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Topic: Flora & Fauna     Department: Letters

In the weeds

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Amy Whitcomb's essay really puts the job of eliminating invasive weeds from federal lands into perspective (HCN, 10/17/11, "Among the processes of place"). I have been doing the same for the National Park Service since 2006, traveling all over the Southwest, mostly trying to eliminate tamarisk (saltcedar) and Russian olive. Currently, I am in the Midwest trying to fight back invasive trees along some of our national rivers and the myriad forbs, grasses and woody species that are invading our prairie parks.

It truly is a thankless job, and often the results are overlooked or misunderstood by the public. It is time-consuming, sometimes mindless, and sometimes frustrating to stand in the same spot for hours upon hours pulling individual plants by the roots -- especially when you consider the larger picture. It becomes cerebral work. I often find myself thinking: "Does this really make sense? Aren't all plants invasive? How did these native plants get here in the first place? Doesn't climate change have something to do with all of this? Who is to say what is bad and good? Are these plants really causing that much harm?" Several scientists are beginning to argue that invasive species should not all be judged as bad or detrimental to ecosystems.

And, finally, there's the question that plagues us all: "Does this really make a difference, and if it doesn't, am I still going to have a job in the future?"

Adam Throckmorton
Springfield, Missouri

Gail E Trotter &
Gail E Trotter & Subscriber
Nov 16, 2011 04:41 PM
On invasive plant eradication, Adam Throckmorton wonders, "Does this really make sense? Aren't all plants invasive? How did these native plants get here in the first place? Doesn't climate change have something to do with all of this? Who is to say what is bad and good? Are these plants really causing that much harm?"

My wife and I have been pulling scotch broom (and other stuff) on an 1100 acre former mounded prairie in western Washington for fifteen years. The site has gone from monoculture old-growth scotch broom with some Doug Fir invasion to a mostly broom-free meadow filled with wildflowers, bugs, and birds. We're working to re-create the engineered environment maintained by native Americans up to about 150 years ago. We'll be re-introducing captive-raised larvae of rare butterflies in the Spring. Exciting is an understatement.

I think you pick your battles, plan for climate change, and treat it as a mass gardening-by-volunteers project. We're choosing, based on the best available science, which plants and critters to encourage in the little patches of habitat that remain. It's easy to become discouraged by the magnitude of the problem, but come to Prairie Appreciation Day the second Saturday in May to see what can be done with persistence and a lot of hands.

Paul Allen
Redmond, WA
Charlie Hohn
Charlie Hohn
Nov 20, 2011 07:31 AM
Humans have been 'mass gardening' North America for over 10,000 years, as Gail referenced. Deciding not to do so anymore, in many cases has probably had as profound an effect as other more commonly discussed management decisions.

I'm not saying the forests and canyons 'need' humans to survive. But, we took what was in many cases a sustainable, complex permaculture system and after most of the people practicing these activities were killed or driven off, we fenced off land and declared them national parks or 'wilderness'. Is there any surprise that harmful weeds are now spreading through the land? What would happen if little green aliens depopulated the Midwest and then declared our corn fields a 'wilderness'? Not that I'm a fan of monocultural corn farming... but the point stands.

Invasive plant issues need to be addressed on a case by case basis, and it's a valid point that some may be a lost cause, and that some non-native plants that are believed to be invasive just aren't. But as for the ideas 'aren't all plants invasive? How did native plants get here in the first place? climate change, etc'... I see these questions as not particularly relevant and mostly spread around by the more militant 'do nothing!' crowd. We can be an active participant in the land... or we can walk away after causing grave damage, and refuse to do anything positive to help offset that. I'm a fan of the former.
Charlie Hohn
Charlie Hohn
Nov 20, 2011 07:32 AM
Sorry, by 'Gail' i meant Paul Allen. I was trying to write the comment in a tiny window because I didn't realize until just now that the window for writing a comment could be enlarged.

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