The international crusade against non-native plants

Some years ago we set up a few Google alerts on the topics we cover on Million Trees so that we would be informed of new developments.  One of those Google alerts was “invasive species.”  We receive a daily barrage of articles about the international crusade against non-native plants.  Once in a great while we are also treated to a small voice of reason in this otherwise unreasonable crusade. 

Nanaimo, Briish Columbia
Nanaimo, Briish Columbia

Here is a letter to the editor of the Nanaimo News Bulletin in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada written by someone responding to a local attempt to eradicate non-native plants, AKA “invasive species.”  We could have written this letter ourselves.  It represents our viewpoint perfectly. 

Published: April 23, 2013 7:00 AM

“To the Editor,

Re: City leading attack on invasive plants, April 18.

Once they were weeds, and we got rid them when they were in our way.

Now they’re “invasive species”, and we’re urged to get rid of them even when they’re not in the way.

Why? Because they’re “alien.”

This, of course, is nonsense.

Nature doesn’t recognize man-made boundaries or discriminate between “native” and “alien” plants. Apart from a few well-known examples, most people don’t know the difference either. Most of the plants in our gardens are “alien.”

One of the favourite targets is Scotch broom. It’s claimed that broom crowds out native species, though we’re never told what they are. No wonder, since broom thrives on ground disturbed by human activity such as roadways and abandoned fields.

Far from being a nuisance, it’s a nitrogen-fixing plant that enriches the soil. One of the many myths spread about broom is that its pollen is an allergen.

Not so. A University of B.C. study has shown that its pollen grains are too large to cause an allergic reaction.

Now the City of Nanaimo wants to get rid of the blackberries that we look forward to in August and September. It’s the wrong kind of blackberry, apparently.

It has decided to designate May as “Invasive Plant Awareness Month” and is encouraging residents to remove the aliens from wherever they are.

Goodness knows what the city will look like after the eco-warriors have gone on the rampage with their brushhooks.

We do not live in an unchanging Garden of Eden. Nature is dynamic. Birds carry seeds over hundreds of miles and new plants grow where they didn’t grow before.

Human attempts to halt natural growth and development are arrogant and doomed to failure. By all means get rid of weeds on your property or on public land where they’re a nuisance.

Otherwise, let nature take its course, and don’t feel you’re somehow saving the planet by hacking away at a plant just because it’s on an “alien” hit list.

Gregory Roscow


If you share this viewpoint without expressing it when confronted with the relentless public relations campaign in support of destructive “restoration” projects, we urge you to speak up.  There are many of us who object to these destructive projects, but few are expressing their concern about the loss of ecologically valuable plants and trees. 

Many thanks to Mr. Roscow for his eloquent defense of defenseless plants in Nanaimo, British Columbia.

4 thoughts on “The international crusade against non-native plants”

  1. Are you folks leaving out of your discussion the question of whether the rates, volumes, and geographical distances of human-accelerated dispersal of species across the planet, both inadvertent but especially when urposeful, is harmonious with the kinds of dispersal done by, for instance, birds? Without it, some intellectual integrity would be missing.

    Webmaster: The distinction between anthropogenic and “natural” species dispersal is as ambiguous as the distinction between native and non-native, in our opinion. For example, nativists destroy seed and berry producing plants because birds eat them and disperse their seeds. They claim that dispersal by the birds, qualifies those plants as “invasive.” What do you suppose the birds think about that?

    The purposeful species migrations (such as the introduction by the British of rabbits into Australia) can rightfully be placed into the category of “human desire”, and, therefore, it could be argued that this issue comes down to a disagreement over human desires.

    Webmaster: If there were no cost of eradicating non-native species, we would be more inclined to accept attempts to eradicate them. The virus introduced to kill rabbits in Australia has now spread around the world and is killing rabbits in Spain, where they are native. The entire food web in Spain has been disrupted by the loss of rabbits that were prey of larger mammals.

    While I support your deconstruction of the use of comic book science by “native species” advocates to demonize “non-native” species, I also object to your argument for retaining species of any kind as being based upon science (such as that of Evolutionary Biology.)

    It is about human desire, and let’s not forget that human desire has created some very bad outcomes in this world. For instance, think: Slavery.

    Webmaster: I fail to see an analogy between slavery and the introduction of non-native plants and animals. Limiting or even preventing the introduction of non-native plants and animals may be justified. Once they are here and firmly entrenched, the means that are used to eradicate them are destructive and usually futile.

    Desires of one set of people can seem horrible to others. The letter-to-the-editor you have published above mentions blackberries. Many people find the introduction of Himalayan Blackberry into the Pacific Northwest to have been a great thing, because the berries they produce are larger and sweeter than the species of blackberry that were here before and they are more prolific. But I can tell you that farmers and ranchers in western Oregon.don’t see it that way. The Himalayans have filled countless sloughs and other areas that used to be verdant, pastoral, and accessible .If you saw the pre-Himalyan photos of such farms that I have seen and compared them to what they look like today, you would probably not give the Himalyans a cheerleading for ambiance. But your and my sense of aesthetics doesnlt hold a candle to the opinions of the farmer/ranchers, who, should they wish to be able to use their land for any other uses besides blackberry patches that are largely not harvestable, they have a never-ending spread control problem.

    Webmaster: Himalayan blackberries are being sprayed with toxic herbicides in public parks visited by young children. And, of course, the animals that eat those blackberries are not able to read the signs that announce the application of herbicides. If farmers must eradicate blackberries on their private property, they have the right to do so. In our public parks, herbicides should not be used on fruit that is accessible to the public. This is happening as we speak. You can’t make this stuff up.

    1. If you were sincerely attempting to address what I had to say, I thank you for trying. And if I had any good reason other than hope and the assumption of your sincerity until that assumption would prove foolish, I would specifically respond to each of your above responses to me by clarifying my points. But I suspect your motivation to have been more along the lines of seeking every opportunity to re-package and present your talking points. Perhaps the longevity of your crusade has begun taking its toll on your mind, and/or has turned you into an ideologue?

      In a fashion similar to an all-too-typical politician, you misunderstood, and/or, misinterpreted, and/or failed to look for, and/or mischaracterized, and/or dodged my point(s). I have posted in the past how I recognize the complexity of this issue, the uncharted waters you are swimming in, and how unfortunate it is that California’s native ecosystems were so blithely disregarded for so long that now it has become ridiculous to even consider “preserving” or “restoring” them — and how the non-native ecosystems were so blithely proliferated for so long that it has become ridiculous to even consider “eradicating” them. I will now add to that there IS a pathway to such massive restoration, but it would too great an inconvenience to too many people for it to ever manifest.

      If I have not posted regarding this aspect before, let me do so now: The use of herbicides to control anything other than the most egregious and otherwise uncontrollable vegetation, and/or the use of herbicides over wide geographical ranges is simply a DANGEROUS manifestation of the Better Living Through Chemistry mindset. I strongly object to your endorsement of the right of landowners to eradicate Himalayan blackberries using herbicides (as if we don’t all live downstream),

      Webmaster: I do not condone or endorse the use of herbicides on private property. I merely acknowledge the rights of property owners who have the legal right to use legally approved herbicides as they wish. In contrast, as a taxpayer, I have a right to my opinion that herbicides should not be used in public parks. I post many articles about the dangers of herbicide use, but I focus my advocacy on the public policy that seems within reach. That is the practical orientation of Million Trees. If that approach does not interest you, you are free to move on.

      and wonder why you would issue such an endorsement when you seem to (rightfully) decry the use of the rabbit-killing virus to “swallow to spider to kill the fly.” Yeah, yeah, I know — you have to champion “private property” rights so as not to risk alienating supporters who might happen to be land owners. But, by doing so in this case, you add to the impression that you are playing politics — an impression that erodes your claim that your case is merely a super-rational one.

      That is a shame, because rationality is the ONLY way through this that won’t necessarily lead to a stupid use of massive funds whose effects will only make it that much more difficult later to be changed for the better.

      In an effort to spur you to strengthen the rationality of your case, I now have posted an example of how this issue exposes the biases and intellectual game-playing of “native” and “non-native” species advocates alike — but you have at least initially failed to seriously embrace that possibility on the behalf of your “side”.

      So, Instead of trying to teach a potential proverbial pig to sing when it doesn’t appear to want to embrace some part of the lesson, I will keep moving forward.

      But first, since you did at least acknowledge that you failed to see my “slavery” analogy, I will use that as one example of how we apparently crossed in the night. The analogy was: ‘instances of manifesting human desire that each led to bad outcomes.’ In other words, I was claiming that slavery was a manifestation of the desires of some humans with economic, industrial, and lifestyle goals in mind, just like the supplanting of native ecosystems with things like cotton and Eucalyptus in California were (do you know that cotton is the single largest user of poisons among all agricultural crops and that before its introduction there was a native grass in the Central Valley that was a backbone of native people’s survival?). Now, moving forward:

      What you seem to be arguing is that a “cure” can be worse than its “disease”. But I have yet to read what you advocate as a better “cure”. Instead, I have interpreted your position to be that the disease is merely a mild cold, and, therefore, no intervention is necessary — in fact, that a changing environment is turning the cold into a survival mechanism. Would you have argued thusly regarding the rabbits?

      Time for my opinion on the native/newcomer division: “Native” (present in the ecosystem for at least thousands of years) species, hands down, are preferred over more recent arrivals. The myriads of reasons why should need no articulation to someone with your obvious mental abilities. The devil is in the details of how to minimize the man-made threats to those species with older presence, and some of those threats are the deliberate disruptions of the ecosystems they have evolved with and in, disruptions in which non-native species have been enlisted. Are you committed to working on that equation after you stop the obviously stupid de-vegetation plan you so well swing your sword against now?

      Let me tell you something about natives vs non-natives. 35 years ago, I left southern California for Oregon. Being a Californian, I was subject to suspicion by Oregon natives. They had good reason. Those before me (and so many still to this day) had come to change Oregon to be more like California — they had not come to find existing niches in which to fit. They did not really understand how California had become undesirable to them. They sought to live the same lifestyle yet with more space and nature around them, failing to recognize that it was the manifestations of an ATTITUDE that had degraded California — an attitude they had brought with them to Oregon.

      As one example, I was once the groundskeeper for a third house in Oregon of an absentee California couple who were developing a golf-course housing project not too far north of you. They were proud of the “ecological sensitivity” of their project (even though the golf-course part of it was not even as “green” as the BS other such golf courses — it relied heavily on fertilizer and herbicides.) They demanded that I keep their grounds, year ’round, in a state of manicure, and that I eradicate the “unsightly” native plants, especially riparian. I worked out a deal with my conscience — I left those plants alone until the week before the owners might arrive each year for a 14-day or less stay, and then I snapped those plants off at their bases, leaving their roots intact (which they never noticed.) One year, while accompanying them on a review of my work, they looked across the river and remarked that it was that beautiful view that had made them choose this place. I asked them what it was about that view that they enjoyed. They told me: “How lush and green it is.” I reported to them that the other side of the river was in a US Forest Service Riparian Reserve, so what they were looking at was the result of native vegetation left to become riotous. I asked them if they had ever hiked the river trail over there and looked across at their place (no.) I asked them what they thought the hikers on the river trail over there thought about the view back over this way — and about how they, themseves, would feel about their view from this side, instead, if the other side was private property and someone built a house on the river’s edge, like theirs, and landscaped it with manicured non-native vegetation, like theirs. By mail, they fired me and two years later sold the place to another absentee California owner. Not that owner, nor the two before them, ever cared about species or water consumption or fire or any other ecosystem issues — they cared only about aesthetics in their view of what a tidy world would look like, and then only for the duration of their transitory ownership and then really only for the short periods of time when they would be there to experience it.

      I will never be seen as a native of Oregon, but I feel it is safe to say that I have worked more successfully, at personal cost and/or forgone income opportunities, to protect and enhance its ecosystem processes than many native Oregonians have (Ignorance knows no birthplace boundaries and television spreads the same divorced-from-nature paradigms to city and country households alike.) I am far from alone in that regard, and for it I have received the direct thanks of many native Oregonians. The key, sir, is fitting in, as opposed to supplanting. Any of the “non-native” species you are fighting against being eradicated whose success is attended by supplantation of ecosystems should be suspect as worthy objects of your endorsement.

      Webmaster: Your comments are verging into insults. I do not post inflammatory comments because the goal of Million Trees is to maintain a civil dialogue. Please keep that in mind when commenting in the future. Thank you.

  2. Here in Key West, it started with the removal of Australian pines. Since then, we’ve lost a good part of our canopy in the city and throughout the Keys because the following species have been deemed “non-native”, and therefore easy for our “tree commission” to judge useless or even “dangerous”. Usually it’s a new property owner from the mainland who has no idea what they’re doing and believes that their new yard should only have “tropical” trees such as palms, etc. We’ve lost poincianas, mango, sapodilla, Spanish lime, soursop, sugar apple, tamarind, mahogany, buttonwood, fig, pigeon plum, and many other large old trees – some over 100 years old – to the chainsaws and stupidity of those who would rather have a pool or driveway than provide shelter, food, and nesting habitat for the many species of birds that either live here year-round or migrate through during fall and spring. But as they say money talks, and the keys are considered prime habitat for invasive species such as the Fat Wallets, Big Bank Accounts, and Crooked Politicians. Thanks to Gov. Scott (known to us greenies as “Skeletor the Stupid”, the keys are wide open to more development even though we’ve pretty much reached maximum build-out. No one cares that we have a very unique environment, and more than one environmental group has tried and failed to protect what little is left. Even if the powers that be understand the importance of mangroves and hardwood hammocks and the impact they have on the local ecology – in particular our rapidly dwindling fishing industry – they don’t care. So be it west coast, east coast, or anywhere in-between, greed and zealots seem to have taken the reins of a horse long out of the barn after the door’s been closed.

    Webmaster: Lucky you to live in Key West. We celebrated the turn of the 21s Century in Key West. What a lovely and fun place!

    So sorry to hear that nativism is depriving you and the animals that live there of the trees and plants they use and enjoy.

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