Invasive Spring is in the Air

After a typical Fisher Poets Gathering weekend of wind, rain, hail, snow and yes, a little sun, I woke up this morning to one of those days that makes you love living here. The sky was about to be illuminated fully by the rising sun, and there wasn’t a cloud in it. The orange hues were mixing with the totally blue sky, the snow was shining bright white on the Coast Range hills, the water glistened, and though the mercury was sitting at 32°F, the air was so dry that there wasn’t much ice on the roads, and it took forever to get the ice off my windshield.

By the time you’re reading this, there might have been more wind and rain, maybe snow and ice, but I think spring is in the air. Take a good look at the trees and bushes, and the crocuses and daffodils. They’re waking up, in the renewal phase of the annual cycle of life. If we let them live, they will go on to produce leaves, needles, flowers, fruit, wood, food and water, and most importantly, oxygen. They will take up carbon dioxide, any sunlight our sun-stingy region gives them, and water (usually not a problem), and produce not only the things mentioned above, but a spiritual sense of calm, protection and beauty.

If we let them live.

Not only the plants are waking up this time of year. So are the companies that make money from the cutting of trees, and soon, the crews that spray the roadsides for weeds. On my weekday walks to work along Irving Avenue in Astoria, the chainsaws have been disturbing the stately silence of the forested areas that have been largely left alone during the winter. Good-intentioned homeowners have been having those pesky non-native (and native) trees cut down to improve their view, tidy up their property, or just because. People are even coming out to look at their yards and gardens, thinking about what plants they’ll pick up at the nursery to make their garden look nice in case we have a better growing season than last year (not likely). And I even saw some new soil on a neighbor’s garden, probably giving fresh cover to bulbs planted last fall. I wonder whether some weed seeds are hiding in that soil, waiting to take over that garden, and then the neighborhood!

Almost exactly a year ago, I attended a panel session about invasive species at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) at the Univeristy of Oregon in Eugene, which became the impetus for this column. Panelists discussed how environmentalists and most of the mainstream agreed that so-called “invasive species” – plants and animals that are not “native” (another term they discussed) and cause either economic or ecological hardship (disputed by the panelists for many cases) – had to be eliminated, often at great cost. The panelists’ views seemed to be that in many cases, these plants and animals were either beneficial, or had naturalized, and should be considered part of the local ecosystem.

The 2012 PIELC is scheduled for the first four days of March, and again, there will be a panel on invasive species. The focus will be how climate change affects the picture. A complete report awaits you in April. For now, it got me thinking about the folly of controlling nature, whether that means trying to eradicate a species in a geographical area, or restore a section of land to conditions that existed a hundred years ago, or even plant a successful garden. As any field ecologist or gardener will tell you, it’s almost impossible to know what might come of your efforts. The system is just too complex to be predictable.

The science of invasive species is coming around to the conclusion that these would-be terrors actually might be relatively tame, and in an era when more and more of the planet is cleared and paved over, might actually be necessary to preserve and enhance the biological diversity of the planet (see for an example).

I like this quote from an article called Attack of the Flying Carp by Jeff Wheelwright in the March 2012 Discover magazine. “Ninety per cent of the catch in the Danube River is bighead and silver [carp],” (Duane) Chapman [carp researcher] remarked to his listeners. “They’re not an issue there; they are the fishery. If you want more biomass, or to feed more people, then it’s a great choice.” He pointed out that “invasive” was a relative term. “If you like ‘em, they’re not invasive.”

Well, I’m learning to like ‘em all. Enjoy the spring, and do what you can to preserve and enhance life of all kinds on the planet. Join in the annual chorus of renewal and sing loud and clear!

By Bob Goldberg

Bob moved to Astoria from Seattle in 2005, on the day Katrina hit New Orleans. He started writing for HIPFiSH in 2007. With a previous career as an environmental engineer with the Washington State Department of Ecology and a researcher at various companies and national labs, Bob tries to bring his scientific (i.e. objective) background to journalism. Outside the HIPFiSH world, Bob does programming on KMUN radio, sings tenor in the North Coast Chorale, tutors at Clatsop Community College, and helps with websites. He lives in Astoria with his beautiful and wonderful wife, his son and two cats.