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COLUMNS Weed Wars

Ghost Shrimp Still Haunting the Shellfish Industry on Willapa Bay

Neotrypaea_californiensisDLC2007-01sIn the world of toxics use reduction – which was my world in the 1990s and early 2000s as an environmental engineer at the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) – it’s a common trick to substitute one chemical for another when the one you were using is either heavily regulated, becomes illegal to use, or too expensive (or all three). Well, such was the case for the shellfish industry on Willapa Bay, that used a neurotoxin called carbaryl from the 1960s up until 2003 to control a small, native shrimp called ghost shrimp, which has the unfortunate tendency to burrow through the sand bars in the bay and suffocate the poor little oysters that are growing up there.

Problem is, carbaryl is not only deadly to ghost shrimp, but toxic to other crustaceans, fish (esp. salmon), small insects (e.g. bees), cats, and even humans. The EPA considers carbaryl “likely to be carcinogenic in humans” due to increased tumor production in mice.

According to Larry Warnberg, a former oyster grower in Nahcotta, “the emergence of burrowing shrimp as a pest coincided with the development of dredge-harvesting oysters at high tide, dragging a large basket to scoop up the oysters, ripping out submerged aquatic vegetation and oyster shell, leaving behind sand/mud, a perfect habitat for an invasion of burrowing shrimp.”

After telling me about his non-chemical methods of raising and harvesting oysters, Warnberg added, “In 1989 Fritzi and Edward [Cohen] purchased the idle and deteriorating Moby Dick Hotel, along with a few acres of adjacent tideland, which I helped them develop for off-bottom oyster culture, supplying their in-house restaurant. They became strong allies in the struggle to keep toxins out of the bay; we formed the Ad Hoc Coalition for Willapa Bay, which is still working on new pesticide issues. In 2003 we reached a Settlement Agreement with the Growers, after appealing their NPDES [National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System] carbaryl pesticide permit at the State Pollution Control Hearings Board [PCHB]. As a result, carbaryl was scheduled to be phased out over nine years, ending in 2012. The Agreement stipulates that the Growers would only pursue non-chemical growing methods, but they immediately obtained USDA funding to hire Kim Patten [Washington State University Extension agent] and others to find a pesticide alternative to carbaryl, resulting in the permitting of a neonicotinoid, imidicloprid. [Ecology] gave the Growers what they applied for on April 16 of this year, a 5-year NPDES permit.”

Now you might be familiar with this new chemical that the shellfish growers were going to switch to, or if not, to the general category of pesticides that the new chemical belongs to – the neonics, or neonicotinoids. These are the chemicals implicated in colony collapse disorder that has been decimating honeybee populations around the world. Banned in Europe, but still used in the U.S. as a general purpose pesticide in homes & gardens and on crops, imidacloprid has never been used in aquatic environments before, and the permit the shellfish growers in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor got was heavily dependent on monitoring. Growers worried the allowed doses would not be sufficient to kill the ghost shrimp, but they were hoping the new chemical would be as close to a “drop-in substitute” as possible for the old standby, carbaryl.

Well, in what can only be described as a series of unlikely events, the new permit regulating the use of imidacloprid on oyster beds in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor was revoked by Ecology at the suggestion of the Willapa-Grays Harbor Shellfish Growers Association (WGHSGA) on May 3, less than a month after the permit was approved. Spraying was due to begin in mid-May. This is after a multi-year research effort costing the industry and taxpayers lots of money, a multi-year permitting process led by Ecology, including many public hearings and the processing of hundreds of comments, and untold efforts of many environmental groups and individuals fighting the proposed permit before approval.

We may never know the whole story, but here’s a short summary of the more obvious and known events and press:

April 16: Ecology gives final approval to the permit.

April 24: Bloomberg Mazagine publishes a story titled Washington State Turns to Neurotoxins to Save Its Oysters – A pesticide from the group of chemicals linked to colony collapse disorder will now be sprayed in US waters. What could go wrong?

April 28: Danny Westneat’s column in the Seattle Times is published, titled (borrowing a little from the Bloomberg article) Disbelief over state plan to spray neurotoxin into oyster beds – The state has approved plans to spray in Willapa Bay a neurotoxic pesticide that has a warning right on the bottle: “Do not apply directly to water.” What could go wrong?

May 1: Respected Seattle weatherman Cliff Mass’ blog entry, titled Oyster victory: But there is more left to do, talks about the sudden reversal and Taylor Shellfish’s statement that they would not spray imidacloprid on their oyster beds in Willapa Bay after hearing loud and clear from their customers. Later that day, the WGHSGA released a statement that they would request the permit be revoked. (Also check out Mass’ blog entry, Oysters and Pesticides: The Washington State Department of Ecology Stumbles, published April 29.)

May 3: A story in the Seattle Times, State, growers scrap pesticide permit for oyster beds after outcry, tells of the delivery of a letter to Ecology from WGHSGA withdrawing their permit application, and of Ecology’s intention of withdrawing the permit the next day.

So, what the heck happened? It’s very rare for a NPDES permit to be withdrawn without a PCHB hearing and/or lawsuit, and the industry (and Ecology) had spent all that time and money to put together the permit. Well, according to some of the articles I read (including those above), it seems that some pretty important restauranteurs in the Puget Sound area were not amused to learn that their local oysters were soon to be sprayed with bee killer, and basically told the growers that they would stop buying their oysters if this spraying occurred.

I also learned from some closer to home sources that efforts were made locally to contact these very customers of the shellfish growers, the growers themselves, and Ecology, letting them know of the permit and its implications. Even local legislators were brought in to put pressure on Ecology.

It worked.

Which is the more amazing because most previous efforts to combat the shellfish industry here have been either unsuccessful or costly, or both. The most prominent example is the eradication of Spartina alterniflora, a cordgrass that proliferated in Willapa Bay (and all over the west coast) after being used to ship oyster seed in the early 1900s from the east coast. Warnberg tells the story from his perspective:

In ‘89 Monsanto launched a marketing program targeting Spartina, trying to sell its herbicide glyphosate for aquatic plants. It is known as Round-Up in agriculture; they renamed it Rodeo for aquatic use. They used some local scientists and The Nature Conservancy to demonize the grass, successfully getting it on the State Noxious Weed List, claiming it would cover all the tideflats eventually if unchecked. The oystermen signed on to their program, not because they felt threatened by Spartina, but because they were already using carbaryl for shrimp control, and didn’t want any enviros challenging pesticide use in their domain. So the Ad Hoc Coalition mounted a legal challenge of the herbicide permit at the PCHB. We went up against a gang of their lawyers, and lost our appeal. They sprayed some Rodeo, but it didn’t work very well. Turns out Spartina has a waxy cuticle, and the herbicide wasn’t absorbed enough to kill the grass. Monsanto lost that round – their product was ineffective.

A more potent herbicide was brought in, we challenged again, lost again, but delayed widespread spraying for eight years until 1998 when a major eradication effort was mounted. Over the next four years crews worked diligently to kill about 10,000 acres of Spartina. It was painful to watch, seemed like ripping the scab off a wound. Spartina was helping the bay heal from a century of abuse. In a few years the negative effects began to show: mud trapped by the Spartina meadows was released by storm waves, increasing turbidity, and covering clam and oyster beds. The decaying root mat, often two feet deep, rotted anaerobically, releasing toxic hydrogen sulfide gas, killing wild oyster larvae.

Continuing our chemistry lesson, you might have heard about this ubiquitous herbicide glyphosate recently, as it was classified last month by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization (WHO), as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Studies of its effects on aquatic organisms have been mixed. The controversy over glyphosate continues, as do the remnants of the Spartina eradication program in Willapa Bay and elsewhere.

The future of the local shellfish industry is uncertain, given the withdrawal of the imidaclopid permit, the effects of climate change, local opposition to their farming methods, and a stubborn reluctance to embrace new methods. Local groups are still stunned but happy about the latest developments, but this reporter is shocked by customers of the growers and others who say they didn’t know about the permit, the carbaryl and glyphosate spraying programs, or much of anything about the history of shellfish farming in Willapa Bay before May 2015. Which means they probably don’t know about the use of imazamox on clam beds in Willapa Bay to eradicate Japanese eelgrass (Zostera japonica), regulated by yet another 5-year NPDES permit that was approved by Ecology in 2014 (see the April 2014 issue of HIPFiSHmonthly for more).

Warnberg feels the tide is turning (pardon the pun) for the Willapa Bay ecosystem and its human inhabitants. “Please give the growers some credit, they had the foresight to see that the oyster-loving public is no longer willing to tolerate aquatic pesticide use. By relinquishing the NPDES permit they shifted course significantly, bolstering their frequent claim to be stewards of the Bay. Finally we can work together improving water quality and strengthening biodiversity in the estuary.” He added, “Times are a-changin’.” Indeed.

Note: In June, Oysterville Sea Farms (OSF) and its owner, Dan Driscoll, has a date in Pacific County court, where two of the main protagonists for spraying pesticides to rid oyster harvesting operations of pests, Dick and Brian Sheldon (featured in the Bloomberg article cited above, and the estranged uncle and cousin of Driscoll, respectively), will be testifying for the county. At stake, according to Driscoll, is the only publicly accessible restaurant on Willapa Bay, which serves oysters that Driscoll harvests, without spraying, from his beds on the bay. It should be good entertainment! Check it out: June 16 at 9 am in the South District Courtroom of the Pacific County Courthouse at 7013 Sandridge Road in Long Beach. You can read the story of OSF in the November 2013 issue of HIPFiSHmonthly, and we will carry the exciting result of the hearing in the next installment of this series on the shellfish industry on Willapa Bay.

 

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COLUMNS Weed Wars

Eating Aliens

Nutria
Nutria: tastes like chicken.

In the January 2012 edition of Weed Wars, titled Goats, Beavers & Carp, Oh My, I talked about the rebranding of Asian carp into silverfin, served as a delicacy in fancy restaurants as part of a campaign to cull their numbers. You see, the carp had escaped their original use – to eat algae at wastewater treatment plants – and gotten into the Mississippi River watershed, and all the way to the Great Lakes, and were causing all sorts of havoc. One of the poster children of invasive species.

Well, in the book Eating Aliens, by Jackson Landers, which I just finished reading, the author takes us on a tour of southeastern America, including some islands offshore, as he attempts to hunt, kill, butcher, prepare and eat several invasive species – including Asian carp. Overall, the message of the book is that many animal species that have become nuisances or worse actually taste pretty good, and with marketing, could join Asian carp – oops, silverfin – on your dinner table. Umm!

Many of the species Landers hunts in the book became invasive after being released by pet owners who couldn’t handle them anymore. That was the case with the spiny-tailed iguana, which now munches gardens on Gasparilla Island in Florida, in addition to the eggs of the native gopher tortoise, a keystone species of this area. Landers brings us with him as he navigates a maze of permits, local home owners, and laws to bring down some spiny-tails in a residential neighborhood, and then cook the meat of several with a marinade of lime, cilantro, tequila and some spices. A local hired on to help eradicate the spiny-tails described the taste as “like chicken with the texture of crab.” Umm, umm, iguana tacos!!

Next, Landers is on the hunt for green iguanas, cousins to the spiny-tails, in the Florida Keys. This species unfortunately likes the nicker nut, a plant that also happens to be the primary food source of the endangered Miami blue butterfly. The last Miami blue was seen a few years ago, on Bahia Honda Key, where the green iguana runs rampant. After taking down a few, Landers skins them (he says the hide would be a great material for making belts, books, knife sheaths and more), and sautéed the meat (“all in the tail and legs”) in olive oil and garlic into a ragout sauce. Verdict – “like its spiny-tailed cousin, green iguana turns out to taste pretty much like chicken.”

Landers next takes on wild pigs, “one of the most widespread invasive species in the world.” Brought along as a food source by colonists the world over, many of them either escaped captivity, or were allowed to go, and of course, they eat like pigs, and are quite a problem in many areas of the world. The bureaucratic hassles he encounters in trying to hunt pigs near his Virginia home are interesting, and this theme is carried over into other adventures Landers takes in the book. The insinuation is that if we’re to really take on these invaders, we will have to loosen the rules and allow hunters to do their job. Interestingly, Landers encounters nine-banded armadillos in this same area, and talks about their origin in the wild from a private zoo in Florida in 1924. 95% of the predation of sea turtle eggs in Florida is by this cute little critter. The taste – well, according to Landers, “it’s like a cross between chicken and pork.” As for the pigs, Landers says, “as food, wild pigs are superb.”

Lionfish
Lion Fish: the lionfish has it all – flavor, texture, environmental responsibility, and a dash of romance.

Lionfish are next. These poisonous-spined, hardy, aptly-named sea creatures have few predators, and are really tough to hunt (you have to spear them!). Landers does get some, but almost drowns in the process. Lionfish got into the wild by being blown away from a Florida home by Hurricane Andrew. Landers goes to Eleuthera in the Bahamas to find them, and has a great time. Cooked with a little olive oil and lemon pepper, these babies tasted good. “The lionfish has it all: flavor, texture, environmental responsibility, and a dash of romance,” says the author. I’ve got to get some!!!

On to Louisiana and nutria – beaver-like rodents that are a big problem there. After a maze of problems with the bureaucrats and difficult hunting conditions, Landers and friends bag a few nutria, cook them up with some Cajun spices, and voila, “it was indistinguishable from chicken.”

I’ll leave you with a large and small animal from the book’s menu – the giant Canada goose, and the Chinese mystery snail. Canada geese are a problem in the Pacific Northwest as well as the east coast, where Landers was hunting them. They have stopped migrating, and do a number on the grass of lawns, parkland and open areas by water. In Seattle, where I used to live, they were at least talking about gassing them in parks to get rid of them. Well, contrary to popular belief, according to Landers, Canada goose meat is delicious, when prepared correctly, and could be a great way to keep their numbers in check in cities and elsewhere. And there’s a bonus to hunting geese – their down is excellent for pillows and parkas!

The book ends with a chapter on Chinese mystery snails. These little critters were introduced into the wild as forage for flathead catfish, a non-native also, who decided they didn’t like the snails. These Asian invaders outperform the native snails and are wiping them out in their native habitats across America. “They remind me a lot of slightly rubbery New England-style fried clams or of fake scallops. These snails aren’t going to be 4-star cuisine, but after being tenderized, fried, and served with tartar sauce, they’re quite good,” is Landers’ review of the taste. Snails and chips!

I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for some of the invasive species discussed in Eating Aliens. The book has more, and it’s all part of the growing invasivore movement. If you can’t beat ‘em, eat ‘em!

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COLUMNS Weed Wars

An Ode to Alder

An Ode to Alder

It has been brought to my attention that there was recently a massive alder kill near Naselle, caused by the application of herbicide to eradicate knotweed near the banks of a stream. To add insult to injury, evidently tansy ragwort, another so-called noxious weed, replaced the some of the knotweed killed in the attack. And most of the knotweed survived.

Now some of you are probably saying “good riddance” to the alders that were sacrificed in the name of invasive species destruction. Alders are considered noxious weeds themselves by many in the area, though they are not on any official lists that would doom them to oblivion. They certainly have some of the characteristics of invasive species, such as the ability to take over a field or garden, but they are native to the Pacific Northwest, so they can’t be invasive, by definition.

My son brought home a red alder (Alnus rubra) sapling 6 years ago that he got at school from Weyerhaeuser. I planted it in our backyard, which I was converting from a lawn with a treed border to a (mostly) native forest. This 10-inch twig is now a 30-foot (give or take a few) tree, dwarfing most of the other trees in the yard.

Not only did this tree grow amazingly fast, but it seems to have spawned a small forest of alders. Now it could be that the younger alders now growing in my yard came from neighboring properties, or just from birds, but I think our original alder is probably the proud mama and papa. So I can vouch for the alder’s ability to grow and spread quickly.

But I don’t have a plan for eradication of my alders.

In fact, I love alders. They seem to me the perfect deciduous tree for the garden. They require almost no care, grow quickly, have beautiful leaves and structure, and most importantly, fix nitrogen in the soil, supplying fertilizer not only to themselves, but to neighboring plants.

A quick look at the Wikipedia entry for alders gave me more reasons to love them. The catkins (fruit) of some alder species are edible (though bitter), and rich in protein. The wood of certain alder species is often used to smoke various food items, especially salmon and other seafood (I still fondly remember eating my son’s catch from a fishing trip some years back after it was prepared by a neighbor and cooked over alder planks).

It turns out most of the pilings that form the foundation of Venice were made from alder trees.

Alder bark contains the anti-inflammatory salicin, which is metabolized into salicylic acid in the body. Native Americans accordingly used red alder bark to treat poison oak, insect bites, and skin irritations. Blackfeet Indians used an infusion made from the bark of red alder to treat lymphatic disorders and tuberculosis. Recent clinical studies have verified that red alder contains betulin and lupeol, compounds shown to be effective against a variety of tumors.

(I particularly like this one.) Electric guitars, most notably the Fender Stratocaster and Fender Telecaster, have been built with alder bodies since the 1950s.

And of course, alder is used in making furniture and cabinets and other woodworking products.

Red alder is harvested in Oregon as a commercial hardwood, and according to the OSU Wood Innovation Center, is about 60% of the hardwood inventory in the state. So others see the value of this amazing tree too.

On my weekday walks to and from work, I get to first pass a lot down the street that is being colonized by alder (with some Scotch broom), and then the woods that line Irving Avenue on the east side of town. These woods seem to be predominantly alder, after logging in the 90s and the recent Great Gale of 2007. You can see conifers growing up in between the alders, biding their time until the fast-growing deciduous trees die off and allow them to dominate once again (if we let them). It’s a beautiful place, born of the landslides of the 1950s, and I hope we have the foresight to let it evolve in peace.

Well, our amazing Indian summer is bound to come to a close sometime soon, and I promised my wife that I will prune the alders in our back yard when their leaves are gone. I won’t have anything big enough for a Stratocaster or a chair, but maybe I can use some of the wood to smoke some salmon. Alder – the gift that keeps on giving!

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COLUMNS Weed Wars

There’s A Journal For Everything

“Invasive species – plants, animals, and microbes introduced to regions beyond their native range – carry a global price tag of $1.4 trillion dollars. They are responsible for the loss of natural resources and biodiversity, damages to infrastructure, and an uptick in infectious diseases.”

The above paragraph comes from an article in the Columbia Basin Bulletin, entitled Ability Weakening To Prevent Invasive Species And Predict Impacts to Ecosystems, Infrastructure, posted to the bulletin’s website on August 24. The article is a review of research into the efficacy of invasion biology hypotheses, published in the on-line journal NeoBiota (http://www.pensoft.net/journals/neobiota/), under the title Support for major hypotheses in invasion biology is uneven and declining, authored by Jonathan M. Jeschke, Lorena Gómez Aparicio, Sylvia Haider, Tina Heger, Christopher J. Lortie, Petr Py ek and David L. Strayer (the Bulletin article had no attributed author, so we’ll assume their editorial staff wrote it). I didn’t see any mention of $1.4 trillion in the NeoBiota article, and a casual look at a reference that purported to know the economic damage in the U.S. of invasive species put the price tag at $120 billion a year here.

We are entering the election silly season, where ridiculous statistics are quoted as fact all the time, so maybe the Bulletin quote comes from one of the candidates for office somewhere. But it seems completely arbitrary to me, and since there is no reference, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to find out if they’re right or not. It certainly sounds like a lot of money, and the effects of these creatures sound really bad.

So, words of caution – don’t take everything you read, hear or see for granted. Do your research, and try to find the sources that are responsible for all these assertions.

Anyway, back to NeoBiota. As readers of this column know, I have featured the work of David Theodoropolous, who argues in his book, Invasion Biology – Critique of a Pseudoscience, that many of the tenets of invasion biology are not backed up by data. Well, along comes an article in a journal – which supposedly means that serious people with PhDs are studying and obtaining grants from scientific institutions to further the science, because that’s what journals are for – that is, according to its website, “advancing research on alien species and biological invasions,” that argues that the tenets of invasion biology, yes, you guessed it, are not backed up by the data!

Now reading the other articles in NeoBiota, you’d never get the impression that invasion biology was a pseudoscience.

The articles are well-written, heavily referenced, and use technology very well to enable readers to instantly see and go to on-line references. The authors are legitimate scientists, and the journal follows all the conventions that I’ve seen in other scholarly journals. Which usually means that the science the journal is talking about is real.

With the proliferation of publishing that electronic tools allow, we’ve seen an amazing diversity of journals for just about any topic you can think of. One of my favorites is the Journal of Irreproducible Results, founded by two scientists in Israel in the 1950s, which according to its website (jir.com) “offers spoofs, parodies, whimsies, burlesques, lampoons, and satires. JIR appeals to scientists, doctors, science teachers, and word-lovers.

JIR targets hypocrisy, arrogance, and ostentatious sesquipedalian circumlocution. We’re a friendly escape from the harsh and the hassle. JIR makes you feel good :-).” This journal was launched by scientists for scientists, and obviously has a following.

NeoBiota was also launched by scientists for scientists. “Pensoft Publishers [publisher of NeoBiota] was conceived during the Christmas/New Year festivities of 1993-94, when we, Penev and Golovatch, with families, were enjoying Bulgarian wine and food at the southern Bulgarian resort Ognyanovo. It was then that the idea came to us, that we should cooperate in a publishing venture – active scientists publishing for other active scientists! It occurred to us that, in the publishing area of environmental/life sciences wherein lay our expertise, there was clearly an empty niche begging occupation.” (from the NeoBiota website) Well, a few years down the line, this Bulgarian enterprise is very much alive and growing. “In less than 10 years, Pensoft has become the leading Publisher and Bookseller of natural science books in Eastern Europe and Russia. As booksellers and agents, we have expanded our areas of interest from Zoology, Botany, Earth and Environmental Sciences, to encompass also Mathematics, Physics, History, Archaeology, Linguistics, Business, Finance, etc. Hence, much of the very often, mostly unwillingly, neglected treasure represented by Russian or Bulgarian, or other East European/Balkan literature in various branches of natural, medical and humanitarian sciences, has been opened to the western reader and has become accessible due to our efforts.” (again, from the website) Well, it’s free, and is willing to publish an article that calls into question the whole basis for the journal. I don’t know about you, but I’m subscribing today. Happy reading!

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COLUMNS Weed Wars

Are We Just LAZY?

The cacophony started a little after 8 o’clock this morning. A lone weed whacker, or hedge trimmer, or some other power tool, got me out of bed to do my gardening chores a little earlier than I had planned.

On my way to the community garden plot a few blocks from my house, the chorus grew louder, with basses and tenors singing different grinding tunes. The soprano bird songs came through only at times.

Having watered my little vegetable plot, I headed home to deal with the garden there. On the way, I saw one neighbor mowing his lawn (which I think he mowed just the other day) and heard several weed whackers singing their tunes in other yards that were just out of sight. As I approached the road to my house, I heard the dual sounds of a weed whacker and the ultimate in power tools for the lazy, the leaf blower. Yes, a couple of guys from the city were completing the job that the Blue Monster (what I call the giant lawn mower that shaves the roadsides in Astoria a few times each summer) started yesterday. Talk about overkill. This oversized killing machine mows down everything in its path, but can’t really cut the grass, especially on hillsides. So it is trailed by mere mortals wielding those much better-sized power tools to finish the job.

As I watched these guys tidy up the steep roadside leading to my house, I wondered why they, or the Blue Monster, for that matter, were there in the first place. At the very least, the leaf blower, the most polluting (including noise) of any power tool on earth, could have been replaced with a broom. The capital cost savings alone would make the couple minutes extra time to sweep the grass cuttings well worth it. The city worker wouldn’t have to wear headphones, wouldn’t be subjected to nasty pollution, and wouldn’t have to carry the heavy blower on his back. I can see a savings in health care costs for the worker and the city.

A friend recently sent me a video of a contest between a lawn mower and a scythe-wielding guy, who beat the mechanized grass cutter by a hair (or is that a blade?) in cutting down a rectangular patch of grass of equal size to his competitor. I’ve seen my friend scythe his field in near silence with spectacular results. Yes, it’s hard work, but it keeps him in shape, gets great results, doesn’t contribute to global warming, and most importantly, doesn’t wake up the neighbors or upset his animals.

Our society has advanced much in the last few centuries, led by the use of fossil fuels to power our tools, transportation and houses. But I look at the drive to destroy vegetation as one arena where the use of power tools and chemical poisons (based on fossil fuels) may be viewed as ridiculous overkill, literally.

Every spring and summer, tons of chemicals are applied by the sides of roads in most places in an effort to kill grass or other “invasive species”, in the guise of fire aversion. If chemicals aren’t used, typically the roadsides are ridded of fuel by mechanical means. Not much in the way of science can be used to justify these activities. It’s just the way we’ve always done it (really?). I’d like to see a study that shows that this huge expenditure of time, effort and fossil fuels really does prevent fires any more than either nothing or better planning of roads and their surroundings.

The epitome of this sort of thinking is what I’ve also seen recently on my way to the community garden. A neighbor in a mask was spraying pesticide on the concrete by his house to rid the cracks of grass. As I’ve commented before in this column, all it would take to rid his cracks of their green inhabitants would be bending down and picking them out.

Recently logged forests are sprayed by plane to rid them of every possible plant before replanting the one species that makes the logging company (and the local government) money. Groundskeeping companies carry rakes, shovels and brooms, but never use them. Grass is cut with a riding lawn mower as soon as it gets above a half an inch.

Is it a love of power tools (or just power), or are we just lazy?

The weather has really been nice in the area the last few weeks. If there is some plant or insect in your garden that you can’t live with, there are so many tools that will make the job easy and don’t require electrical or gas power. Use them or your own hands and muscle to get the job done, or if you’re really lazy, just sit back on the lawn chair, drink of choice in hand, and let nature do its thing.

I kind of like that last choice. Go nature!

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COLUMNS Weed Wars

GODZILLA Invades Oregon!

What a great plot for a B movie! Here comes Godzilla – that irradiated lizard that terrified Japanese crowds in the great movies and TV series starting in the 1950s – floating on a fishing dock headed straight for Agate Beach. Scientists, the military, and concerned citizens battle the great beast, and seem to kill it. But lurking in the water are more Japanese monsters, ready to threaten our way of life, and life itself here in peaceful Oregon. Anyone coming in contact with flotsam with Japanese letters on it should immediately contact the authorities, and get the heck out of there, before they are attacked, and made to carry a terrible disease into the cities of our peaceful land.

Far-fetched, you say. But wait, something like this scenario is actually happening. Here’s the June 11 headline from DOGOnews, a news website for kids: Japan’s Tsunami Debris Drags ‘Alien’ Creatures To Oregon. And here’s part of the article (by Meera Dolasia):

When the powerful tsunami that devastated portions of Japan on March 11th, 2011 receded, it carried with it all kinds of debris – ranging from over 200,000 buildings complete with belongings, to countless cars. Among the biggest were four dock floats – the size of freight train boxcars, that were ripped off intact from the fishing port of Misawa.

One the barges was recovered shortly after off a nearby island. However, the other three were not seen until this week, when one suddenly washed ashore on the white sands of Oregon’s Agate Beach. Not only had the 165-ton concrete and steel dock made an astonishing 5,000-mile journey across the world, but it had also carried with it a diverse community of organisms ranging from algae to mussels, crabs and even starfish.

The problem with the arrival of these unexpected visitors is that they are all native to Japan. If allowed to live, they could threaten the local species and even topple the existing ecosystem irreversibly. In order to prevent the aliens from taking over, the scientists had to scrape the dock clean, sterilize it with torches and even bury the one and half tons of material that was clinging to it, above a high-water line.

While that averted this particular threat, others may not be as easy to get rid of. Wakame, a species of seaweed that was previously found only in Japan, has now been spotted in Southern California, as has a new species of algae. In addition to that, a never-been-seen-before tiny species of crab is making rapid inroads around New York, whilst a new kind of starfish has been spotted all along the US coast. What other surprises will the after-effects of the Japanese tsunami bring? Only time will tell!

See, the italicized sentence above tells kids to kill the invader! Left alive, it could kill everyone! Told you it’s not so far fetched…

Still don’t believe me? Well, here’s the first couple paragraphs from an article published on KOIN6’s website on June 15:

Local, state and federal officials met Friday in Cannon Beach to discuss plans for coordinating cleanup efforts regarding Japan tsunami debris that has washed up on Oregon’s beaches and coastal waters.

“The dock that washed up near Newport is a real wakeup call,” said U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), who led the work session. “We expect more and we don’t know what’s coming.”

See? More is coming. Told ya.

Of all sources, The Huffington Post (Jonathan Cooper) reports on June 28:

Find a boxcar-sized dock on the beach, or a soccer ball with Japanese symbols? The state of Oregon wants to hear from you. Just dial 211.

Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber announced the hotline at a news conference Thursday, saying it’s an easy way for residents and visitors to report Japanese tsunami debris. Beginning Friday, the hotline will be staffed during business hours and will take recorded messages at other times.

“I just want to make sure that Oregonians understand that we are on top of this,” Kitzhaber said.

The hotline will allow the public to help keep Oregon’s beaches clean and return any missing Japanese property to its rightful owners, the governor said.

He also said Brig. Gen. Mike Caldwell, deputy director of the Oregon National Guard and interim director of the state’s Office of Emergency Management, will be responsible for coordinating the response and cleanup efforts among state agencies.

“It’s important to quickly collect and throw away tsunami debris to keep beaches clean and prevent the introduction of invasive species,” Caldwell said. Officials are asking that people not take home debris to keep as souvenirs, but they say there’s little chance of the debris being harmful to human health.

They always say that when there’s real danger. We’re dust. So, if you spot any sign of Godzilla, get out your cell phone and dial 211, and get the hell out of there, before the invading monster destroys you and everything else in this great country. Don’t worry – our military will protect you.

“Oh no! I think it’s still alive, sir!”

Or not.

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COLUMNS Weed Wars

An Inconvenient Species

u_cinerea_lg_j
Urosalpinx cinerea shells collected on San Francisco Bay shores, showing different amounts of wear and bleaching. Photo by Andrew N. Cohen.

If you’re a shellfish grower in Willapa Bay, the Willapa Bay Oyster Reserve Advisory Board needs you! According to a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) press release from late May, the advisory board was “established by the state legislature in 2001, and advises the department on issues related to oyster reserve management, growing operations, and research in Willapa Bay.” Be sure to get your applications in by June 15. For more info, call Bruce Kauffman of WDFW at (360) 665-4166.

So what would you be doing on this prodigious board, you might ask. Well, recently the board decided to hire Dr. Steve Sylvester from Washington State University in Vancouver to find a way to eradicate oyster drills – snails that drill their way into the shells of oysters and other shellfish and eat them. Two kinds of oyster drill exist in Willapa Bay: the Atlantic (Urosalpinx cinerea) and Japanese (Ocinebrellus inornatus). Both species were inadvertently introduced along with imported oysters, brought into the state to replace the over-harvested native Olympia oyster. And both are examples of aquatic nuisance species.

According to the Aquatic Nuisance Species (ANS) Task Force website, ANS are “non-indigenous species that threaten the diversity or abundance of native species, the ecological stability of infested waters, or any commercial, agricultural, aquacultural or recreational activities dependent on such waters. ANS include non-indigenous species that may occur within inland, estuarine or marine waters and that presently or potentially threaten ecological processes and natural resources. In addition to the severe and permanent damage to the habitats they invade, ANS also adversely affect individuals by hindering economic development, preventing recreational and commercial activities, decreasing the aesthetic value of nature, and serving as vectors of human disease.”

Our little snails meet the ANS definition, since they weren’t around here a couple hundred years ago, and they threaten the local oyster aquaculture industry. Sylvester claims that the oyster drill snails are “costing oystermen millions of dollars in Washington State.”

The ANS Task Force is an intergovernmental organization dedicated to preventing and controlling aquatic nuisance species, and implementing the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act (NANPCA) of 1990. NANPCA was set up mainly to combat the spread of the zebra mussel in the Great Lakes region, but also mentions several other ANS in its Congressional findings section that “are likely to spread quickly to most other waters in North America if action is not taken promptly to control their spread”, including mitten crab, green crab, brown mussel, Eurasian watermilfoil, hydrilla, water hyacinth, and water chestnut.

Green no more. Satellite photo courtesy of Google Maps.

NANPCA was amended in 2000, after passage of the National Invasive Species Act (NISA) in 1996. It mandates the preparation of state ANS management plans, and both Oregon and Washington have them. They mainly deal with education campaigns to prevent boaters and shipping operators from bringing ANS to our coastal and inland waters. But along with NISA, NANPCA has brought resources into the Pacific Northwest to continue our battle with other species of life that are very inconvenient to local industry, agriculture, aquaculture and many of the rest of us real working people who depend on the environment to live.

Now, if you want to see the ravages of a real invasion, check out the land behind Les Schwab adjacent to Highway 101 in Warrenton. Employing giant tree-eating machines, the premier invasive species on Earth has managed to wipe out a native ecosystem in a matter of days. From the ashes of an ancient coastal woodland wetland comes…

…a dry, flattened, graveled property, “ready for sale”. And we’re worried about a tiny snail? Don’t forget to get those applications in!

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COLUMNS Weed Wars

A Curse of Furze

Question: What’s just like Scotch broom but thorny, and is public enemy #1 of conservationists on the Oregon Coast?

Answer: Common gorse, whin, Irish furze, Irish hedge or Ulex europaeus.

Gorse is on the New invaders in the North Coast Cooperative Weed Management Area list which means it’s coming here, and is trying to establish itself along the coast in southern Washington as well. It’s widespread in the southern Oregon coastal counties, up to Lincoln County. The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) designates gorse as a class B (“a weed of economic importance which is regionally abundant, but which may have limited distribution in some counties”) and T (“a priority noxious weed designated by the Oregon State Weed Board as a target for which the ODA will develop and implement a statewide management plan”) noxious weed. Part of the statewide plan for gorse involves the development of biocontrol agents similar to those for Scotch broom (see the June 2011 Weed Wars column).

Oregon State Parks runs a blog called Oregon Coast Gorse Control and Eradication (http://oregongorse.wordpress.com/), where the current top post is a video showing a hummingbird nest in gorse! The blog also contains a post about a recent workshop on gorse, which included a field visit to two gorse restoration sites: Bandon Dunes McKee Preserve (a golf course by the beach!) and Bullards Beach State Park. Mark Tilton, a Florence resident who attended the workshop, said that the Bandon Dunes course used to be a gorse thicket. He was surprised that the course builders were able to remove the gorse successfully. Evidently, they used herbicides, burning, bulldozing, and lots of money to accomplish the task.

So what’s so bad about this plant that the state is devoting huge resources to try to control it? I asked that question to Phillip Johnson, executive director of Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition and director of their CoastWatch program.

His respone: “I can say with everyone else who has ever encountered it that it completely excludes you from anyplace it grows. It is deeply saddening to see it choking stream valleys on the south coast, blocking hillsides, turning trails into ugly mown strips lest they be lost entirely. I have particularly hated to see how the trail out to Blacklock Point in Curry County, one of the most beautiful spots on the Oregon coast, has turned from a sylvan path through a native forest to a tunnel through gorse. CoastWatch plans to develop a gorse-tracking project to trace its spread and perhaps provide alerts that enable the line to be held before it spreads into new areas.”

He continued, “Once it gets established, trying to remove it is an industrial activity. Removing it requires a scorched-earth approach, bulldozing, burning, then covering the area for a long time to kill off sprouts.” Johnson indicated that herbicides were not particularly effective against gorse, but they are used.

And then he got to the crux of the matter. “From an anthropocentric standpoint, it excludes us from the landscape where it grows, once it really takes hold. It is viciously spiny – worse to try to push your way through than blackberries or roses. And it grows very densely. Once it occupies a place, we lose our ability to roam the landscape. And, oh yes, it is highly flammable. The city of Bandon was burned more or less to the ground in the ‘30s due to gorse-fueled fire. One of these days it is going to go up in flames again.”

So, where is gorse from, and how did it get here? Well, the Oregon Historical Society’s Oregon History Project (http://ohs.org/education/oregonhistory/) has the answer. Its page on the 1936 Bandon fire tells us that George Bennett, founder of Bandon, brought some Irish furze with him as an ornamental shrub, which soon became a common sight in the new town. On September 26, 1936, a forest fire was driven by a sudden shift in the wind towards Bandon. Ignited by the fire, the town’s abundant gorse exploded into an inferno. The town was destroyed, and ten people lost their lives.

There are some references to people trying to use gorse oil to make biodiesel fuel, but it hasn’t been very successful. The major uses of the plant seem to be as living fencing and livestock fodder. Unfortunately, there is no write-up in Scott’s Invasive Plant Medicine on gorse. It’s evidently used as an anti-depressive and anti-stress medicine for humans and horses in various essential oil lotions.

I’ll leave you with this thought: What’s so bad about a plant that excludes humans from the area it grows in? I can think of some places that gorse would be very useful…

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COLUMNS Weed Wars

Anekeitaxonomy and Alternative Environmentalism

Matt Chew is an assistant research professor at the Arizona State University Center for Biology & Society in Tempe. His specialty is anekeitaxonomy, a word he admitted to me he made up. It’s the study of where species belong (anekei is Greek for belongs), or where we think they belong, and how they got there, and how we have thought about it over time. The easy word for it is natural history. Chew is a critic of invasion biology, which puts him at odds with many of his colleagues in academia, and much of the mainstream political and economic establishment that have promoted the idea that certain species of plants and animals don’t belong where they currently are, and must be exterminated, before they “take over” and destroy everything. Which made him a perfect candidate to speak at the invasive species panel of the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) in March at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

The panel, called Weeding the World: The Destructive War on Invasive Species, was a follow-up to one called Environmentalism Gone Awry from last year’s PIELC, and featured Chew and a return visit from Syd Singer, an independent scientist from Hawaii.

Entitled Natives & Aliens – Not Even A Good Idea, Chew’s talk was originally called Law, History, Language and the Failing Paradigm of Biological Invasions, but he thought the title might scare away some prospective attendees. Showing slides of some local places from different perspectives, Chew got the audience thinking about how our concept of place fits into the real world. He went on to show slides illustrating the concept of belonging, such as a toolkit with a certain size screwdriver missing, and this exact tool laying near it. The concept of dynamism was relayed with slides of tectonic plates, wind, ocean currents, international air traffic, and cargo and freight routes. Nativeness was discussed in the context of the definitions of Darwin’s time, which are still used today. Putting all this together, Chew showed a photo of his backyard, which contains plants whose origin and distribution “is certainly a mystery to them.” Being rooted in one place, the plant has no concept of nativeness, nor even of the place they occupy, except that that’s where they are, he explained.

Blaming a plant for where it happens to grow is a personification, Chew told me, and certainly not a basis for an ecological assessment. Yet invasion biologists and ecologists do just that, he said.

Chew left his audience thinking about place, belonging, dynamism and nativeness, and he told me that discussions ensued after the session with many of the attendees. The message of the talk could be summed up with a saying from Alexander von Humboldt, the naturalist, explorer and philosopher: “human history is an overlay to natural history.”

Singer’s talk, another one crafted to make the audience think about accepted norms, introduced the concept of alternative environmentalism. In a brilliant and insightful set of analogies, Singer set forth what could be a new movement.

A medical anthropologist, Singer is co-director (with his wife Soma Grismaijer) of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease. Stretching the concept to include the environment, Singer talked about human health as analogous to environmental health, invasion biology to germ theory, and alternative environmentalism to alternative medicine.

“After all, our bodies are an ecosystem, too. I realized that the medical model is being applied to environmental healthcare, treating invasive species like germs invading our bodies. The chemical industry seems to define the approach to both. So I proposed drawing on alternative medicine as a model for an alternative environmentalism, emphasizing the strengthening of health over the treatment of disease, and avoiding chemicals (antibiotics = pesticides) whenever possible,” he told me afterwards.

It’s fitting that 50 years after Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, exposing the effects of pesticides on eagles and other animals and starting the modern environmental movement in the U.S., here comes along Singer, exposing the fact that environmentalists now support applying pesticides to kill plants and animals (supposedly in order to save others).

“Hopefully, there will be a shift in the environmental focus from weeding the world to healing the planet,” Singer says. Sounds good to me.

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COLUMNS Weed Wars

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 http://milliontrees.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/professor-arthur-shapiros-comment-on-the-environmental-impact-report-for-the-natural-areas-program/ 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!

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COLUMNS Weed Wars

Goats, Beavers & Carp, Oh My!

Goats eating scotch broomIt’s hard to keep up with the world of invasive species, but I thought I’d start off 2012 with some stories I’ve been reading and listening about lately. Let’s start with goats. A blurb in the current National Geographic (which my son reads religiously), sent me on a search mission, and I found out that goats are being used as weed eaters all over the place. Ewe4ic Ecological Services, a company that rents out goats in Colorado and Wyoming, has been hired to take care of all the following weeds (in alphabetical order, no less): Canada thistle, cheat grass, common tansy, common mullein, dalmatian toad flax, dandelions, downy brome, Indian tobacco, knapweed, kudzu, larkspur, leafy spurge, loco weed, musk thistle, oxide daisy, plumeless thistle, poison hemlock, purple loosestrife, scotch thistle, spotted knapweed, sweet clover, yellow star thistle and yucca. Goats also eat blackberry leaves, ivy (including the poisonous kind), Scotch broom, knotweed, morning glory, holly, nettle, and horsetail. My friend Christopher says that his goat will chow down on blackberry leaves from branches he prepares for her (to avoid the goat eating rhododendron, which is poisonous!). And a real bonus for this time of year – goats love Christmas trees! They’ll strip them bare and tear off the bark for dessert. The closest cud-chewing invasive weed solution is Vegetative Management Services, Inc. run by Lewis Cochran, in Vernonia. Give him a call at 503-730-7065 for help with your weed problem.

BeaverOn to beavers. In last month’s NatGeo (the magazine version), I found a blurb illustrating a classic invasive species story. Turns out that in 1946, Argentina imported about 50 (funny how different sources give different numbers here) beavers from Canada to Tierra del Fuego, an archipelago on the southern tip of South America, to start, of all things, a fur trade. The business never flourished, but the forgotten beavers did. They now number over 100,000, and have been busy (pun intended) altering the landscape. With no natural predators to check their advance, they’ve crossed the border into Chile (Tierra del Fuego is divided between Argentina and Chile), swum to the mainland, and laid waste to patches of forest. Christopher Anderson of the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity in Santiago, Chile says, “The change in the forested portion of this biome is the largest landscape-level alteration in the Holocene — that is, approximately 10,000 years.” (I love quotes like this that ignore human-caused changes.) Local authorities are looking into eradication (beavers) and restoration (forest). The eradication would be over the largest area ever, “by an order of magnitude,” according to Josh Donlan, director of Advanced Conservation Strategies, an Idaho firm working on the program. So, get ready for a sharp drop in the price of beaver pelts! Maybe that fur trade will pay after all! Check out Nature 453, 968 (2008), and a BBC News article called Argentina’s great beaver plague for more great quotes and factoids.

SilverfinAnd now, to finish up, how ’bout a nice entrée of silverfin? (I first heard about this one listening to a podcast of Living on Earth entitled Let Them Eat Carp!) Yes, the venerable Asian carp, scourge of the Great Lakes, has been officially renamed and branded as silverfin, and is being marketed as the latest chic seafood dish. Like the Patagonian toothfish, which was obscure until the Chileans marketed it as Chilean sea bass (it’s now so popular that Greenpeace says it may be commercially extinct in less than 5 years), there has been a movement to solve the Asian (or silver or flying) carp problem by eating the highly invasive species. Silver carp were imported to North America in the 1970s to control algae growth in aquaculture and municipal wastewater treatment facilities. They escaped from captivity soon after their importation, and now are rampant in the Mississippi River watershed, threatening to enter the Great Lakes, home to a multi-million dollar fishing industry. Chef Philippe Parola, founder of Silverfin Craze, describes the taste of Asian carp (whoops, silverfin) as “a cross between crabmeat and scallops!” Bon appétit!

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COLUMNS Weed Wars

Better Killing Through Chemistry

On my way into town the other day, I spotted someone spraying the sidewalk. No, not hosing down the sidewalk – spraying it with pesticide. It appeared the person was trying to kill the grass and other “weeds” that were popping through the cracks in the pavement. I thought about going over and asking why they would be spraying in this season, or at all, but just kept going.

This was not an isolated incident. I remember a few years ago when my son was a student at Lewis & Clark Elementary School, I noticed someone spraying the area around home plate on the adjacent baseball fields (to eliminate small patches of grass). I mentioned this to some people at the school, and they just said I was now in a rural area (having moved from Seattle a few months before), where things like pesticide spraying were part of the mix. I said I was worried about the kids “eating the dirt” as they slid into home, and ingesting some of the pesticides. No problem, they said.

While other cities have banned pesticide use in and around schools, parks and other public places, we go on applying here. And a good portion of pesticide use is to kill “noxious weeds”, another definition of invasive species.

According to Sunny Jones, former coordinator of the Pesticide Use Reporting System (PURS) at the Oregon Department of Agriculture, pesticide use numbers in Oregon are too inaccurate to quote. We do know that metam-sodium and glyphosate are the top two active ingredients in these pesticides. Funding to resume tracking pesticide use in Oregon is probably not forthcoming, according to Jones.

Being Halloween as I write this, it’s appropriate to talk about pesticides – they’re really scary. Rachel Carson gave the public at large the first accounting of the dangers of pesticides in her 1962 book Silent Spring. The evidence of the down side of pesticides has been mounting ever since. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise – pesticides are meant to kill. Unfortunately, they tend to not only kill the species that they are meant to, but often take others as well (sort of like by-catch in the fishing industry). Residues on foods that we and other animals eat can be harmful, especially to the frail and young. But we keep on spraying.

Even if you believe that the “weeds” (plants you don’t like) on your property are deserving of death, there are more environmentally safe ways of doing the dirty deed. The website (http://www.pesticide.org/) of the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP) lists several alternatives to pesticide use in your garden, including flame weeding, goats, mowing, barriers, and even vinegar. A paper published in the Journal of Pesticide Reform (NCAP publication, no longer in print) in 1998 drew some general conclusions from experience with leafy spurge and yellow starthistle, two noxious weeds found throughout the Pacific Northwest. These included: not panicking, identifying and eliminating the causes of weed problems, encouraging desirable vegetation and using site-appropriate techniques. The paper concluded, “Noxious weed control does not have to mean widespread use of toxic chemicals. Alternative techniques can successfully reduce weed populations and encourage vegetation whose presence is desirable, thus reducing or eliminating the need for repeated treatment. Implementing non-chemical strategies and reducing the herbicide dependence of noxious weed programs provides long-term and cost-effective weed management.”

This past summer, I weeded the path and the adjacent soil next to my house, and planted a nice little garden. How did I get the grass out of the cracks? On my hands and knees, using only my gloved fingers and a hori-hori. It took several days of 2-3 hour sessions, but it worked fine, and I got some exercise and sun in the process. And the weeding part didn’t cost me a dime.

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COLUMNS Weed Wars

Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?

Our featured invasive species this month fits the definition to a T. It is not native. It is growing out of control in prime habitat. Its growth prevents native, endangered species from thriving. It causes economic damage to certain sectors of the local economy. It has resisted all attempts at control and eradication.

Like so many invasive species, our featured culprit avoids control and eradication by posing as an economic boon to certain segments of the human population. For instance, this week two wolves (native) were shot for killing cows (invasive) on an Oregon farm (featuring many invasive species such as European grasses, agricultural crops of many kinds, and other farm animals). The news reports said that others of this same wolf pack were killed earlier this year for the same offense. That’s what you get for trying to control an invasive species!

How about grass (no not the THC-containing variety, though it’s also invasive in most of the U.S.)? Good guess. The grasses that we plant here as lawns, golf courses, open spaces and such are mostly invaders. Once planted, they are tenacious. They can lay dormant in times of drought, heat, cold and other adverse conditions, only to sprout at the first opportunity. But we’ve domesticated several of the varieties (i.e. wheat, barley, etc.), and these and the grasses used for lawns are exempt from our invasive species laws.

How about cats? Dogs? Deer? Elk? These species fit the definition, and definitely cause lots of damage. Hawaii is thinking of declaring domestic cats an invasive species and coming up with plans for their eradication. You see, they prey on native, endangered birds. Same here. (But we don’t hear calls for listing domestic cats here, yet). Most household dogs are not native, and they eat just about anything. They scare native species, and their poop is a toxic mess that we have enacted laws to prevent its accumulation. And deer are everywhere in these parts. Not all are native, and of course they cause death and economic damage when they get in your car’s way. Elk are native, but cause some of the same problems. Though protected, they are constantly shot at. But no, we’re not talking about these animals either.

Remember, we’ve exempted humans from consideration in this column (see “New Beginnings” in the May 2011 HIPFiSHmonthly). Good guess, though.

Here’s a hint: think outside the box…

Still can’t guess? Well, here’s the last hint. All the species we talked about so far are either animal or vegetable. With a slight stretch of imagination, we can include mineral species in our invasive species lexicon.  Especially if they exhibit the same or similar characteristics as their living cousins.

Give up? OK. The invasive species of the month is…

…Retail chain stores (Vestibulum vinculus)! They’ve grown up due to disturbance to the soil under them (i.e. development). They’re particularly destructive of native habitat and wildlife, due to their spawning of paved surfaces around them that snuff out all life underneath. And their growth is truly impressive. After a long dormant period where only a small Fred Meyer and Costco and some strip malls on the highway in Warrenton existed, when conditions were right, these invaders really started popping up. First, there was Home Depot (subspecies Aliquam consequat). Lum’s and the Toyota chain of car dealerships (Currus toyota) even replanted itself about 5 miles from its original habitat in Astoria. And boy did it grow in the process! Costco, the national retailer (Pecto costcus), next moved a mile or so and more than doubled its footprint. The list goes on. Goodwill (Voluntas bonum) opened a huge store near Costco. Staples (Solidis officium), Dollar Tree (Arborus pupa), Petco (Copia delicium), Big 5 (Magnus quinque) – the list goes on.

And we humans brought them here. On purpose! Like so many invasive species, Vestibulum was moved here because someone thought it would be a good idea. As these invasives establish themselves and grow to encompass the Highway 101 corridor from Astoria to Seaside, think how much future generations will need to do to eradicate them. They will have sucked up most of the local economy, sending their profits to distant lands and hands. The wetlands that used to cover the area and nourish and protect its wildlife and environment will be gone, and will need to be restored. Countless other species will be extinct in our area.

But it seemed a good idea at the time.

(Thanks (or blame) to Google Translate for the Latin butchery.)

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COLUMNS Weed Wars

Sea lions or salmon?

Sea lions crowding thingsTHE WORLD-FAMOUS East Mooring Basin California sea lions are back! Their barking again graces the Astoria waterfront, and helps me to fall asleep in my bed just up the hill from their favorite hangout in Astoria. It’s good to hear them, because not too long ago, the whole lot of them seemed destined for oblivion.

You see, sea lions eat salmon, which are endangered in these parts, and that means we have to do something about it. But the trouble is, sea lions are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), passed in 1972, in more compassionate times. When recent salmon runs were small, there was a clamor for getting rid of the pinniped menace. News stories told of bullet-riddled sea lions being killed, presumably by irate fishermen, who were tired of the methodical approach taken by the authorities, who captured, relocated, harassed, and even killed some, to prevent them from their share of the river’s feasts.

But the California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), the major species of pinniped that hangs out here most of the year, remain on the docks at the East Mooring Basin, as well as the rocks by Pier 39, and at other fish processing areas in the region. According to Julie Tennis, an educator who visits schools in the area and tells students (and adults) about sea lions, our bunch started visiting the Hawthorn Cannery (now Pier 39) again in the 80s, after passage of the MMPA. I met Tennis at the Astoria Sunday Market in July, where she had a booth with lots of photos of sea lions, and we had a great conversation. We continued talking at the East Mooring Basin recently, when the sea lions were again hogging the docks, putting on a show for several locals and tourists. They had returned from their summer “vacation” at the breeding colonies in southern California (hence their name).

Some people are under the impression that our sea lions are non-native, and invasive, because they disrupt a major economic activity – fishing. However, the range of the California sea lion is from Mexico to Canada and Alaska, and they’ve been in the Columbia for many centuries, at least, as documented by the native Americans in the region and by archeological data. They were eating salmon and other Columbia River fish all that time, with no appreciable reduction in the salmon runs until European settlers arrived in the 1800s. More recently, with the introduction of dams and overfishing on the Columbia, the salmon runs have been reduced to less than 1% of their traditional (pre-European settlement) size. And sea lions were hunted to near extinction over that time, so both species were on the ropes.

Today, both sea lions and salmon are protected. Since sea lion populations have rebounded quite well, some have called for dropping their protections. But Tennis told me that sea lions are still being killed, and are being poisoned by industrial activity upstream. She participates in the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which uses volunteers to locate stranded marine mammals and seeks to identify causes of their disease and death. The network is coordinated by OSU in Newport, with the local coordinator being Dr. Debbie Duffield at Portland State University (503-725-4078, duffieldd@pdx.edu). Learn more about how you can participate at http://mmi.oregonstate.edu/ommsn.

Tennis is not sure what can be done to resolve the dispute between local fishermen and sea lions. She understands that it’s tough for fishermen these days, but says that the real issue is “access to the fish, not the fish.” In other words, the policies being proposed to deal with the dwindling populations of salmon have less to do with ensuring recovery and sustainable runs of salmon, and more to do with keeping the catch numbers steady now. In the meantime, Tennis is hoping that educating people about sea lions will help us see that they are a smart, adaptable species, like ourselves, and worth keeping here on the Columbia.

For more information on Columbia River sea lions, see Tennis’ blog at http://www.columbiariversealions.com/, or visit the website of the Sea Lion Defense Brigade at http://www.sealiondefensebrigade.org/, or contact them at (503)568-6955 or info@sealiondefensebrigade.org.

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Biodynamics and Economic Botany

In July, my wife Nancy and I celebrated our 20th anniversary by taking a trip to the Applegate Valley in southern Oregon. Wine was the theme. We passed through many of Oregon’s AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) on the way, concentrating on the Chehalem Mountains south of Hillsboro, Dundee Hills west of Carlton, Umpqua Valley near Roseburg, and finally the Applegate Valley (or Southern Oregon) west of Ashland, where we stayed at the wonderful Applegate River Lodge.

One of our first stops on the trip was at Cooper Mountain Vineyards. Given that we had enough time for only a few stops, out of almost 200 wineries between here and Eugene (our first night’s layover), I chose Cooper Mountain because their blurb on our winery map said they had “certified organic and biodynamic fruit”. I was curious as to what “biodynamic” meant. Life forces in wine?

Well, as a matter of fact, or at least assertion, that’s what biodynamics is all about. Devised by philosopher Rudolf Steiner in the 1920s, biodynamics uses various “preparations” to enhance the health of the soil and plants. Also important is when these enhancers are applied, so that astronomical forces are taken into account. Even waterfalls are employed to enhance the oxygen content in the water used on the plants in a biodynamic vineyard or farm.

In the tasting room at Cooper Mountain, there were displays of the biodynamic preparations and their beneficial effects. Passing by the cow dung in cow horn preparation (BD #500, and the big one), I honed in on four of the plant preparations that are sprayed on the grapes at prescribed times of the year. Yes, weeds they are. Horsetail, dandelion, stinging nettle and yarrow. That’s BD #508, #506, #504 and #502, respectively. Not officially invasive species in Oregon or Washington, these plants are nonetheless considered noxious weeds by many, and countless resources are used and marketed to remove them from gardens and fields.

Horsetail
Horsetails make wine!

But as we’ve seen with other species mentioned in this column, there are beneficial aspects to these weeds that are often overlooked in our zeal to destroy them. Horsetail, for instance, is used in biodynamic agriculture to help prevent or control disease. Yarrow has compounds that help sequester beneficial trace elements. Stinging nettle contains nutrients that grapes need. And dandelion “stimulates the relation between silica and potassium so that the silica can attract cosmic forces to the soil,” according to the Cooper Mountain display.

Of course, beneficial uses of these plants have been known for centuries, and many weeds have traditionally been used as medicines and cosmetics, not to mention foods, as well as industrial products such as dyes. In fact, my Masters thesis dealt with the utilization of an invasive weed from South Africa, the broaf-leafed cotton bush (Asclepias rotundifolia), that had naturalized in South Australia, where I carried out the research in the 1980s. Back then, the first wave of “biomass” research was going on as the OPEC oil embargoes of the 70s raised the price of oil enough to think about alternatives for fuel and chemical products such as polymers. Like today, the government gave credit for fuels that were derived from “renewable” sources, and therefore the race was on to utilize plants that would not detract from the food supply. Arid-land weeds like the broad-leafed cotton bush were prime candidates.

The field investigating the uses of plants to man is called economic botany. And a fascinating field it is. You can find out more about economic botany from the Society for Economic Botany website at http://www.econbot.org/. Learn more about biodynamics by visiting the Demeter USA site (the certifying company, at http://demeter-usa.org/; their vision is “to heal the planet through agriculture”), or the Biodynamic Farming & Gardening Association (headquartered in Junction City) website at http://www.biodynamics.com/.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, the wine from Cooper Mountain tasted pretty good, and no, Australia doesn’t get any fuel or chemicals from the cotton bush. I tried.

 

 

 

 

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COLUMNS Weed Wars

Summer Reading List

Well, believe it or not, it’s summer – time to connect up the hoses, get out the weeding tools and have some serious one-on-one time with your garden. And after all that watering and weeding, you can settle down on the back deck with (insert your favorite back-deck food or beverage here) and get some reading done (before falling asleep and dreaming of your best garden harvest and flower show ever!).

English IvyIf you’re like me, you’ll be dealing with plenty of ivy, wild cucumber, and buttercup, all considered invasive weeds. But only English ivy is on THE LIST. Yes, the first bit of summer reading is to get familiar with the Oregon State Noxious Weeds List. On it, you’ll find 264 plants under strict quarantine, and if you have one or more in your garden, you need to either kill (class A) or control (class B) them. So cozy down with THE LIST and learn all about the likes of biddy biddy, camelthorn, sessile joyweed, hairy whitetop, pilipiliula, old man’s beard, Paterson’s curse, policeman’s hat, quackgrass, mile-a-minute, kikuyugrass, Argentine screwbean, turkeyberry, coat buttons and spiny cocklebur, to name but a few. For $5, you can buy a booklet called Pacific Northwest’s Least Wanted List: Invasive Weed Identification and Management from the Oregon State University Extension Service and get close and personal some of these invaders. That’s right, know your enemy.

Invasive Plant MedicineOr maybe friend. After a particularly arduous weeding session, you may start to wonder if there’s another way. Well, have we got a book for you. So plunk down in your favorite deckchair, grab your favorite snack, and open up Invasive Plant Medicine: The Ecological Benefits and Healing Abilities of Invasives by Timothy Scott (Healing Arts Press, 2010), “the first book to demonstrate how plants originally considered harmful to the environment actually restore Earth’s ecosystems and possess powerful healing properties,” according to the book’s web site. In Part 1 of the book, Waging War on Plants, Scott discusses the politics and science of invasion biology, ending with a chapter on the economics of weeds. Part Two, The Intelligence of Plants, talks about the way plants communicate and defend themselves, which lays the groundwork for Part Three, Guide to Invasive Plants, where 25 invasives are surveyed in detail for their medicinal and ecological value. For instance, did you know that English ivy removes toxins from the air, has tasty berries (to birds), and is used to treat skin diseases and even cancer? Lots of great information in this book, and you can read it on your Kindle or iPad for less than $10!

When the Killing's DoneLooking for some fiction? T.C. Boyle’s 13th novel, When the Killing’s Done (Viking Press, 2011), is a dramatization of the recent battle between animal rights activists and government and conservation groups over eradication of invasive species in the Channel Islands off of the southern Californian coast. The epigraph of the book is from Genesis 1:28: And God blessed them and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. Boyle ends his description of the book with, “Just how precious is any given life—and who gets to decide?”

Have a great summer in the garden!

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COLUMNS Weed Wars

Sweeping Away the Broom

Peter Iredale Rd 1935
Peter Iredale Road 8, Fort Stevens State Park, circa 1935

Take a drive, walk or bike ride through Fort Stevens State Park, and at your feet is European beachgrass (more about this invasive species in a future column) along with Scotch broom and the ubiquitous shore pine among other trees. But as you can see in the photo, this landscape is relatively new, having been planted in the 1930s as part a Civilian Conservation Corps project to stabilize sand that had been blowing all over the Clatsop Plains since the construction of the South Jetty was completed around the turn of that century. It turns out that the jetty helped to accrete sand at a much faster than natural pace, causing a huge annoyance to the local population. The project has been a success, with the dunes stabilized, but its legacy includes the introduction of Scotch broom into the area.

Dane Osis, a ranger at Fort Stevens, heads the effort to control invasive species at the park, and is using a broad toolbox of methods to control the spread of Scotch broom. In addition to using the herbicide Garlon and hand pulling (Osis mentioned that an Americorps crew had just finished a project at the park), a biological control agent, the Scotch broom beetle (Bruchidius villosus), was introduced in 2007. This beetle is supposed to only eat the Scotch broom plant, and its main effect is the destruction of seeds, which the larvae eat as they develop in the seed pod. Bruchidius was introduced into the Willamette Valley in 1998, and has successfully established colonies there.

Scotch broom
Cytisus scoparius

Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) is a member of the pea family, and is “native” to northern Africa and parts of Europe, from Sweden and the British Isles east to Ukraine. Introduced as an ornamental in the 1800s, and widely used for roadside erosion control since the early 1900s, Scotch broom has spread along the Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia to Georgia, and along the Pacific coast from British Columbia to central California.

With up to 18,000 seeds per plant, and a seed dormancy period of up to 60 years, Scotch broom is a textbook example of an invasive species. Here in Oregon, the Department of Agriculture has estimated that it costs almost $50 million a year in lost timber production, and covers about 7 million acres of western Oregon. Dave Ambrose, of the Clatsop Soil and Water Conservation District, says that Scotch broom is “uncontrollable and inextinguishable”. The district is not currently doing any work on controlling Scotch broom, except in cooperation with the project at Fort Stevens.

The North Coast Land Conservancy (NCLC), as part of habitat enhancement activities on their land, is controlling Scotch broom with mechanical methods – a combination of mowing and hand clipping and gathering. NCLC’s Scotch broom program has been successful, according to Celeste Coulter, NCLC Stewardship Director, with a noticeable reduction of flowering plants in the last 5 years.

For the average property owner, spending a little time each spring (around now) – when the brilliant yellow blooms make Scotch broom easy to spot – with some loppers can prevent the spread of this most prolific plant to unsuspecting neighbors. Just cut off all the flowering branches of the plant and compost them. For insurance, plant something near that will shade out the broom in the future.

Or you can look into using your Scotch broom to make a soothing tea, beer, salad, or even a broom! All of these have been tried in the past in the native lands of the plant, and the Plantagenet kings, who ruled England from 1154-1485, took their name from the Latin for “common broom”, another name for Scotch broom. And their namesake has been spreading its seeds across the world since!

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New Beginnings

Weed Wars

In one week this past April, I celebrated Passover, Earth Day and Easter. Each holiday, in its own way, is about new beginnings. Passover celebrates the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery in ancient Egypt. Earth Day focuses on the environment, and how we can sustain life on our planet. And Easter is all about resurrection and renewal.

EggsSpring is also a celebration of new beginnings. The above holidays all celebrate the eternal cycle of life and death which is on the rise in early spring. Here on the coast, we had our first inkling of spring, with (relatively) warm and even sunny weather during the week we celebrated the above holidays. Leaves are out or on their way, flowers are blossoming, and the inevitable lawn mowers, weed whackers and other power tools of choice made their way out of winter storage.

This column is a new beginning for the occasional feature concerning invasive species that has sprung forth on the pages of HIPFiSH as recently as last month. Each month will feature news, views and history about invasive species and our continuing battle against them. The focus will be on the local scene, but the big picture will always be kept in mind, and examples from other regions of the county and world will be shown to enhance the debate.

And the debate is the essence of this column.

Opposing views on invasive species will be presented, with a sprinkling of skepticism and fact-checking. You’re invited to chime in with your thoughts and comments on this web page (just log on and comment away).

It’s probably appropriate to start out with some definitions. Perhaps the best definition I’ve seen of invasive species comes from the Invasive Species Definition Clarification and Guidance White Paper, submitted by the Definitions Subcommittee of the Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC), in conjunction with Executive Order 13112, issued in 2006:

Invasive species are those that are not native to the ecosystem under consideration and that cause or are likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human, animal, or plant health. Plant and animal species under domestication or cultivation and under human control are not invasive species. Furthermore for policy purposes, to be considered invasive, the negative impacts caused by a non-native species will be deemed to outweigh the beneficial effects it provides. Finally, a non-native species might be considered invasive in one region but not in another. Whether or not a species is considered an invasive species depends largely on human values. By attempting to manage invasive species, we are affirming our economic and environmental values. Those non-native species judged to cause overall economic or environmental harm or harm to human health may be considered invasive, even if they yield some beneficial effects. Society struggles to determine the appropriate course of action in such cases, but in a democratic society that struggle is essential.”

Homo sapiensSince invasive species are defined to be “not native”, a legal definition of native species would be useful in our discussions. According to USLegal.com, a native species is one that:

“occurs naturally with respect to a particular ecosystem, rather than as a result of an accidental or deliberate introduction into that ecosystem by humans. In the U.S., non-native species are typically defined as those that arrived since the time of European contact.”

Armed with the definitions above, it’s pretty obvious that the most important invasive species in our area is Homo sapiens (since all of us living now arrived after 1492). But don’t let the invasive species councils know that one…

Next month, we’ll look at some of the local projects to eradicate or control invasive species, and their effectiveness. Welcome to Weed Wars!