that have a scientific definition are most often appropriated out of context but the political discussion resulting in confusion to the end users who come to the table with preconceived notions based on internal definitions of the same terms. There is in some sense a hierarchy to terminology with fuzzy parameters; I propose that the Heisenberg Principle, as I understand it, most likely applies to definitions:

One can either KNOW the meaning in the limited specialized context of the moment, or one can understand the context surrounding the word or term actually having a precise definition at hand One cannot have both a precise meaning and a general context. If one is working in general context to broad audiences the definition of the word or term will be in motion and imprecise subject to immediate and constant redefinition.

Feralkevin states that “Modern ecology tells us that pretty much all ecosystems are recently evolved aggregates.” A friend wrote to me noting that “They (ecosystems) might be recent in terms of geological times scales, but so are humans. What (are) a couple of million years, compared to 4.5 billion years? However, systems are not "recent" in terms of human time scales and predate humans by thousands to tens of thousands of years. Invasions drive loss of biodiversity. Isolation drives speciation (sic) and biodiversity. Darwin's finches being prime examples. Islands (isolated areas) generate and contain the highest numbers of endemic species.”

I have written several times about the problem of scale in landscape and invasive species decision matrices. The blinders of the immediate obscure the choices of tomorrow. For better or worse we tend, for self preservation reasons, to focus on today and now in an endless series of small/fast dynamic choices, making our decisions without considering larger scale implications of the large/slow variety.

As I struggle to keep up with the author’s theses, Feralkevin writes that “… many people say it (Elaeagnus umbellate) dozen’t “belong” because it wasn’t there until very recently. What usually is not be considered here is the drastic changes the land has endured very recently. Now that the land has been catastrophically destroyed basically, does E. umbellata with its soil healing ability and massive edible abundance, really not “belong”?"

A contrarian view is presented in an interesting work on the subject by Cora Ann Johnston. “Habitat disturbance through anthropogenic development often leads to invasion by exotic species. While studies have examined the influence of non-native species on the breeding habitat of birds, little researched has looked at the importance of plant community composition change on the food resources available at stopover habitat used by migrating species. In order to examine the influence of land-use change, and especially species invasion, I analyzed the plant cover across forest, edge, and rural remnant habitat and assayed nutritional content of fruits from several common species of native and exotic plants in fruit in mid November near Falmouth, Massachusetts. I found that disturbed (edge and rural) habitat had higher total cover and exotic plant cover, while forests contained only native species. Assays of protein, carbohydrate, and lipid indicated that exotic fruits were sugary; natives were fatty. Studies of the preferred nutritional content used by resident and migratory birds indicate that only the lipid-rich natives are a suitable food source for migrating species. I also found that most fruiting plants were exotic, suggesting that they may fruit too late to be available during migration. Together, the availability and nutrition of exotic fruits suggests that they are not a suitable food replacement for migratory bird species. While this has conservation implications, further studies need to be completed in order to better analyze periods of bird migration and fruit production of all plant species in the area.”[i]

How can we square these two propositions? It seems that in the light of the present discussion we are faced with two seemingly opposed world views. The first strongly suggests that we are to mold the environment as we go adapting as we need in a series of best short term return option decisions, while the second thinks that we should attempt to integrate natural systems as best as we can with the knowledge of eco system services so that we can maximize the long term benefits as we understand them today. The former view seeks adaptation to a continuing use of natural systems a an infinite resource, the latter views a resource of systems which is finite and diminishing.

Feralkevin thinks that “Modern ecology tells us that pretty much all ecosystems are recently evolved aggregates. All species invade other places and have their ecosystems invaded. This is the drive of biological diversity. We don’t like certain species for certain reasons, some rational and others not. This points to the understanding that an “invasive” species is not a scientific phenomenon, but a cultural one.” This ties nicely with the next e-mail of the day, “Friendly Invaders” This article appeared in print on September 9, 2008, on page F1 of the New York edition.[ii] Mr. Zimmer writes, “But in a paper published in August in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dov Sax, an ecologist at Brown University, and Steven D. Gaines, a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, point out that the invasion has not led to a mass extinction of native plants. The number of documented extinctions of native New Zealand plant species is a grand total of three.”

This rather interesting statement is off-set by an entry on the Wikipedia site: “The ecosystems of Lake Victoria and its surroundings have been badly affected by human influence. In 1954, the Nile perch (Lates niloticus) was first introduced into the lake's ecosystem in an attempt to improve fishery yields of the lake. Introduction efforts intensified during the very early-1960s. The species was present in small numbers until the early to mid-1980s, when it underwent a massive population expansion and came to dominate the fish community and ecology of the world's largest tropical lake. Also introduced was the Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus), now an important food fish for local consumption. The Nile perch (Lates niloticus) proved ecologically and socioeconomically devastating. Together with pollution born of deforestation and overpopulation (of both people and domestic animals), the Nile perch has brought about a massive transformation in the lake's ecosystem and to the disappearance of hundreds of endemic haplochromine cichlid species. Many of these are now presumed to be entirely extinct. A number of other species are extinct in the wild, with populations being maintained in zoos and aquaria, e.g. as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquarium's Species Survival Plan for these species. Some species which were extirpated from Lake Victoria itself, are known to survive in nearby smaller so-called satellite lakes, such as Lake Kyoga, Lake Edward and Lake Albert.
Also vanished from Lake Victoria is one of two native species of tilapia (another kind of cichlid fish), the Singidia tilapia or ngege (Oreochromis esculentus). The ngege is superior in taste and texture to Nile tilapia, but it does not grow as fast or as large and produces fewer young. Ngege and some representatives of haplochromine diversity survive in minute swamp ponds and lakes that dot the Lake Victoria Basin. The initial good returns on Nile perch catches, at their peak delivering export revenues of several hundred million dollars a year, have diminished dramatically due to poor enforcement of fisheries regulations. The proceeds from Nile perch sales remain an important economic engine in the region, but the resulting wealth is very poorly distributed and the overall balance sheet on the Nile perch introduction to Lake Victoria is well into the red[citation needed] despite the enormous value of the perch landings as an export commodity.


Add to this conversation climate change and the addition of CO2 and the complexities quickly overwhelm the casual observer.

[i] Implications of land-use change on food resource availability for birds : Cora Ann Johnston, Hampshire College, Amherst, MA 01002, 18 December 2006, Advisor: Chris Neil, Collaborator: Brook Brouwer. http://courses.mbl.edu/SES/data/project/2006/johnston.pdf
[ii] CARL ZIMMER, Published: September 8, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/09/science/09inva.html?_r=2&8dpc&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

[iii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Victoria

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

National Invasive Species Committee meeting: send in your ideas

The National Invasive Species Council Advisory Committee (ISAC) will be meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, November 18th and 19th, 2008. This is a public meeting and all are welcomed to attend. The National Invasive Species Council is co-chaired by the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture and Commerce, and its members include the Secretaries of State, Defense, Transportation, Treasury, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security and the Administrators of the U.S. Environmental Protection Administration, the National Air and Space Administration, U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Trade Representative.

The Invasive Species Advisory Committee is made up of 31 individuals representing a broad range of stakeholders including scientific, conservation, agriculture, State and Tribal governments and industry organizations that are impacted by invasive species.

This will be the first meeting of ISAC Class V which will include an orientation for new ISAC members. It is also the first ISAC meeting since the approval on August 1, 2008 of the 2008-2012 National Invasive Species Management Plan (2008 Plan). This Plan sets out the overall blueprint for NISC member departments and agencies in dealing with the issues of invasive species for the next five years. The 2008 Plan includes a number of items in which nonfederal partners are likely to play a role as well as a number of items for which NISC as an entity or NISC staff are the lead or an important participant. ISAC provides advice and input to the NISC federal agencies and it is important that ISAC study the 2008 Plan and identify priority objectives or action items that ISAC would work on to provide advice and input to NISC agencies to help in the implementation of the 2008 Plan. Therefore the theme of the November 2008 meeting is how ISAC can best provide input and advice to assist NISC in the implementation of the 2008 Plan, including setting out priorities and specific recommendations as well as referring work to the relevant NISC/ISAC Subcommittees. This will be an over-arching theme and associated or separate items may also be considered at the meeting. Under this theme, issues associated with invasive species in the context of bio-fuels (a prevention item) will be one topic that will be addressed as recommended at the last ISAC meeting in Alaska, May 2008.

As a member of ISAC, but acting personally, I am taking this opportunity to ask you to send to me any topics or ideas which you feel the federal advisory committee should take under consideration. Please send ideas, comments and/or suggestions to IPETRUS@MSN.COM

Members of the Fifth Convening of the Invasive Species Advisory Committee
Name - Affiliation
Peter Alpert, Ph.D. - University of Massachusetts
Nancy Balcom - Connecticut Sea Grant
Leslie Cahill - American Seed Trade Association
Timothy Carlson - Tamarisk Coalition
Earl Chilton, II, Ph.D. - Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Janet Clark - Montana State University
Joseph DiTomaso, Ph.D. - University of California, Davis
Otto Doering, III, Ph.D. - Purdue University
Susan Ellis - California Department of Fish and Game
Miles Falck - Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission
Christopher Fisher - Colville Confederated Tribes
Amy Frankmann - Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association

Ann Gibbs - Maine Department of Agriculture(Representing National Plant Board)
Catherine L. Hazlewood, Esq. - The Nature Conservancy
Lisa Ka’aihue - Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council
John Kennedy - Wyoming Game and Fish Department(Representing the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies)

Robert McMahon - University of Texas at Arlington
Kathy Metcalf - Chamber of Shipping of America
Edward L. Mills, Ph.D. - Cornell University
Jamie K. Reaser, Ph.D. - Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council
Steven Jay Sanford - New York Department of Environmental Conservation
Jeffrey D. Schardt - Florida Department of Environment Protection
Celia Smith, Ph.D. - University of Hawaii
David E. Starling - Aqueterinary Services, P.C.
Nathan Stone, Ph.D. - University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
Douglas W. Tallamy, Ph.D. - University of Delaware
John Peter Thompson - The Behnke Nurseries Company
Jennifer Vollmer, Ph.D. - BASF Corporation
Damon E. Waitt, Ph.D. - Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center University of Texas at Austin
Robert H. Wiltshire - Center for Aquatic Nuisance Species(Representing the Federation of Fly Fishers)
Kenneth Zimmerman - Lone Tree Cattle Company