Our Cosmopolitan Planet

Call them tree-huggers, nature-nuts, wilderness wackos, camp-out crackpots, whatever derogatory terminology you choose.   Without these people there wouldn’t be over 270 Conservation Areas, 330 Provincial, and 6 National Parks in Ontario.  That’s one helluva mess O’ real estate. Not to mention the Crown Land Reserves, the Wildlife Areas, ANSIs, Municipal, Township, and County parks and so on.  We have done well preserving the natural assets of our province.  No, it’s not all warm and fuzzy, and we’ll not single-handedly save the planet, but it’s a lot to be proud of.  That’s why I say we need the extremists to counteract the capitalists, and compensate for the complacent.  Now I’ve wandered into the political camp, and I know (and care) as much about that, as I do sports.

So … let’s do this instead:

I’ve always found it fascinating how people will believe one scientist but not another.  Particularly when you consider the people in question couldn’t possibly understand either scientist’s reasoning.  It is of course, a matter of believing in the scientist who tells them what they want to hear.   Kinda like politics.  If your character is predisposed to activism, you’ll listen to the naturalist scientists who tell you genetically modified corn pollen is eliminating the monarch butterflies.  If you don’t give a rat’s ass for some stupid bugs, or you’re trying to grow corn, you’ll side with the scientists who spliced the bacteria and corn genes who say it’s OK.  That corn is poison to the larvae of the European Corn Borer (Yay !) but OK for humans to eat.  That’s what the scientists say anyway.  Now which scientists say that ?  The gene splicing ones, or the naturalist ones ? Maybe they both say it’s OK for human consumption, ‘cause they’re too busy fighting over the GMO corn pollen vs butterfly issue.  Maybe there’s another scientist looking for some airtime who says it’s OK to eat, or not OK, whatever gets the most attention.  Maybe a Government laboratory performs some tests and declares all’s well.  Yeah …  I’d quit eating corn at that point myself.  Heay !!!! Just a minute !  EUROPEAN Corn Borer ?  What’s that all about ?

It’s been here since 1917.  That’s likely longer than you’ve been here.  We’ve tried everything from chemicals, to parasitic wasps, through infectious fungi and single celled protozoans, to releasing sterile specimens, and of course GM corn, in attempts to control the bug.  We still do, and will continue to try.  Since 1882 there have been over 80 alien insects or diseases introduced to our forests.  Who knows what slipped by, over the centuries before then without our knowledge ?

There are generally three main classifications of plants and animals with regard to “their place on this Earth”

Indigenous – We all know this means plants and animals that were here before the Europeans (who were technically an invasive organism themselves, in a manner of speaking).

Invasive – A plant or animal which wasn’t here before the European invaders which will detrimentally affect or cause a notable change to an ecosystem. There are an awful, awful lot of them.  They generally get away with it, unless they will cost us money, or if we can get a grip on them before they get too far.  Canada has reportedly spent near $6 billion to control 9 major plant species and continues to spend over $20 million per year maintenance.  Some, not only get away on us, they become our neighbours and get prefixes like “common” tacked onto their names.

Naturalized (I like to call this one TDLN – Too Damned Late Now) – This is my favourite.  It means an organism which has won the battle and forced us to accept it, whether we like it, (or even notice it) or not.  Guess how many common animals and plants you easily recognize, aren’t supposed to be here.  It took three attempts to introduce house sparrows to North America in 1851.  They were brought in to control crop eating insects. Today with an estimated population of 150 million they’re considered naturalized and it turns out they only feed the insects to their young.  The rest of the time, they eat the same crops the insects do … OOPS!  It also took 3 tries to introduce starlings in the 1890s.  They now number an estimated 200 million.  I have never been able to determine WHY ?  I’ve read the stories, but I can’t believe even 19th century humans could be that pretentious.  The common ring necked pheasant first arrived in 1733, but, much like the starlings it took another couple of attempts in the 1880s to make sure they really got a foothold.  Then sixty-some years later in 1943, they went on to become the official state bird of South Dakota.   That’s less than one human lifetime from when they were introduced.  Now that’s naturalization on a near diabolical scale.

Any anglers in the crowd ?  That’s fishermen people (politically correct no less).  Of those dozen worms you pulled out of your lawn after that last rainstorm, four aren’t supposed to be here.  I once watched a TV fishing show where a bunch of Brits came to Lake Ontario to catch common carp.  They loved the things, and lauded praise on Canada for having such wonderful natural resources.  Carp were brought in from Germany to be “farmed” in 1872 California.  By 1876 it had become quite the successful venture.  The following year the US Commission of Fish and Fisheries got in on the act.  Due to the decline in native fish stocks, they cultivated carp and released them into numerous waterways by 1883.  It took less than 20 years to realize that was another major OOPS … now look what we got.

The wife and I like to go out in the Spring and collect lilacs.  The heady scent fills the house.  As lovely as they indeed are, they don’t belong here either.  They were introduced as an ornamental and have done well for themselves, as they started being passed around the globe as far back as 1562.  They didn’t hit the New World until the late 1700s.  But as can be witnessed along any backroad or Hwy 401 for that matter, they are wildly successful.  Ranger points out that if you see a stand of lilacs in the middle of nowhere, there’s likely an abandoned foundation in the middle of them.  We’ll have to fire up my trusty metal detector this Spring and search around for relics (yeah, I got all the toys.  The wife has to keep me entertained ‘cause I bore so easily).

When an invasive species is realized, an assessment is done to determine the action to be taken (be it a lot, or nearly nothing depending upon the situation).   There are 4 main categories of action, all of which are rather lengthy in definition.  I’ll abbreviate them here.

Eradication – Just as it sounds,  we catch them in an isolated area, and nuke the bastards !  Well, OK in lieu of that, we’ll chop down all the trees they could be on in the specific location, and chip, burn, whatever it takes to make sure they’re all dead.  Then we monitor for years to ensure no re-infestation occurs.  This is the method that prompts local people to say the cure is worse than the disease.  It isn’t, really. It’s just desperate overkill, and a one chance opportunity to prevent an ecological train wreck.  This is currently the point we’re at with the Emerald Ash Borer.

Reduction in Density – When the invader can’t be reached because we caught it too late, we establish new colonies of host plants in clear areas which we can treat with deterrents to the invader, under controlled conditions.

Slowing the Spread – When one gets away but a natural barrier offers up a challenge to its spread, we can monitor and treat within that transition zone.  Basically, it’s a huge quarantine effort.

Biological Control – Yeah, this is the controversial one.  We screwed up and have an invader out of control inside our borders.  What do we do ?  Intentionally introduce another invader to deal with it.  Yes, now we have 2 invaders.  At least the second, intentional one can control the first, unintentional one.  Does the method work ?  Do you remember all the fuss over purple loosestrife a few years back?  Do you recall seeing much, if any, last Summer ?  The purple loosestrife leaf eating Galerucella beetle was released in 1992 in selected areas across North America, and it’s been spreading ever since.  What’ll it do when it runs outa purple loosestrife ?  Hopefully, it’ll have the good taste and decency to starve to death.  Is that what’s gonna happen ?

As stated in my rant posting “To Feed or Not to Feed”, I guess you can’t have 7 billion of us running around the planet without some adverse effects on the ecosystems.  Does that mean we just give up ? No it doesn’t.  Does that mean we return to the stone age ?  That ain’t gonna happen either.  We’ll just have to settle for winning a few battles, and losing a few battles.  But who will inevitably win the war ? The Earth.   It always does.



One comment

  1. […] in April, I wrote a piece entitled Our Cosmopolitan Planet, which spoke to the issue of invasive species in Canada. However, in all my fussing over species […]


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