Nativism is shooting us in the foot

A few months ago, we told you about one of the many projects to eradicate a plant species that is considered non-native.  In this case, smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) is native to the East and Gulf coasts of the US, but is considered non-native on the West Coast, despite the fact that it has been here for over one hundred years.  About $12 million was spent in the past 10 years on this effort, and the projection is that another $16 million will be spent in the next 10 years.

California Clapper Rail. British Wikipedia

When we told you about this project, we speculated that it was having a negative effect on an endangered species, the Clapper Rail.  The non-native Spartina provides cover that is superior to the native variety of Spartina.  It grows more densely and it doesn’t die back during the winter months, as the native variety does.  We also pointed out that the Clapper Rail is abundant on the East and Gulf coasts and is only considered endangered on the West Coast. 

Since we told you about this eradication project, we’ve learned a few things about the Clapper Rail that we hope will interest you, as it does us. 

  • This seems to be another case in which native plant advocates are looking for a scapegoat, when they should be looking at themselves.  Native plant advocates would like you to believe that the Clapper Rail is endangered on the West Coast because of the introduction of non-native red fox.  The red fox is yet another creature that nativists wish to eradicate in the Bay Area.  Apparently it has not occurred to them that the red fox is native to the East Coast, where the Clapper Rail is thriving.  Hmmm, that seems like a bit of contradiction, No?
  • We have learned of the displacement of Clapper Rails from marshes in which the non-native Spartina in being eradicated.
  • The Point Reyes Bird Observatory, a nationally recognized institution that conducts research on birds, has concluded that the Spartina eradication project is having a negative effect on the Clapper Rail.

Evidence that eradication of Spartina alterniflora is harmful to Clapper Rails

In July, a Clapper Rail was seen and photographed at Heron’s Head in southeastern San Francisco.  There was quite a bit of excitement about this sighting because a Clapper Rail had not been seen in San Francisco for decades.  That excitement dissipated when we learned more about where this bird came from, which provided a probable reason for the move. 

The Clapper Rail was wearing a radio collar that had been put on him and 109 other rails by the USGS to track their movements.  He had moved from Colma Creek, 11 km south of Heron’s Head, which is one of nearly 200 Spartina “control sites” in the San Francisco Estuary.  The bird sighted at Heron’s Head is one of three Clapper Rails that have left Colma Creek since 2007, when the radio collars were placed.  The Spartina control project has been going on for nearly 10 years, so we have no way of knowing how many Clapper Rails were displaced prior to 2007.

In October 2011, the Point Reyes Bird Observatory issued the first-ever “State of the Birds Report for San Francisco Bay:”  “Based on decades of monitoring, 29 partners detail the actions needed to keep birds and their habitats thriving as sea levels rise and extreme storm events increase due to global climate change.”  This report acknowledges the role that the Spartina eradication project plays in the continuing decline of the population of Clapper Rails in the Bay Area:

The Clapper Rail’s rebound during the 1990’s was possibly due to fox control but also coincided with the rapid invasion of a tall non-native plant (invasive Spartina).  This invader benefited rails because it provided nesting habitat and protection from predators and high tides.  Beginning in the mid-2000s, the rail population declined sharply, due in part to the removal of invasive Spartina, which threatens tidal flat and marsh ecosystems as a whole.  This recent decline may be leveling off, but the future of Clapper Rails in San Francisco Bay remains tenuous.”

This is another example of the harmful obsession with non-native plants, which seems to trump other considerations, such as the welfare of the animals that benefit from the plants.  As is often the case with such eradication projects, Spartina is being eradicated with an herbicide, imazapyr.  This is a new herbicide about which little is known.  The analysis which was done to justify its use in the Spartina eradication project admits that no studies have been done on its effect on shorebirds, including the endangered Clapper Rail.  The Material Safety Data Sheet mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency tells us that imazapyr is “not readily biodegradable.”  So, in the event that we eventually learn that this herbicide is harmful to shorebirds and/or to us, we can be assured that it will still be in the environment, in the nearly 200 sites in the San Francisco Estuary on which it is currently being sprayed.  Imazapyr is also being sprayed–sometimes from helicopters–in hundreds of places along the West Coast, including in other states.  (A new post on Save Sutro reports more alarming information about imazapyr.)

The cost of nativism

This is an example of the harmful effects of attempting to eradicate non-native species.  It reminds us of a recent editorial in the New York Times about the new law in Alabama which is considered the most extreme anti-immigration law in the country.  The opponents of immigration are delighted with the new law.  The farmers of Alabama are warning us that they cannot replace the immigrants who are fleeing the state. Most of the work in the country’s agriculatural fields and orchards is being done by immigrants.  These are jobs that Americans are no longer willing to do.  This is just one of many unintended consequences of such xenophobic extremism.   We consider the Spartina eradication project another example of nativism run amok.

6 thoughts on “Nativism is shooting us in the foot”

  1. I can attest to the unfortunate fact that the red fox is targeted for eradication by nativists. About two months ago, we found an injured fox lying by the roadside. It must have been hit by a car. We could not tell how extensive its injuries were, but it kept trying to get back up on its feet. I called the Alexander Lindsay Museum Hospital in Walnut Creek. Even though it was almost 5:00 p.m., and the museum had just closed, I was asked to bring in the fox. At that time, we did not realize it was a red fox because i had never seen one in the wild, Gray foxes are apparently more common here in the North Hills of Oakland, and I had never seen any wild fox close up.

    We put the injured fox into a cat carrier and took it to the Museum Hospital in Walnut Creek. The fox was taken away, and when the vet came out (after less than 5 minutes) she told us that the animal had been seriously injured, and she had already euthanized it. But, she said (in response to our questions), even if the fox had not been too injured to treat, it would have been euthanized because U.S. Fish and Wildlife has decreed that only an injured or ill native gray fox can be treated. Whenever a red fox is brought to the hospital, it must be killed, not released back into the wild because the red fox is not native to California!!! (An exception might be made, she said, if it were a very young red fox, and a zoo in another part of the country was willing to accept it–but under no conditions could an adult red fox be treated–because it is not native to California.)

    We were quite upset about this; it is not a problem of the red fox competing against the gray fox, or the red fox becoming especially numerous or harmful in any way. The red fox was introduced in this part of California more than 100 years ago, some say because wealthy landowners imagined it might be fun to hunt them with hounds. We have also heard that there were several red foxes being studied at UC Berkeley several years ago, and someone got into the lab and released them. At any rate, for anyone who has never seen a wild red fox, I can tell you that it is a beautiful animal that does not deserve to be killed simply because it is not native to California!!

    The lesson we learned: Before you take any animal to be treated at a wildlife hospital, it is important to describe the animal carefully, ask if it can be identified from your description of it, and find out if it is on the list of animals that must be killed, not treated, if brought in. Then, you will have the information to decide if you want to take the animal to the hospital–for one would hope to be a painless death–or take another course of action that might be available to you.

    Webmaster: Thank you, Madeline, for telling our readers this chilling story. The red fox is one of many animals that are being exterminated because they are not native. In some cases, the animals are being killed although they are native, only because their numbers have increased or their ranges have expanded such that they are considered competitors to other native animals which are preferred because there are fewer of them.

    The story of such exterminations is told in our post “Exterminating animals: Wasted lives and money” In this post we provide a few examples of such pointless, destructive efforts and provide a long list of animals that are targets for these horrific attempts to control nature to suit man’s preferences. The red fox is mentioned in that post because of our personal knowledge of the GGNRA killing them on their properties. There are probably many other animals that are also on the death list that we don’t know about because these killings are done as quietly as possible to avoid the public’s reaction.

  2. Thank you for this eye opening article. Having been an active and vocal opponent of the spartina eradication in Wa state, I would like to add that according to a Wa state published booklet, 20 million tax dollars have been spent on this program as of three years ago with no end in sight!(see “Invaders at the Gate , Washington Invasive Species Council 2008 Strategic Plan”)
    Because as long as birds, frogs or even logs drift and fly spreading seed along our oceans there is no possible eradication only control at a cost of eventual billions! And just recently has classified Japanese eel grass as invasive and are allowing for a chemical eradication effort on commercial oyster beds!
    Below is a letter to the editor published 2009 in The Daily World – Aberdeen Wa:
    To the Editor
    Dear Governor Gregoire, Senators Murray and Cantwell and Representative Dicks, Please, stop falling for the spin on spartina! We are two people against wasting our tax dollars to eradicate/control an erosion controlling and oxygen producing marsh grass. Please protect our shoreline NOT a non-native oyster!!! As long as birds, mammals and logs carry seeds to the waters edge it will never be eradicated only chemically controlled forever with never ending taxpayer dollars! Don’t fall for their spin!
    Ask the ex-residents of wash-away beach if a mud flat is a better erosion barrier during winter storms than a healthy stabilizing invasive spartina marsh! Don’t fall for their spin! Help protect our shore!
    It really doesn’t matter if we disagree on climate change or rising seas. We might also disagree on health care reform and other issues. But, perhaps we can all agree that spraying thousands if not millions of gallons of the chemicals carbaryl, glyphosate and imazapyr to benefit non-indigenous oysters by sacrificing native shrimp, crab, spartina, salmon and SHORELINE is just plain wrong and obscene. (And yes, according to WDFW some spartina species from South America could of naturally migrated north, thus becoming a native protector of our SHORELINE!) Don’t fall for their spin! Do the research!
    14 yrs of spraying spartina evidently did not help wildlife (as promised) and we invite the Audubon Society to come to the beach and see some of the record 10,000 dead sea birds that have been washing up since September! Don’t fall for their surfactants spin!

    So in closing we ask the good citizen’s of Washington to please pull your heads out of the sand and call your Elected Leaders demanding an immediate moratorium. Tell them you want an unbiased independent investigation concerning Miranda Wecker’s recent record spraying blitz and the ensuing record wrack.
    CALL; Representative Norm Dicks 800-947-6676; Senator Maria Cantwell 888-648-7328; Senator Patty Murray 866-481-9186; Governor Chris Gregoire and State Elected Officials 800-562-6000

    Just one more thing to add, although we would love to save the world, my wife and I know that’s not possible. But if we can slow the rapid spiral spin down by injecting some “common sense” like our shoreline is more important than an invasive non-indigenous oyster.
    We beg you Governor Gregoire, Senators Cantwell and Murray and Representative Dicks if you won’t do it for our grandchild PLEASE do it for your own loved ones! Protect our shore not special interests!

    Thank You Steve and Cynthia Bova

    1. We suggest that you ask your instructor that question. Generally speaking, blogs are not considered citable sources. However, many of the statements we make in Million Trees are from citable sources. If there is a footnote to a specific reference, that reference is usually using MLA standard citation.

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