Saturday, November 26, 2011

What is an Invasive Species?

What is an "invasive species"?

               An answer will depend whom you ask, and to a large extend what outcomes the person asked expects.

That was not a very helpful answer. Could you give a few answers that show different definitions of an "invasive species"?

               Sure.  First let's look at some words that are used to describe a change in species distribution that upset existing ecosystem balances and cause changes in ecosystem services that lead or may lead to system resource change or collapse:  adventive, alien, casual, colonizing, cryptogenic, escaped, endemic, established, exotic, foreign, immigrant, imported, introduced, invasive, native, naturalized, nonindigenous, noxious, nuisance, pest, spreading, temporary, tramp, transferred, transformer, transient, translocated, transplanted, transported, travelling, waif, and weedy. (Colautti & MacIsaac, 2004) Brendan Larson's thirteen meta categories to consider when we try to come to grips with a definition are: invaders, terrorists, piggy-backers, opportunists, spawn, mirrors of ourselves, providers, hybrids, tricksters, matrix elements and dynamic matrices, transients, founts of life and creation, teachers and instructors that force us to think about our assumptions. (Larson, 2007)   

Yes that is all very nice, but I want a simply straightforward definition.   

               Well, because of the complexities that arise from the ecosystems themselves and the many stakeholders and interested parties, there are many definitions. This happens because it is easier to start with an outcomes and work backwards to a definition. In other words we color the definition with preconceived ideas and concepts. This even our choice of words predisposes us to a view of the problem even before we have a definition. The very choice of the word invasive presumes a pejorative meaning, because natural system stakeholders so the negative impact of what to them looked like invasions.

Yeah Yeah Yeah, but I am just passing through and I do not have a lot of time for this, just give me a definition.

               The International Union for Conservation of Nature, (IUCN) describes invasive species as “animals, plants or other organisms introduced by man into places out of their natural range of distribution, where they become established and disperse, generating a negative impact on the local ecosystem and species.” Invasive species can negatively impact human health, the economy (i.e. tourism, agriculture), and native ecosystems. These impacts may disrupt the ecosystem processes, introduce diseases to humans or flora and fauna, and reduce biodiversity.
               Invasive Species Definition Clarification and Guidance White Paper Submitted by the definitions Subcommittee of the Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC) in 2006 sought to make clear the US Executive Order 13112  which 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.”   (Beck, et al., ISAC 2006)
               In California an invasive plant is defined by Cal-IPC as  invasive non-native plant species that threaten wildlands and are are not native to, yet can spread into, wildland ecosystems, and that also displace native species, hybridize with native species, alter biological communities, or alter ecosystem processes.   This definition does not address diseases, insects or animals, just plants and only if they invade California wildlands with native habitat values. The invasive plant definition does not include plant species found solely in areas of human-caused disturbance such as roadsides and cultivated agricultural fields.  For these human disturbance areas the terminology or word would be weed. The California Native Plant Society has a straight forward definition of an invasive exotic plant, to wit: "a plant which is able to proliferate and aggressively alter or displace indigenous biological communities."
               The European Commission on the Environment states that "Invasive Alien Species are animals and plants that are introduced accidently or deliberately into a natural environment where they are not normally found. They represent a serious threat to native plants and animals in Europe, causing € millions worth of damage every year."

Great now I need to understand what a native species is? I don't suppose there is a simple definition. is there?

               That would be a different blog posting. Definitions of native run into the same fuzzy definition problem  that we are skirting in this blog. The closer you look the harder it is to pin down exactly what the term means. What exactly is native at 650 ppm CO2 for example is a question no one is talking about. Suppose we move an endangered species to a new site; is it native now?

This invasive business requires too much thinking. Can't you make this simpler?

               Sure: an invasive species is the wrong pathogen, plant, animal in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Works Cited

Beck, K. G., Zimmerman, K., Schardt, J. D., Stone, J., Lukens, R. R., Reichard, S., et al. (ISAC 2006). Invasive Species Definition Clarification and Guidance White Paper. Retrieved March 2009, from
Colautti, R. I., & MacIsaac, H. J. (2004). A neutral terminology to define ‘invasive’. Diversity Distrib. , 10, 135-141.
Larson, B. M. (2007). Thirteen ways of looking at invasive species. In D. R. Clements, & S. J. Darbyshire (Eds.), Invasive plants: Inventories, strategies and action. Topics in Canadian Weeds Science (Vol. 5). Canadian Weed Science Society – Société canadienne de.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Once 90% of US were Self-Employed

Maryland Farms During World War II

               In 1790, 90 percent of the total population of 3,929,214 in the United States were self employed farmers. By self employed I mean that they lived or died by their ability to produce for themselves food, fuel, fiber, forage, feed, flowers (herbs for medicine), and forest products for housing. Large international organizations played a supporting role and employed few people. Laws were made to protect the interests of the self employed businesses that were the family farm. For the most part laws were not made to benefit the needs and wants of large corporate employers unless those laws directly impacted the needs of small business.
               It was in the interest of large farmers to keep control of the political process in order to ensure the maximum distribution of governmental largess and resources so laws were enacted to restrict policies enfranchisement to those who owned land for example, or in the case of slavery, those who actually produced the profits. The "employees" were not part of the political debate because they were either legally or practically excluded from the important affairs of those in political control.
               The tension between the needs of the small farmer and the large land owner resulted in tensions over the role of government and the use of government revenues. Public  versus private road systems or  other transportation infrastructure such as canals were issues for debate. Even the idea of public schools was up for controversy, begging the question as to why an individual should have to pay out of his profits so another could be educated;  a question related to why one should pay for a road or bridge from public monies so that another  could use it.  Whatever the political argument, implicit in most decisions was the concept of an individual self employed agriculturally based family unit that was dependent on the profitable actions or successful family business outcomes. And more to the point the political conversations involved a majority of the population by virtue of the total number of people impacted directly by the policy decision outcomes.
               Today with a total population exceeding 300 million, fewer than 1 percent of us have a direct link to a family owned self employed business. Even the total number of self employed people today amounts to only 11 percent of the population of the United States. This means that the majority of us work for someone or something else other than ourselves. The politics of Privilege and Power becomes that of impacting legislation and policy in the 21st century while protecting the interests of the smallest number of us needed to keep power in order to distribute the proceeds of being in power.  Farming no longer has the political muscle to be a major player, but self employed small business as well as international corporate interests do have a major role even if they only directly represent a small portion of the total population. As in the beginning in 1790, government is not instituted to represent the interests of all of us, but to enable the distribution of resources to the smallest number of us while at the same time keeping the rest of us quiet. On other words, the challenge for the few is to calculate the minimum distribution of resources to the majority necessary to buy a majority's acquiescence to the holding of power by the fewest number possible.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Japanese Cedar Longhorned Beetle Found in Maryland

Pest Alert: Japanese Cedar Longhorned Beetle Found in Maryland For The First Time

From: Bob Trumbule, Entomologist, Maryland Department of Agriculture Plant Protection and Weed Management      

Japanese Cedar Longhorned Beetle, Callidiellum rufipenne, has been found and identification confirmed in Maryland for the first time. It was found on Cryptomeria japonica 'Yoshino' planted in the Severn area of Anne Arundel County. Identification was made by Gaye Williams and has been confirmed by SEL. We have been in contact with the Department of Agriculture of the out of state supplier of the nursery stock to see if the problem started there and are currently performing a survey in Maryland to determine whether it is established in the area where the infested stock was planted. Further information will be forthcoming as we get it.

Be on the lookout for this pest. It was detected due to dieback of leaders and branches of the infested plant material. Fully developed adult beetles were found in tunnels in the infested plants.

Please feel free to contact me (
Bob Trumbule)) with any questions  

Monday, November 14, 2011

FYI FREE Class: Responsible Pesticide Use, Home Owner Awareness

Responsible Pesticide Use including Alternatives
with John Peter Thompson
November 19, 2011 9 - 1 a.m.
Prince George's Community College - Westphalia Campus
to register call:

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ruminations on Harm and Invasive Species

               The wicked inconvenience of invasive species is wrapped up in definitional fuzziness.[1] Bertrand Russell must of been channeling invasion biology when he wrote that "everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise,  and everything precise is so remote from everything that we normally think, that you cannot for a moment suppose that is what we really mean when we say what we think." (Bertrand Russell. 1918.  Logic & Knowledge: The Philosophy of Logical Atomism )

               In many debates the conversation rarely moves past the definition of the word invasive, never reaching the dark recesses of taxonomy and the outer limits of agreeing on what exactly a species is. Because the interest groups, both those worried about invasives and those who are dismissive of any concern, stay far away from the tail-end of the general definition of an invasive species - the part that refers to harm. The U. S. 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.” As one of the authors of the white paper referenced in the link above, I remember the conversations surrounding the challenge of what we mean and what we do not mean by the term invasive species. I also recall the problem of dealing with the idea and consequences of harm. In a real sense, it for many stakeholders it comes down to the old adage that one knows harm when one sees it.

               So what exactly is harm? The word harm comes to us through the centuries from the Old English word  hearm that is related to Old Norse's word harmr meaning grief and is related to the Old High German word harm which is translated by our modern English word injury. It is interesting to note the Old Slavonic word sramǔ which is rendered by the English word disgrace.  Today the modern English noun, harm, is defined as 1. a physical or mental injury or damage or 2. a moral evil or wrongdoing.  Harm can therefore be any physical damage to the body caused by violence or accident or fracture. By analogy or inference we can think of a landscape or ecosystem as a body and see the extension of meaning as a species introduced by human activity displaces indigenous species. Harm can also be defined as an occurrence of a change for the worse (the act of damaging something or someone) which on the surface seems to succinctly explain the invasive problem but in itself begs the question as to how to assign a value to worse. Again we tend to resort to know it when we see it to escape the tedious process of actually thinking through the logic of the definitions.

               Armed with the above definition it is clear that the problem is one of valuation. How does one assign a value to change? What do we mean by change for the good or change for the worse?  If I see a tree falling in my direction , self-preservation assigns a value of bad and I move to correct my path so as to disallow a presumed negative outcome - on other words I get out of the way. If I have a tree leaning towards my house and I notice that each month it leans a little more, I will assign values to the potential damage to the house that may come at some point versus the cost of being proactive and cutting down the tree or if possible staking it.  I am now performing complicated future value calculations taking a discount rate and considering opportunity costs. I am assessing risk.

               In the examples above, I am the only decider in the equation. The problems and solutions revolve around me and there is no other human parameter to consider. However if we add another person to the equation the process of valuation can become complicated quickly and gives rise to one of the reason we have societal laws. If the leaning tree is not on my property, and for example is a walnut, my neighbor for his own economic reasons may wish to let the tree grow to harvest the wood at a later date when the market return is better. Short of altruism or laws his concern is not harm to my house. It is more profitable for him to externalize the problem onto me. Of course he needs to figure the potential loss of access to when it falls onto my property.

               Now consider the problem that arise if I decide to grow and sell a non native bamboo such as Phyllostachys aurea and my reason to sell this plant are 1. it reproduces with little input or effort from me and thus is easily propagated for sale and 2.  is easy to market because it grows anywhere and creates quick landscape screening - a ready market for my business. I am making a profit, and from this profit am able to afford health-care. The little issue of its spread onto my neighbors land can be seen as my "free" gift to him or her. I am externalizing some of my production costs because I do not spend time or resources controlling the movement of the plant through the local landscape and ecosystem. I rationalize this by noting how wonderful it is to be able to afford health-care because of this wonderful non native species. My calculations are all done in near time; I benefit right now and tomorrow and am therefore convinced of the overwhelming evidence of positive valuation of the introduction of this species. In fact as far out as I can see the profits from this species will allow me to set aside fungible resources to deal with and hazy problems that may arise in the distant future from any unexpected challenges to the community.

               Now my neighbor happens to be interested in back yard habitats and butterfly is how he or she makes her mortgage payment. The destruction of indigenous biological diversity is bad enough as my plant spreads by sales into common areas such as public parks, but the direct incursion of my profitable plant on to his or her land is intolerable. However I make money by not spending it on control. If I had to spend the amount of money necessary to keep the plant from spreading my profits would go down. My neighbor is of course not interested in my profits which for him or her are realized as costs. In other words my positive valuation becomes their negative valuation. My good species is their bad species. at the neighbor to neighbor level this is fairly straightforward, but when applied to ecosystems, landscapes and communities at large the valuation process spins out of easy linear consideration.

               Keeping the above, contrived situational valuing processes in mind, we need to consider the problem of change in space and in time.  Change in and of itself is dimensionless. Change is the result of an operation. Without change there is no life as we know it.  "Πάντα ε κα οδν μένει - All is flux", said Heraclitus, and any work to hold back change has a cost. Change is geography, change over time lead to change in resource service mix and output possibilities. However doing nothing about change is not an answer that leads to long life. A farmer who says that there is no point to removing weeds in the field every day because the weeds just come back soon as no crop from which he can harvest food. In essence the farmer spends resources, lowering profitability, fending off the incursion and establishment of unwanted species who from experience he judges to have a negative value. The farmer takes a lower short term profit because if in the long term he chooses to do nothing he knows there will be no benefit.

               Harm in invasive species is reduced to a calculation of near and long term benefit that must be redefined continuously. This makes for difficult policy conversations and the difficulty in turns leads to implications in order to enable movement towards predefined goals.  The wicked inconvenience of invasive species lies in part in our inability to address how much harm is permissible, how much change can we permit and who will pay to stop a tree from falling or an ecosystem from collapsing. The cost of preventing can be compared with cost of the benefit lost and a near term decision made, but ho to calculate the loss of future possibilities. For example, the emerald ash borer, an invasive species will reduce the number of ash trees to near zero.  Baseball bats are made from ash trees. What is the value of future loss of yet unmake baseball bats? What other as of yet unknown benefits might come from a future that now has no ash trees to speak of?

               When considering harm how do we value biodiversity's future possibilities against present needs? By homogenizing the landscape, we introduce predictability into our lives many of which because of our urban lifestyles are rife with landscape illiteracy. Who has the time to learn about the interactions between species and which ones may bite or give a rash? If we introduce the same workhorse species around the world then we can presume a certain amount of predictability and therefore unthinking safety as we move about the landscape absorbed in our pursuit of life. Invasive species are co evolutionary partners with mankind. Invasive species are biotic ploughs that chronically disturb the land around human settlements and grind down biological diversity brining a predictable simplicity. This simplistic landscape buys enough time in theory for humans to life in relative safety and work to find alternative resources to provide medicine, air and clean water as the natural ecosystem declines, or so the short term decision model seems to suggest. Humans will extract enough profit to deal with any problem that arises in a distant opaque future.

               To some extent it seems that harm is in the eye of the beholder. Harm that comes today trumps the harm that comes tomorrow for logically if you do not live through the day the problems of tomorrow will not matter to you. Because we use a hyperbolic function to assess the value or size of harm in time, tomorrow's problems which are of the same size or value as today's look smaller to us. When it comes to deciding the value of a future  decision we find ourselves in a negatively curved decision space.  The decision seems to boil down to how much known resource extraction or change is of a benefit now versus how much will this change possibly, maybe cost us then in inaccessible opportunities. This simplistic equation reduces the question about preserving biodiversity to one of a question of preserving the crown jewels of Great Britain; what is the cost of protecting them versus the worth of the metal and stones today.

               To all of the above we now need to add the layman's confusion that rises between assessing risk of harm with managing the risk of harm. "Risk assessment is the determination of quantitative or qualitative value of risk related to a concrete situation and a recognized threat (also called hazard)" according to Wikipedia.  Explicit in the definition is the idea of concrete situations, and not therefore, hypothetical maybes. The Wiki entry continues, "Quantitative risk assessment requires calculations of two components of risk: the magnitude of the potential loss and the probability  that the loss will occur."  The idea of probability is the most slippery deeply inset idea behind risk. It destroys our notion of a world of clearly defined possibilities upon which we build our entire decision making structure . We assume that the world can be defined into convenient terms of absolutes when in actuality we live in a probability universe. By assigning either a value of good or bad we set ourselves up for irrational arguments at the fuzzy boundaries of the problem.   To assess the risk of harm in the future from an introduced species we enter the world of probabilities, an alien ecosystem to many of us in the domain of the general public. A challenge  in risk management is finding the means to measure potential loss and probability of occurrence. How do we go about measuring the potential loss caused by feral cats let loose upon our common public areas or our private garden spaces for instance?   

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Assessing Harm: Precautionary versus Proactionary Principles

"Stakeholders who do not subscribe to the precautionary principle will have difficulty agreeing to actions that presume a precautionary stance."
“There are two views that are diametrically opposed at the critical point of how one assesses harm, and until this is understood it is impossible to reach consensus. What level of risk is achievable and acceptable?”
extract from my Book:  Thompson, J. P. (2011). Certified: Feasibility of Audit-Based Certification to Prevent Invasive Plant Pests in the Nursery Industry. Washington: Northeast Midwest Institute. 112 pp  +xii
            From a philosophical perspective, stakeholders of scientific policy debates are divided between advocates of the “precautionary” principle on the one hand and the “proactionary principle” on the other. The precautionary stakeholders want action now because they believe that severe or irreversible harm to the public interest will result from the lack of regulatory action in the absence of a scientific consensus. The burden of proof in this case would fall upon those who would advocate taking the action. The “proactionary” parties are guided by their belief system, and are opposed to early action “when restrictive measures are proposed.” Risks and opportunities should be assessed “according to available science, not popular perception.”[1]      
            Supported by the precautionary principle, conservation advocates promote changes in horticultural business models to reduce or eliminate the risk of invasive species. A core tenant of this principle states that “exploitation of resources, and physical alterations of the environment have had substantial unintended consequences affecting human health and the environment.”[2] Belief in the precautionary principle compels action because of the evidence that damage to humans and the worldwide environment is of such magnitude and seriousness that new ideas and thinking for conducting human activities are necessary. Realizing that human activities may involve hazards, proponents of the precautionary principle think that society “must proceed more carefully than has been the case in recent history. It follows then that corporations, government entities, organizations, communities, scientists and other individuals must adopt a precautionary approach to all human endeavors.”[3]
            Proponents of the precautionary principle are motivated “[w]hen an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the precautionary principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. This necessarily involves an examination of the full range of alternatives, including the ’no action’ alternative.”[4] Not all stakeholders that have an interest in plant pest issues share this philosophy. As a result of the lack of consensus on the need to act, the door is opened for misunderstanding, argument, opposition, and inaction. R.B. Stewart’s reduction of the precautionary principles provides a useful summary: [5]
·   Scientific uncertainty should not automatically preclude regulation of activities that pose a potential risk of significant harm (Non-Preclusion PP).
·   Regulatory controls should incorporate a margin of safety; activities should be limited below the level at which no adverse effect has been observed or predicted (Margin of Safety PP).
·   Activities that present an uncertain potential for significant harm should be subject to best technology available requirements to minimize the risk of harm unless the proponent of the activity shows that they present no appreciable risk of harm (BAT PP).
·   Activities that present an uncertain potential for significant harm should be prohibited unless the proponent of the activity shows that it presents no appreciable risk of harm (Prohibitory PP).
            In contrast to the precautionary principle, the proactionary principle is based on the idea that consequences of actions in complex systems are often unpredictable and irreversible. The principle, which is based upon the philosopher Max More’s writings, states that a “(p)eople’s freedom to innovate technologically is highly valuable, even critical, to humanity. This implies several imperatives when restrictive measures are proposed:[6]
·   “Assess risks and opportunities according to available science, not popular perception.
·   “Account for both the costs of the restrictions themselves, and those of opportunities foregone.
·   “Favor measures that are proportionate to the probability and magnitude of impacts, and that have a high expectation value.
·   “Protect people’s freedom to experiment, innovate, and progress.”
            The two competing principles produce a general dichotomy between industry and natural area constituencies: industry asks the basic risk-assessment question -- "How much harm is allowable?” whereas natural and sustainable resource stakeholders ask -- "How little harm is possible?" The foundation for basic disagreement is laid at the beginning before any discussion of a species takes place. The nature of the two principles is incongruent. The precautionary principle’s preventive anticipation, willingness to take action in the absence of conclusive scientific proof, sense of urgency, and emphasis on generational equity engenders a visceral reaction from some stakeholders. This reaction can obscure areas of possible agreement such the “…proportionality of response or cost-effectiveness of margins of error to show that the selected degree of restraint is not unduly costly.” [7]
 Copyright: ©John Peter Thompson. Reproduction of this publication for educational or other non-commercial purposes is authorized without prior written permission from the copyright holder provided the source is fully acknowledged. Reproduction of this publication for resale or other commercial purposes is
prohibited without prior written permission of the copyright holder

[1]     More, Max. 2004. The Proactionary Principle, Version 1.0: Draft for public comment. Extropy Institute. [Online] Extropy Institute’s Vital Progress Summit I, 2004. Retrieved February 7, 2011 from
[2]     Wingspread Conference on the Precautionary Principle. (1998). Retrieved 2009, from Science and Environmental Health Network:
[3]     Wingspread Conference on the Precautionary Principle (1998). Retrieved 2009, from Science and Environmental Health Network:
[4]     Wingspread Conference on the Precautionary Principle (1998). Retrieved 2009, from Science and Environmental Health Network:
[5]     Stewart, R. B. (2002). Environmental Regulatory Decision Making Under Uncertainty. Research in Law and Economics Vol. 20, pp.76. [Online] 2002.
[6]     More, Max (2004). The Proactionary Principle, Version 1.0: Draft for public comment. Extropy Institute. [Online] Extropy Institute’s Vital Progress Summit I, 2004. Retrieved February 7, 2011 from Extropian is defined as an evolving framework of values and standards for continuously improving the human condition
[7]     Six Basic Concepts of Precautionary Principles. (2008). Retrieved 2009, from The Global Development Research Center: