PART 2 - WHAT ARE THEY?
by Jim Beers
February 23, 2003
This is part two of a series.
Invasive Species is the name currently applied to non-native plants and animals that cause problems of one sort or another. Non-native is the relevant phrase and it refers to those plants and animals that are relatively new to an area be that a state, nation, or continent. While most of us take for granted thousands of species of plants and animals that were here when our grandparents and great grandparents were alive such as Hungarian partridge, brown trout, English ivy, and day lilies as acceptable members of our environment; environmental groups, many academics, bureaucrats, and socialists bent on clearing large swaths of the United States for something called the Wildlands Project know that non-native really means not present when European explorers stepped ashore. There have even been legal arguments made that an Eastern US native fish (largemouth bass) introduced into Western US reservoirs are "non-native" and should be eliminated. Have no doubt that non-native means all of these things and that this will be a readily accepted definition in a court of law by government or environmental litigants when seeking jurisdiction, land control, or control of human activities.
While advocates for Federalizing Invasive Species matters never mention non-natives such as pheasants or day lilies as eventual targets for elimination, there is a list of often-mentioned, non-native species that can and do cause extensive and serious problems. Zebra mussels that came from Europe on ships now clog water intake pipes and displace native mussels. Hydrilla, a thick, mat-like plant infests many streams and reservoirs. Salt cedar, a small shrubby tree, displaces native shrubs along waterways in the West and uses significant amounts of scarce water. The Brown tree snakes, brought to Guam from New Guinea as stowaways on WWII planes, have decimated Guam's bird life, caused power outages and bitten hundreds of children and adults. They could stowaway to Hawaii or California where they could wreak havoc also. Cheatgrass is a plant that displaces native plants, creates a fire hazard, and infests winter wheat over large parts of the US. Leafy spurge is poisonous to cattle and horses while yellow starthistle is poisonous to horses; both crowd out native plants and the animals that depend on them in densely infested areas. Kudzu, the infamous vine from a science fiction movie smothers southern trees and buildings. Sea lampreys invaded the Great Lakes and began killing lake trout and introduced salmon long ago when canals and sea-going ships opened the way. Nutria, a large muskrat-like marsh dweller causes extensive marsh plant damage in Louisiana and Maryland. Fire ants are also a species that has come north and threatens human safety as well as pets and domestic animals.
When advocates of Federalizing the management and control of such species speak or write, many facts are ignored and avoided. For instance, zebra mussels have cleaned up (clarified) many waterways such as Lake Erie where deeper sunlight penetration has caused an explosion of submerged plants that shelter fish and accordingly created a very productive commercial and sport fishery. Hydrilla, which elicited newspaper forecasts of environmental Armageddon when first spotted 20 years ago near Washington, DC established large beds in the Potomac River creating extensive cover for endangered fish, a now-famous bass fishery, and large flocks of wintering scaup, mallards, and geese viewed from Washington office windows. Another point not mentioned is the extreme dependence on pesticides that is necessary for control of many of the plants and insects such as fire ants. Indeed those who live with many of these pests testify to the fact that chemical tools for control have long been available but environmental prohibitions and use permission requirements are set impossibly high. Also, the current efforts of states like Louisiana to decimate nutria populations with a bounty and create markets for the meat and fur are never mentioned. Another missing portion is the status of genetically modified grains and fruits (many of which are also non-native) under the proposed programs. Problematic native species such as poison ivy, poisonous spiders and scorpions are also never mentioned when discussing harmful species. Similarly, thousands of non-native landscaping species like tulips, day lilies, and lilacs and non-native hunting and fishing species like chukars, pheasants, brown trout and Great Lakes salmon go unmentioned.
Certain states like Florida and California are very strong backers of Federalizing Invasive Species efforts. The reason for their support is their semi-tropical to Mediterranean climate which when combined with the large influx of international contacts means a high incidence of new species constantly cropping up. Their climate makes them ideal habitats for exotic fish dumped in ditches, fruit flies hitch hiking on airplanes or steamers carrying fruit, pets or wild animals escaping from owners, and even birds miraculously blown across oceans from similar climates. Indeed, at one Invasive Species US House of Representatives Hearing that I attended, a Florida state employee was the most outspoken advocate in the room for more Federal dollars, more Federal employees, and more Federal authority (and that is saying something.)
I will remind the reader that early in the proposal stage for the Endangered Species Act (1970-72) similar "facts" were publicized and others were dismissed. -Bald eagle preservation (while I used to see 30 at a time when I was in the Aleutians) was stressed while isopods and flies as a means to stop public works projects was never mentioned.
-Saving sturgeon, a relatively innocuous and little seen fish, was touted while using the slight variations found in minnow-like darters from insular Tennessee watersheds to prevent construction of a needed major dam was never mentioned. -Romantic stories about saving evening wolf howls in Minnesota gained lots of media attention but no one mentioned the effects on stock, big game animal populations, pets, and humans that expanding wolf population would have. Intentions to force wolves back into the West where they had been purposely exterminated, were vehemently denied for years.
-The listing of subspecies much less races, populations, subpopulations, population segments, and distinct population segments was never imagined by anyone but the sponsors.
-Concerns that professors, researchers, and other specialty experts would skew their findings and eventually their scientific classifications and habitat declarations in order to get grants and other benefits resulting from publicity of their specialties went unmentioned. The fact that 30 years later advocates and politicians would offer "better science" as a solution can only be termed comical.
-Worries that Federal bureaucrats would List species and never delist unless forced seemed far-fetched. Promotions, budgets, bonuses, and wide-ranging power were to become directly proportional to the size of the program.
-Suspicions that environmental groups and politicians would lard the Federal agencies with employees with activist intentions for regulation writing and lawsuit cooperation were never mentioned.
-Taking property without compensation, closure of Federal land access, elimination of businesses and recreational activities in the name of Endangered Species were also scoffed at and denied.
-Claims of environmental "needs" and ecosystem "viability" were merely justification rhetoric and not true.
-Worries about loss of sovereignty to UN bureaucracies dedicated to worldwide control of International Endangered Lists that expand biennially, were dismissed but were eventually proven to be true.
The relevance of the history of Endangered Species program development to the Invasive Species' effort must be understood. Hopefully the upcoming articles will allow you to develop the perspective to judge for yourself. The next article will treat the history of management and control programs and the Constitutional responsibilities applicable to these matters.
This series is not meant to disparage control activities or to discourage more cooperation between government and landowners, businessmen, and others. It is meant to avoid the inescapable quagmires that the Endangered Species Act has created. As subsequent articles treat The Biology, The Pushers, the Politics, The Real Goals, The Unintended Consequences, and Current Happenings they will hopefully prepare you to consider What Must Be Done that will conclude the series.
Jim Beers is a 33 year veteran of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and a great advocate of private property rights.
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