On “invasives”

Rosa multiflora, cleavers, and other invasive plants
An assortment of invasive plants found growing around my former house

I know some people around here (and elsewhere) who feel tremendous antipathy toward invasive plant species. Once I tried to broach the idea that this was both futile and misguided–or at least that it’s useful to consider that possibility.

I mean, with most invasives, we’re never going to be able to get rid of them. That horse is out of the stable and long gone. Even if we could eradicate them, what kind of trophic cascade would then result? When are we going to learn our lesson?

Then, as Gordon White has pointed out, there’s the historical fact that the idea of a pristine, indigenous nature that is being–what? Tainted? Miscegenated?–with non-native species is a relic of empire and colonialism. It’s right in there with noble-savage-ism and racism and all those other unpleasant imperial bedfellows.

Do I really even need to compare the way we talk about invasive plant (and animal) species and the way we talk about immigrants? I find it very *interesting* that the same woke liberals who are in favor of virtually unrestricted human immigration (otherwise who will do the jobs they think they’re too educated for?) and are quick to make the connection between anti-immigration policies and racism, are often the same ones who are most intent on restoring nature to some imaginary and ahistorical “pristine,” invasive-free state.

Ecosystems change. All the species of a bioregion collaborate in that change through time, from the pollinators to the poopers* to the keystone species to the architects (humans and beavers). It is true that humans cause the most radical change, taking species out of their original bioregions and putting them elsewhere; and sometimes we really mess up. (Don’t get me started on the idiocy of planting eastern sycamores in desert California where there are already perfectly drought-adapted and lovely native sycamores.) Sometimes, even when our intentions are good, we screw up and make things go extinct. In the past couple-three hundred years, we have had a distinct inability to think or perceive holistically, unfortunately juxtaposed with the technological ability to mess with every pie we can get our fingers into, and you can see the disastrous results in how we have interacted with “nature.”

But you know this already, so I won’t belabor the point.

So anyway, when I suggested that antipathy toward invasives was futile and misguided, I was met with that I-don’t-even-know-who-you-are-anymore kind of shock and horror: What?! Do you just want all the native species–the beautiful, precious native species (will no one think of the native species?!)–to go extinct??? What about all the brave souls toiling to eradicate the invasives and Protect the Environment (TM), don’t you care about them??? I suppose you think we should just throw the emerald ash borer a tickertape parade, huh???

Maybe for the record I should state that I’m neither anti-human-immigration (having been an immigrant–an illegal one at that–myself, as well as the descendant of immigrants to this continent, and having devoted many years to the anthropological and archaeological study of human migration and certain resulting ecological changes), nor am I saying that we should just shrug our shoulders and give up on trying to correct some of the ecological disasters we’ve started.

But I am saying that adaptation and harmonization are worth thinking (and working) with. And that invasives are part of your bioregion too, even if you consider them “undesirable.”

*Ask me about my theory on the role of poop in the origins of agriculture!

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