PART 4 - THE BIOLOGY
by Jim Beers
February 25, 2003
This is part four of a series.
I am a wildlife biologist and what I am about to write ignores the hysteria, myths, and self-serving propaganda of the past thirty years. It is also meant to ignore the public opinions that have been formed from those myths and stories. The approaching Invasive Species program, like the Endangered Species program before it, capitalizes on these myths and misinformation. Understanding these emotional underpinnings is necessary to making an informed decision.
1.) Native v. Non-Native. Why is it good to eradicate a highly used and appreciated non-native fishery like the introduced salmon in the Great Lakes while reintroducing native wolves that will spread across the country and wreak havoc with stock, pets, game animals, and human safety? Both the salmon and the wolf maintain themselves and interact with the habitat they find themselves inhabiting. Are the Great lakes somehow poorer? Is the rapidly expanding wolf range somehow richer? The answer is no to each. Just as Asians "invaded" North America 10,000 +/- years ago and were then displaced by Europeans 500 +/- years ago, the environment changed. The environment or ecosystem was neither better nor worse, only different. Indian living habits from Colorado cliff dwellers to high plains nomads, before and after the "invasion" of the horse, affected the environment in just as dramatic ways as grazing, logging, mining, and recreation do today. Cattle and farms while different from buffalo and wild rice beds, create an environment that the human inhabitants capitalize on for their benefit as they raise families and go about their daily affairs. Today new species arrive and some disappear immediately; some cause significant problems (usually only during an initial period); some crowd out native species; and some (in fact many) become useful additions to roadsides plant communities (minimizing erosion, etc.), bird life (think cattle egrets and house finches), and gardens (think day lilies). There is no such thing as "native", there are only some species that have been somewhere longer than others. The biological challenge is not how to turn the clock back to an imaginary period of "balance"; the challenge is how to maintain plant and animal diversity and human uses while maintaining an environment that assures prosperity and a wholesome existence for people.
2.) Harmful Species v. Beneficial Species. Beneficial Species (from barley and hops to brown trout and elk) should be nurtured and maintained regardless of the length of time they have been here. Likewise, harmful species and these are often new arrivals, should be controlled and even eradicated where they have significant adverse impacts. Controls or even eradication should be understood and take into account the costs, benefits, and other impacts. The resulting environments or ecosystems may be simpler or may get more diverse. Honest scientists can tell us the results of controls.
3.) Using (i.e. Managing) v. Saving (i.e. Locking Up) the Environment. The foregoing paragraphs describe what is called the "Pre-Colombian Ecosystem" in today's Federal no-use lingo. This myth has been used extensively to justify all sorts of Endangered Species Act abuses. These include but are not limited to taking property without compensation; eliminating logging, ranching, etc., closing access to public lands; and Federal bureaucrats dictating a wide range of business, recreational, and citizen activities unimaginable just 40 years ago. The public has come to believe that each and every flock or herd of animals or each stand of plants is so important that any cost to maintain or restore them is justified. Notice that the more recent arrivals never make the "List". Many accept the false premise that no-use of plants or animals is superior to using and therefore managing the plants and animals. The biological truth is that sensible use of plants and animals maintains a maximum diversity of species and, because it creates "WORTH" for the plants and animals and their habitats, there are reasons for everyone who benefits to maintain a healthy and productive environment. Sensible management of plants and animals generates funding for governments to maintain public natural resources and likewise for private owners to maintain private natural resources. In a free republic such as ours this should have never been challenged as it has recently been by growing Federal power and massive land acquisition and control by Federal bureaucracies and rich non-government organizations.
If we continue to accept the notions of the recent past that Invasive Species are inherently "bad", that there is an "ideal" or "natural" mix of plants and animals that we must restore or else, that use and management of natural resources by either government or citizens is bad, and that the answer to any environmental or animal use matter is Federally imposed restrictions and power - then Federal Invasive Species proposals will be a slam dunk. If on the other hand we understand that use and management (including active control) of natural resources is an attainable good; that the national ecosystem will always change and our challenge is to manage those changes for our benefit, and perhaps most important of all that the system of government that has served us so well for over 200 years must not be abolished for specious reasons, then we can support programs which make use of existing state authorities and private landowners.
Just as it is reasonable in an affluent society to have an area or two called Wilderness to see what non-use means in the midst of a robust and active society. Just as it is reasonable to not build a road where erosion or other significant damage will result. So too is it reasonable and biologically sound to strive for the best environmental balances and biological productivity in our surroundings while accessing and using all of the renewable plants and animals that surround us. The proliferation of Wilderness Areas, Roadless Areas, Critical Habitats, and Pre-Colombian and no-use philosophies in public agencies are the indicators of what "biological" justifications have justified in recent years and what will also result from a Federal Invasive Species program.
Just as Endangered Species habitat claims proliferate as "experts" testify before courts, similar Invasive Species experts will soon enough materialize to claim "environmental" harm from "non-native" species X complete with a rational why more land must be controlled, more land bought, more human activities proscribed, and more resource users put out of business. As with Endangered Species impacts, landowners will no longer be able to profit from their land and no one except the government will offer to buy it. As with Endangered Species a cadre of University researchers will arise to make claims of what "needs" to be done regarding cheatgrass or day lilies to not only eradicate them, but to keep them eradicated. Science will bend to assure that these professors are the ones getting the subsequent grant money. The biology will be presented in such a way that everyone else can but accept it and any questions will be either ignored or treated as the ravings of the ignorant. Pesticides will be no more available than now and the only result 30 years hence will be similar to the decline of spotted owls and loggers in a declining rural Oregon overseen by "successful" Federal bureaucrats and highly paid environmental organization employees.
The next article will be on The Pushers. That is, those who, both behind and in front of the scenes, are bringing about the Federalization of Invasive Species. As the old saying goes, you can't follow the game without a program. Hopefully, the next article will identify the players for you so that you too can follow the action.
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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