Thorny Thinking about Maine Invasives

multifora rose

Yesterday I was listening to a podcast about returning the wild boar to the UK because it once lived there and is considered a “native”. However, because the wild boar population has exceeded the limits people will tolerate, the boar can stay but it must be “culled” – reduced to one fourth of its present population. People are upset because the boar has rooted up the forest and destroyed carpets of bluebells and the butterfly that feeds on the plant. Boars are also unruly – churning up the soil in people’s yards/gardens – and temperamental. I remembered trudging through the Amazon and meeting wild boars in the jungle who were not friendly. At the time it never occurred to me that their fear/hostility might be due to the fact that they were hunted for food.

Later in the program when a naturalist spoke about all the good that wild boars do by rooting up the soil to aerate it and allowing seeds to take root I noted that I had fallen into the usual androcentric trap forgetting that nature always has the good of the whole as a priority and most of the time this focus conflicts with what humans want or think they need.  Boars were once woven into the fabric of the UK but now they are a problem. Native or invasive, it doesn’t seem to matter. Either way humans seem to have a hard time allowing nature to simply be.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that humans don’t live very long, and we want change NOW. Nature is always learning, adapting, changing but normally these shifts aren’t obvious during the brief span of a human life.

However, today a number of main threats to biodiversity are finally being recognized at least by some folks: Climate Change, habitat destruction, over exploitation of nature’s resources, air, water pesticide etc. pollution and last and certainly not least for many, the introduction of invasive species. Need I add that virtually all these problems are human induced?

We seem to be unable to wrap our minds around what the consequences of Climate Change, habitat destruction and overexploitation of natural resources, and pollution might mean for all of us. But we are ‘at war’ with invasive species of all kinds, and even when we do return extirpated species to an area we can’t seem to leave them be. Is this because we are incapable of perceiving the bigger picture and/or is it because we believe we know more than nature does about what works and what doesn’t?

 It may be that our attempts to control invasive species, and culling extras that we return to the wild gives us the sense we are doing “great things”. But how do we know? After all, humans have only been around for 200,00 years while plants and animals have been around for anywhere between 600 – 350 million years respectively. Surely, nature’s ability to learn and adapt is much more finely developed than our present human thinking and technology would have us believe. Nature seeks balance in all things. Humans seek control. The two are antithetical to one another.

Recently ‘the war’ on invasive plants has started to irritate me. According to Maine.gov. “a plant is considered invasive if it is not native to Maine, has spread or has the potential to spread into minimally managed plant communities, or it causes economic or environmental harm by developing self sustaining populations that are dominant or disruptive to native species.”

Honeysuckle

In this paragraph I see that the underlying issue is that non-native (as well as native) plants that are thriving are a threat. Nowhere is it mentioned that all wild plants spread naturally if they are growing in areas that suit them. ‘They don’t behave themselves’ like cultivated plants do. 

“Invasive plants are a direct threat to what we value about Maine’s natural and working landscapes. The aggressive growth of invasive plants increases costs for agriculture, can affect forest regeneration, threatens our recreational experiences (huh?), and reduces the value of habitats for mammals, birds and pollinators. Species like Japanese barberry and multiflora rose can form thorny, impenetrable thickets in forests and agricultural fields.”

When I decipher what is being quoted here from Maine.Gov. I discern that the threat is primarily agricultural and therefore economic in nature.

I would argue that in this era of globalization it is impossible to control the plants, animals, insects, etc. that are being brought into any area, and that our energy might be better put to use by allowing nature to lead and by becoming her students.

What this means practically is that we take a hands off approach to what we consider to be invasive species. Nature will eventually redress imbalances, but not necessarily in a time span that suits us.

I can already hear screams of outrage. I understand that my perspective is an unusual one – perhaps too radical for most, but I believe it is one we need to examine more closely. Instead of focusing on invasives let’s turn our attention to the mass of other problems that we have created, beginning with Climate Change which unless addressed is ultimately going to result in the demise of us all.

In closing I leave the reader with a list of some of the plants that Maine.Gov. considers to be invasive in our state. And I include a partial list of some invasives that live here and are deeply appreciated. For example, I have a whole field of beloved lupine, muliflora roses that provide the sweetest scent, draw in hundreds of bees and create nesting places for a multitude of birds, carpets of violets, thyme, and white clover that make mowing a lawn unnecessary, alders near my brook that put nitrogen back into the soil, willows and poplar that provide bees and bears with the first nectar/pollen of the season, jewelweed that treats poison ivy and feeds the hummingbirds, blackberries that provide me with tasty fruit, watercress for my salads. Every spring I cannot wait for the circle of forget me not’s to bloom under my cherry tree. My mother loved them and this memory is one I treasure.

Rugosa rose

 Almost all of the invasives listed below (not a complete list) also provide wild bees and butterflies with the nectar they need, and a number of others are herbs used to heal.  

False Indigo

Wild roses including Rugosa roses

Lupine

Violets

Wild mustard

Queen Anne’s lace

Blue grass

Bull and Canada thistle

Coltsfoot

Mugwort

Common reed

Honeysuckles

Blackberries

Watercress

Spurge

Jewelweed

Purple loosestrife

White clover

 Thyme

Angelica

Yellow iris

Forget me not

Tansy

Fireweed

Water lilies

Trees:

Alder

Siberian Elm

White poplar

Viburnums

Willow

Black locust

Norway maple

Addendum:

According to Maine.Gov (who never heard of Rachel Carson apparently), Round Up and other chemicals are the preferred method used to kill some of the offending plants along with the use of bulldozers. Round Up is an herbicide (glyphosate& triclopyr – mimics growth hormone Auxin – plants absorb it and die slowly) has been used by farmers for over 40 years, but its safety was questioned when a World Health Organization agency, the International Agency for Cancer Research, concluded in 2015 that it “probably causes cancer.”

Just after finishing this article I read that Maine is about to add another 33, or possibly more plants like Burning bush to their official list sometime during the next year. All the “experts” are being called in. What would we do without them?

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