At boston.com (July31,2011), Leon Neyfakh reflects on “The invasive species war”. Asking “Do we protect native plants because they’re better for the earth, or because we hate strangers? A cherished principle of environmentalism comes under attack”:
The reasons to fight invasive species may be economic, or conservationist, or just practical, but underneath all these efforts is a potent and galvanizing idea: that if we work hard enough to keep foreign species from infiltrating habitats where they might do harm, we can help nature heal from the damage we humans have done to it as a civilization.
Anyone who has witnessed one of these popular non-native species eradication programs (the author mentions a local “Operation: No More Water Chestnuts” as a case in point) is put in mind of traditional groups conducting a ritual hunt for “evil.” But is eradicating evil from nature an appropriate task? How does the species go from a mere problem to “not having the right” to be there?
As a biologist, Davis studies competition between plants, focusing on what makes some ecosystems more vulnerable than others to invasion, and how certain species of trees and grass interact. The author of the 2009 Oxford University Press book “Invasion Biology,’’ Davis has been a leader in the small but vocal group of thinkers who argue that nativeness is simply the wrong lens to use when we think about the environment.
“We need to learn to accommodate change, and change our attitude rather than try to garden nature and keep things the way they are,” Davis said recently. Species migrate, he said, and some end up thriving while others go extinct. This would happen whether people were involved or not, and Davis emphasizes there’s no reason to believe that the best version of an environment – whether that’s defined as the most diverse, or the most useful for humans – is the one that happened to exist just before we meddled with it.
What’s curious is that in a society where we are constantly informed that humans are “just another species that need not have existed,” our alteration of the environment is considered an evil in principle. An uneasy tension, perhaps, between Darwinism and the creationist view that man was created to tend nature? With environmentalists taking the latter view … but then jumping off a cliff with it. Treating more successful species as evil and less successful ones as good.
Some will ask, what about all the damage done by invasive species? Well, … what about all the damage done by native species? If we consider a species’ effect on the environment to be damage, we can take limited action for clearly identified, this-worldly goals, and otherwise withhold judgment about the “rightfulness” of the species’ claims to live here. Call it modified creationism if you like.