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Weed Worshipers vs. Weed Warriors

January 2, 2015

Wild Wisdom of WeedsNative plant advocates who volunteer to pull weeds often call themselves “Weed Warriors.”  Now there is a countervailing movement of weed advocates who find value in the same plants that are detested by the native plant movement.  Weed worshippers are found in the permaculture community because they share a desire to avoid the use of herbicides.  We also find them amongst foragers who think of weeds as a source of nutritious, free food.  These origins of weed worship come together into a coherent botanical philosophy in a recently published book, The Wild Wisdom of Weeds:  13 Essential Plants for Human Survival, by Katrina Blair. (1)

Ms. Blair grew up in Colorado, in a family that lived close to nature.  She developed her interest in wild plants early and has spent her life cultivating that interest both with her formal education and her experiences.  She is the founder of Turtle Lake Refuge in Durango, Colorado.   This is the mission of Turtle Lake Refuge:

“Our mission is to celebrate the connection between personal health and wild lands. We manifest this goal through promoting and practicing sustainable practices. Examples of our work include growing, harvesting and preparing local, wild and living food for the community, educating about the great values of the wild edible abundance available in our area, providing local micro-greens for the public schools, restaurants and stores…and educating about organic land stewardship practices.”

Turtle Lake Refuge serves lunch in their community twice each week.  Here is a sample menu from a spring lunch, which reflects their commitment to “wild edible abundance:”

– Comfrey and hollyhock Green Juice:

Comfrey, hollyhock, lemon and honey

– Miso Soup:

Miso, tamari, fresh chives, cabbage and red onion

– Quinoa Beet Salad:

Sprouted Quinoa, beets, tamari, sunflower oil, ginger and garlic

– Sushi Roll:

Seed cheese, beets, buckwheat sprouts, pea sprouts and avocado

Poppy seed Lemon Bar:

Buckwheat flour, honey, lemons, cashews psyllium and poppy seeds

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+

Why weeds?

Ms. Blair explains why she has selected 13 weeds for her book which are found all over the globe, wherever human civilization is found, that is every continent except Antarctica.  They are therefore representative of the plants that often arrive with humans and are capable of surviving whatever changes in the environment accompany human civilization.  In a sense, they are symbols of resilience and adaptation in a rapidly changing world.  She also tells us why weeds are just as important as the native plants that preceded the arrival of humans:

“Humans are creating change on a large scale at an exceedingly rapid rate, and yet if we try to hold back nature by eradicating every new species that appears on a barren land, we block nature’s progression of adaptation.  There is an accepted perspective that change is negative and therefore justifies momentous efforts to block diversity from becoming established for fear that it will alter the native habitat.  It is important to remember that “native” habitat only represents a moment in time.  All habitats evolve and are changing constantly.  If the wild weeds are resilient enough to be able to handle the climate and take root, they play an important role in the evolutionary aspect of nature.” (1)

Dandelions

The thirteen weeds that Ms. Blair chooses to tell us about in her book are:  amaranth, chickweed, clover, dandelion, dock, grass, knotweed, lambsquarter, mallow, mustard, plantain, purslane, and thistle.  We have chosen the dandelion to illustrate the usefulness of weeds because it is plentiful and well known in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Dandelion

Dandelion

Dandelions are found everywhere.  The origins of its English name are found in its name in romance languages:  diente de leon (Spanish), dent-de-lion (French), diente di leone (Italian).  These names all translate to “teeth of the lion” in English, a name that surely derives from the deeply jagged leaf, which apparently suggested the shape of the teeth of the lion.  When named by the English, that reference to the shape of the leaf was lost in translation.

Photo by Greg Hume

Photo by Greg Hume

Dandelion seeds may have been brought by humans to new homes because they were known to be useful.  But dandelions are not dependent upon intentional transport.  Their wooly seed heads are dispersed by the wind and readily attach themselves to grazing animals.  I remember blowing them into the wind as a child, oblivious to the fact that I was dispersing their seeds in the process.

An early reference to dandelions is found in the writing of the Roman military commander and naturalist, Pliny the Elder in 77 AD.  He explained the healing properties of dandelions.  Dandelions are used in Chinese herbal medicine—possibly for thousands of years—as well as in Indian traditional medicine, ayurvedic medicine.  Ms. Blair uses dandelions to treat a wide variety of medical conditions, from a laxative to an anti-inflammatory which reduces swelling.

Every part of the dandelion, from its roots to its leaves is edible, according to Ms. Blair.  The roots are used to make dandelion beer for the annual Dandelion Festival at Turtle Lake Refuge.  Dandelion ice cream is also popular at the festival.  Ms. Blair provides recipes for Dandelion Pesto, Dandelion Quiche, Dandy Candy, and Dandelion Root Stew.  We are most familiar with dandelions as a salad green which adds bite to any salad.

Photo by Greg Hume

Photo by Greg Hume

Dandelion is equally useful to bees and butterflies because it is one of the first flowers in the spring.

The Druid’s Garden recently published a post about the usefulness of dandelions, including a description of how they can restore degraded soil.

Ms. Blair makes a similar case for the usefulness of the other 12 members of her weed family.

Opposition to herbicides follows….

As you might expect, if you eat wild plants you are probably opposed to use of herbicides in the places where you forage for your food:

“My deep passion for honoring the wild weeds intensified due to our local city and county’s practices in weed control.  Hundreds of gallons of herbicides were being sprayed on the plants in town and on nearby wildlands with the intention of eradicating plant species considered weeds.  Since I grew up loving all plants equally, I found it tragic to witness a once healthy plant that was contributing so much richness to our landscape become a twisted and dying being due to poisoning from herbicides.  My passion for all plants inspired me to do what I could to change the discriminatory treatment of these noble weeds, who I have come to know as the true heroes of our time.” (1)

Ms. Blair tells the story of how she and her collaborators were successful in convincing the City of Durango to quit using herbicides in public parks.  It is both an interesting story and one from which we can learn.  They began by showing people how to use the weeds they were killing.  The “Dandelion Brigade” harvested dandelions from their neighbors’ lawns and showed them how to make dandelion lemonade and other taste treats.  They started an organic lawn service called “Grassroots” which made and distributed organic compost.  These efforts convinced the city to create its first chemical-free public park, and eventually a second park.  Then their efforts stalled because the city decided these two parks gave the public sufficient chemical-free options.

The second stage of their effort began with a ballot measure that, if passed, would have banned all herbicide use from every public park in Durango, including golf courses.  They spent many months lobbying in support of that new ordinance and were confident that it would pass.  Apparently the city was afraid it would pass as well and therefore began to negotiate with the supporters of the ordinance.  This negotiation resulted in a compromise which accomplished much of what supporters of the ordinance set out to do.  Although they still believed in the ordinance as originally written, they decided that a compromise would ultimately result in greater support throughout the community.  The first phase of the compromise plan converted over one-third of the parks to organic management.  The second phase would slowly transition most parks—except golf courses—to organic management methods.

The process of changing city policies regarding herbicide use was long and difficult.  It required both patience and a willingness to meet people halfway by showing them how to substitute for herbicide use and by being willing to compromise.    

Local foragers

Ms. Blair is not alone.  She is a member of a big and growing movement. The favorable review of Ms. Blair’s book in the New York Times is an indication that foraging and respect for weeds are now in mainstream culture.    Closer to home, we have our own contingent of lovers of wild food, which often includes plants commonly considered weeds:

  •  “The Wild Kitchen is a roving underground supper club. From a roof-deck in the Mission one week to a houseboat in Sausalito the next, The Wild Kitchen knows no geographic bounds. One hundred diners sit around the communal table, enjoying eight course meals, each course highlighting a sustainably foraged ingredient from the local landscape. These meals connect the eater with their natural surroundings in a new way. The Wild Kitchen brings eaters together to grow community around the foods nature provides.”
  • “Reaping without Sowing: Urban Foraging and Berkeley Open Source Food” is a research project at UC Berkeley which is “studying the availability, nutritional value, and possible toxicity of wild edibles that volunteer in urban food deserts.  Our research hypothesis is that in many such areas, there is a free, abundant source of nutritious fresh food: edible weeds.”  The project identifies both native and non-native edible plants growing wild in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  • Quinoa plant - photo by Christian Guthier from Flickr

    Quinoa plant – photo by Christian Guthier from Flickr

    Quinoa is a specialty food item, found in high-end stores such as Whole Foods.  It is growing wild along roadsides in Los Angeles because it is a plant that thrives on disturbance.  Quinoa is an example of a plant that is adapted to human civilization and is also a source of food.

We hope that the foraging movement will grow and eventually become as strong and influential as the native plant movement has been in the past.  And we hope that herbicide use in our public lands will be abandoned in the process of making the transition from venerating native plants to respecting ALL plants.


 

  1. Katrina Blair, The Wild Wisdom of Weeds: 13 Essential Plants for Human Survival, Chelsea Green, 2014
25 Comments leave one →
  1. January 2, 2015 7:41 am

    This sounds like an excellent read. Good that we who value our wild “weeds” are getting more attention now and are able to express ourselves as to the value of these valuable plants. I’m a forager myself and it’s so cool to finally be able to rebut those so-called “warriors.” And so that we might stop the use of herbicides in our parks, etc. I’d like to see this kinda thing taught in schools – useful stuff – teaching kids and everyone else to better respect nature.

  2. Patsy Cotterill permalink
    January 2, 2015 11:37 am

    Hah! With the possible exception of comfrey and the quinoa you mention as a new roadside weed, none of the plants mentioned in Ms. Blair’s lunch menu are local weeds in Colorado, they are cultivated crops, some of which must have been cultivated outside the U.S., so I fail to see how this does much for the local ecology. I agree that some weeds, such as lamb’s-quarters, are edible and palatable and I’m all for eating dandelions rather than spraying them with herbicide, but the plain fact is that most foods come from a few edible, non-local species all of which are cultivated. The only natural way to live in Colorado is to eat bison feeding on the native grasses of the plains – and we have long got rid of the native grasses and the bison! Native plants should certainly not be used as food; most grow only in protected areas anyway so are already reduced in numbers and to use them as a popular food source would likely ensure their extermination.
    I dislike the positive spin that is put on the idea that weeds increase diversity and represent an adaptation to changing conditions, when all those conditions are the result of human activity and are largely hostile to native plant communities which represent thousands of years of adaptation to changing environments. To give a human analogy: would we now think today that it is okay for European settlers to come into America and wipe out the indigenous peoples?
    Respecting nature means respecting nature, it doesn’t mean saying that whatever alien species – plant or animal – that humans cause to invade as a result of their economic activity or globe-trotting are okay because the indigenous species will adapt and so will the invasives. It means there will be extinctions. You can tell I’m a nativist/botanist with respect for the native communities that existed before European colonization!

    • January 2, 2015 12:20 pm

      There is no empirical evidence that non-native plants have caused any extinction of native plants in the continental US: “. . . when the paper was written there was not any evidence that a single North American plant species had been driven to extinction, or even extirpated within a single US state, due to competition from an introduced plant species . . .” and “As of November, 2007, there was still no evidence . . .” (Mark A. Davis, Invasion Biology, Oxford University Press, 2009, page 182)

      And here is a huge, global study that found no evidence of decreased biodiversity resulting from introduction of non-native plants: https://milliontrees.me/2014/08/15/global-increases-in-biodiversity-resulting-from-new-species/

      Yours is a common belief among native plant advocates for which there is no empirical evidence. For the record, we value both native and non-native plants. Although we respect your preference, we do not believe your preference justifies the use of herbicides in our public parks. We also do not equate “nature” with “native.” Ours is a more inclusive view of nature, which also includes humans.

      • May 1, 2015 7:21 am

        Once again you claim “no evidence of decreased biodiversity resulting from introduction of non-native plants.” Once again I send you a research link relating to my area:

        http://tyson.wustl.edu/news/honeysuckle.pdf

        Will you publish it?

        • May 1, 2015 9:04 am

          You have provided a link to an unpublished study. It has therefore not been peer reviewed and cannot be favorably compared to the published studies we have provided. Furthermore it cites an author, Amanda Rodewald, who has since changed her mind about honeysuckle being an “ecological trap” for birds. Ms. Rodewald’s recent study says, “the lowest overall nest survival rates” of birds were in the plots where honeysuckle had been removed. “Does removal of invasives restore ecological networks? An experimental approach,” Amanda Rodewald, et. al., Biological Invasions, March 2015.

          The paper which you cite recommends that honeysuckle be eradicated with herbicides (glyphosate) and/or prescribed burns where possible.

          If birds are harmed by the eradication of honeysuckle and if the methods used to eradicate honeysuckle are harmful to the environment and the animals that live in it—including humans—there is no justification for eradicating it. As you may know, the World Health Organization of the United Nations recently classified glyphosate as a “probable human carcinogen.”

          If you have an aesthetic distaste for honeysuckle, you are free to eradicate it in your garden. However, that preference does not trump the preferences of others in public lands which belong to everyone. Many people do not consider your aesthetic preferences justification for setting fires and spraying public parks with herbicides that are known to be harmful.

  3. takebackthegreen permalink
    January 3, 2015 4:30 am

    I could not be more supportive of the main mission of this blog–preventing destruction of eucalypts in the Bay Area. I realize that not every work cited or reviewed in support of this mission will be to everyone’s liking. There are two glaring problems with this book that should not go unanswered. One is rhetorical. The other is an issue I have, until now, refrained from commenting about on this, or any similarly-minded blog, for the (inadequate) reason that I hate to dissent from a cause I so strongly support.

    The rhetorical one is quick and easy, thus first: The religious language of “worshiper” and “warrior” is just unacceptable. Metaphor, flights-of-fancy, colorful prose… I don’t oppose creative use of language in scientific, or non-fiction, writing. However, one of the most troubling aspects of the nativist movement, and the one I complain about the most, is their conscious, or unconscious adoption of religious vocabulary, imagery and rhetoric. If the issue of native vs. non-native is made into a “moral” (which, includes “religious” as a subset) one, it becomes un-winnable, unsolvable, and prone to hysteria, emotion, lazy thinking, and victory-via-volume.

    I haven’t read the book. Maybe the religious reference are humorous. Maybe they are serious. Either way, they don’t help the cause. The argument against destroying Eucalypts is a winning argument for dozens of rational reasons. The fuzzy, precious, touchy-feely, quasi-religious babble proves nothing when used by nativists. Ditto for whatever this side is called. Yuck. No.

    The second issue is more widespread and pervasive than just this book. It is vastly more important. It should be addressed. This blog–which so admirably demonstrates an understanding of, and dedication to science-based dialogue–seems the right place to put in my two cents. So…

    The “toxic herbicide” argument is unnecessary. More importantly, it is harmful and has the potential to be greatly more harmful in the future, via the law of unintended consequences.

    It is unnecessary because the pro-eucalypt case is effortlessly convincing without it. Milliontrees is well aware of the many other arguments, so I won’t cite them. If the “toxic scare” rhetoric were harmless, it would still be unwelcome because a debate should never be won by false information.

    But the constant use of “toxic herbicide” language IS harmful, and I urge those who use it to honestly reconsider the subject. I’ll try to keep it brief, but I welcome discussion on the subject.

    First, the herbicides used by nativists are not toxic to humans or animals. (This assumes the accepted definition of toxic: not harmful in the amount, or manner, commonly exposed in normal use and normal conditions. In plain language: the dose makes the poison. Every substance in the universe is toxic at some level.) Round-Up and similar herbicides were created AS SAFER ALTERNATIVES TO PREVIOUS HERBICIDES THAT HAD MUCH MORE UNDESIRABLE EFFECTS. There are no experimentally derived data showing human toxicity. In fact, testing indicates exactly the opposite. I realize that “toxic chemical” rhetoric is currently very in vogue, and very effective on the scientifically illiterate. But it is false, no matter how many people “feel” it is true. There are no bodies. No dead dogs. No two-headed toads.

    Well, even if it isn’t harmful, why not ban it just in case? Because the current anti-herbicide, anti-chemical vogue, as demonstrated by the author of the book cited in this post, is murderous when followed to its stated end.

    “Anti-chemical” is just patent nonsense. Everything is composed of chemicals, as we all should have learned in high school.

    “Anti-herbicide” is equally nonsensical, although for perhaps less-obvious reasons. One is that if synthetic herbicides were eliminated tomorrow, 99% of the herbicides present in food–even “organic” food!–would still be present. It is impossible to make the following fact heard over the hysteria, but the residue of synthetic herbicides present on unwashed produce is so minuscule that it could not even be detected until fairly recently, when equipment became sensitive enough. More importantly, it is dwarfed by the “natural” pesticides that every plant produces itself. There are “toxins” of every description in every type of produce. Apples contain several. They don’t kill us because they are present in such tiny amounts. And those amounts are VASTLY larger than the amounts of synthetics that remain on the surface of unwashed produce. The website Senseaboutscience.org–among others–has very clear and readable pamphlets which explain the concept.

    I will end with the two most critical reasons to eliminate the “toxic herbicide” tactics. The first is hypothetical: If activists succeed in getting herbicides banned, it is almost certain a grave need for them will arise, and that feeling of success will turn to regret.

    The second is real and simple. Eliminating herbicides would doom a large portion of the world’s population to starvation. Anyone who says that it is possible to feed the world without herbicides is just wrong. If you don’t “feel” like they are useful–against all evidence and rationality–then don’t use them in your back yard. But please look beyond your own affluence. Banning them means the deaths of millions. America has been colonial, arrogant, ignorant and selfish for a very long time. This mindset has the potential to be another in a long line of things we will be ashamed of in the future. Only this time it will have been committed by so-called “progressives.”

    We MUST stop the hype and fear-mongering. If it catches on and mob-mentality takes over, history has shown that only sorrow results. What the nativists are doing is unacceptable, but not because they are using herbicides. It is not worth winning on this issue if the result is spreading fear of necessary and beneficial technology.

    Question what you think you know. Go to the website listed above. It is a non-profit charitable foundation run by scientists promoting the scientific method. They have no other agenda. I am not affiliated, but I consider them a rare voice of reason.

    • January 3, 2015 6:04 am

      First a word about the tone of this post. The word “warrior” is used by native plant advocates to describe themselves. The word “worshiper” was selected as an antidote to “warrior” and is perhaps over-the-top, as you say. If you read this book, the word “worshiper” may seem more appropriate.

      As for your opinion of herbicides, I agree that it is not wise to exaggerate what is known about their toxicity. However, I disagree that they are uniformly harmless, as you suggest. The toxicity of herbicides varies. Roundup (active ingredient glyphosate) is considered the least toxic of the herbicides used by the Natural Areas Program. However, it is the herbicide used least because it is a generalist which kills any plant it is sprayed on. As for the evidence that it is harmful, there is epidemiological evidence that it is causing kidney failure in places where it is used heavily and the water contains a lot of minerals (http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/24876-monsantos-herbicide-linked-to-fatal-kidney-disease-epidemic-will-ckdu-topple-monsanto). This observation is consistent with the evidence that glyphosate is changing the consistency of the soil, by binding minerals together. There is also evidence that soil microbes are damaged by glyphosate. (https://milliontrees.me/2013/10/01/glyphosate-aka-roundup-is-damaging-the-soil/).

      The Natural Areas Program uses more Garlon (triclopyr) and imazapyr than glyphosate products because they are more selective killers of vegetation. The EPA reports that triclopyr is acutely toxic to aquatic life, moderately toxic to bees, and significantly reduced reproductive success of birds in one study. Triclopyr also damaged all species of mycorrhizal fungi on which it was tested: https://milliontrees.me/2013/10/18/the-importance-of-soil-microbes-for-forest-health/.

      Here is an evaluation of herbicides used by native plant “restorations” done for the California Invasive Plant Council, which compares the toxicity of the herbicides for various animals, including humans: http://www.cal-ipc.org/symposia/archive/pdf/2014/Law_Johnson.pdf. Note that they report that triclopyr poses reproductive and developmental risk to female applicators. The California Invasive Plant Council promotes these projects and therefore has no interest in exaggerating the risks of herbicide use.

      Less is known about imazapyr because it is a newer herbicide. However, it is known to be mobile and persistent in the soil. Where is has been used, it has sometimes damaged or killed unintended targets (https://milliontrees.me/2013/03/12/when-the-cure-is-worse-than-the-disease-incompetent-pesticide-use/).

      So, the evidence of toxicity of herbicides is not strong, but the objections to their use are not based solely on their toxicity. The legally required testing of pesticides is very limited (https://milliontrees.me/2014/02/25/american-corporations-prevent-the-regulation-of-pesticides/). The more pesticide we use, the more quickly insects and weeds evolve to resist them. There are now many herbicide resistant weeds that cannot be eradicated and there will be more in the future. (https://milliontrees.me/2013/07/30/wily-weeds-win-the-war/) And, the herbicides damage the soil, which is probably one of the factors in the unsuccessful “restorations.”

      Of course, the arguments for using pesticides in agriculture are different from those against using them in parks. It seems that parks are appropriately held to a higher standard because there is no economic argument for using pesticides in parks. Still, there is evidence that traditional methods of controlling weeds and pests may be just as economically efficient as pesticide use. Here is a study done by several universities and reported by the Union of Concerned Scientists which compared traditional methods with those now being used by industrial-sized agricultural enterprises:
      https://milliontrees.me/2013/01/29/what-agribusiness-doesnt-want-you-to-know/

      We are a broad coalition of people who oppose “restoration” projects. Herbicide use is only one of many issues and it is a high priority for some people and less of an issue for others. We use all the arguments against these destructive projects because we want to interest as wide an audience as possible in the issues. However, we are committed to accuracy and we confine our reporting of the disadvantages of using herbicides to empirical studies from reputable sources.

      • takebackthegreen permalink
        January 3, 2015 7:29 am

        Thank you for your response. Your knowledge in the area of non-human toxicity clearly exceeds my own. Sadly, the fact that you are aware of the distinction, and able to make insightful comparisons of risk in context, makes “settling” the details of the issue almost unimportant.

        Why? Because, as usual, your words, both in form and content, highlight every admirable quality that is lacking in public discourse on the subject. I don’t know what the solution is, or if there is one. I can only give an (admittedly non-evidentiary) anecdotal observation: of the dozens of times I have broached this subject–or seen it broached–on fora where one would hope a serious discussion could be had, this is the only time where the response was anything more than bedlam.

        I don’t consider myself a pessimist, but I’ve come to believe that the vast majority of people, for various reasons, are incapable (or whatever non-judgmental word is appropriate) of making distinctions such as those you make. Or following the line of logic. Or thinking critically. I honestly don’t mean that to sound condescending or critical. People have concerns of all kinds that exclude concerns of all other kinds. I just think scientific literacy is rarely high on the list of priorities.

        If my opinion is correct (and I always welcome the chance to learn by hearing arguments that change or alter my opinion) and “toxic” is used indiscriminately against an entire class of substances by the average person and–more importantly–politicians and decision makers, then I have to make an unfair choice. I wish public discourse resembled the discourse you practice. Instead it consists mainly of “Herbicides: Toxic! Scary! Ban them! Agree or Disagree?”

        And I have to choose “disagree”, even if (conceding to you every point for the sake of argument) it means substantial harm to non-human species. That is preferable to having a nuanced discussion while policy makers ignore it and make terrible, black-and-white decisions that increase human suffering.

        I seem to remember when helping those less fortunate was a common goal of the “Left.” Now even saying those words is met with contempt. It is one thing to care about our environment. It is another to be proudly and needlessly misanthropic. The current mantra is roughly “Everything natural is good. Everything man-made is evil.” That belief is as dangerous as it is false.

        Thanks for providing a forum where the subject can be thought through.

  4. Patsy Cotterill permalink
    January 3, 2015 10:56 am

    I am replying to milliontrees’ response to my comment of Jan. 2. Yes, it may be difficult to show that on a large continent like North America a single native species has gone extinct due to alien introductions or even simple human activity (though the same is not true of endemic island species – see the Internet) – although I bet if I combed the literature as thoroughly as you do to bolster your cause I could find evidence. As for decline in species populations (the precursor, if unchecked, to species extinction) that is a matter of personal observation for those of us of mature years in smaller areas – regions, counties, cities. According to the IUCN which cites a study done by Kew Gardens, London, UK, approximately 20% of the world’s plant species are estimated to be threatened with extinction. Also to be considered is the “extinction debt,” the idea that plants that appear plentiful today are doomed to eventual extinction because they cannot spread to new habitats because of habitat loss and/or habitat fragmentation. Another problem is loss of genetic diversity concomitant with diminished populations. Even if species do not go extinct in a given area (there may always be some pocket of natural habitat where they can be found, even after many years, by some dedicated botanist), plant communities certainly do. Ecologist John L. Vankat writing in The Natural Vegetation of North America, 1979) states that of the ecosystem type known as California grasslands, more than 50-90% of the area that was once natural grassland is now made up of introduced species (mostly annuals) today.

    Webmaster: We have a difference of opinion regarding cause and effect. I do not doubt that extinctions are occurring at a more rapid rate than they have in the past (with the obvious exception of cataclysmic events such as of the 5th mass extinction that occurred 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the Earth). However, the mere existence of non-native plant species is not the cause of dwindling populations of native plants. The primary reason is human population increase, economic development, and consequent anthropogenic change, such as climate change. Eradicating non-native plants will not alter any of those underlying conditions and is therefore pointless.

    We consider climate change the most important environmental issue of the present era. That is the primary reason why we object to the destruction of millions of healthy trees, which are storing millions of tons of carbon, solely because they are not native. The native ranges of plants have changed and will continue to change. In many cases the non-native plants are better adapted to the changed environment than the plants that preceded them. In other words, it is not in the interests of native plant advocates to demand the eradication of trees because to do so exacerbates the climate change to which the plants they prefer are no longer adapted.

    Grasslands in California are 98% non-native annual grasses and have been for nearly 200 years. The Mediterranean grasses were brought to California by the grazing animals of the Spanish. Attempts to restore native bunch grasses to California have been notoriously unsuccessful. Here is a description of a project that spent $450,000 in 8 years in a futile attempt to convert 2 acres of grassland: https://milliontrees.me/2012/01/03/a-failed-attempt-to-restore-californias-grassland-costs-225000-per-acre/

    Given these threats, is it any wonder that the conservation and restoration sciences and practice are burgeoning among plant specialists and even citizen-science stewards? Restoration is difficult enough, yes, even unfeasible in many cases, and it does not need its detractors such as milliontrees, a “broad coalition of people who oppose ‘restoration’ projects, and try to subvert the public to their cause by cherrypicking the scientific literature for facts (admittedly often valid) that support their argument.

    Webmaster: Million Trees does not “cherrypick” the scientific literature. We read as much literature published by invasion biologists as we do of their critics. We note that you have not provided any scientific studies in support of your opinion. We exercise our First Amendment rights on Million Trees and do not feel obligated to protect the economic interests of those who are employed by native plant “restorations.”

    Sure, I understand where milliontrees is coming from. People like the environments and landscapes they are familiar with and want to defend them. But they should realize that they often involve loss, the loss of natural communities, and that they come at the expense of other good things, and adjust their attitudes accordingly.

    Webmaster: Million Trees does not use aesthetic arguments in our advocacy. Our advocacy is not based on our aesthetic preferences. In fact, we prefer native oak and redwood trees to non-native eucalyptus. Our advocacy is solely about the damage that is being done to our environment: the loss of windbreak, the resulting erosion, the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by prescribed burns and destruction of huge trees, the spraying of herbicides in our public parks, etc.

    The trouble with your definition of “inclusive” nature is that it means “anything goes”; humans can go on with business as usual (rampant economic exploitation, suppression of fire, building of huge homes in semi-natural areas, damming rivers, etc.) because vegetation will adjust and adapt and wildlife too, and if they don’t – well, humans are part of nature too!

    Webmaster: You extrapolate our advocacy into unrelated issues. Opposition to the destruction of trees does not translate into support for “rampant economic exploitation.” You will find nothing on the Million Trees blog that expresses support for your rhetorical list of environmental degradation.

    As for the reference to “misanthropic” you should consult the IUCN websites and see what is being done to preserve plants that are of importance to man – economically, agriculturally, medicinally. For the record, I am in favour of preserving endangered weeds and cultivated crops, just as I am in favour of preserving native plants and their communities.
    I won’t wade into the herbicide debate except to say that if parks exist for the purpose of human recreation then one should try to avoid using herbicides in them, but if their purpose is to preserve a natural (native) community then careful use of herbicides may be essential. Personally, I think the fuss over herbicide use in natural areas is ridiculous given the amount of herbicides we pour on our crops – let’s find a better way of doing agriculture before we hit on the conservationists/restorationists.
    Final comment: I love eucalypts, and long may they continue – in Australia!

    • takebackthegreen permalink
      January 3, 2015 4:20 pm

      Patsy: Thank you for your statement, “I bet if I combed the literature as thoroughly as you do to bolster your cause I could find evidence.” Its vacuousness, and the ease with which you use it, demonstrate nicely why easily frustrated people like myself throw their hands up and thank Milliontrees for having the patience, stamina and encyclopedic knowledge to engage and attempt–probably quixotically–to inform.

      I avoid expending energy forming arguments or rebuttals that conform to accepted norms of debate when those are not the prevailing standards and the energy is almost certainly wasted. Milliontrees already touched on most of the lapses in logic in your post. So I’m left with the easy lifting: broad facts and observations.

      1) Extinction is the eventual fate of every species. The belief that extinction of any species is somehow objectively negative is a recent fad. The unfathomable process of life on Earth is unaffected by the loss of a scrub grass species. Or a fish species. Or pandas. Or us. It has somehow become an accepted principle that there is intrinsic value in “saving species.” There is most emphatically not.

      That doesn’t mean the idea isn’t worthwhile. It means it is only worthwhile to the extent that Homo sapiens sapiens thinks it is worthwhile. “Nature” isn’t a mother, and can’t care. So the extinction argument isn’t the trump card so many believe it is. It is merely one factor among many.

      If you’re ever feeling masochistic, recite those last two paragraphs in public.

      2) Humans ARE a part of nature, by any sane definition.

      3) I wish you’d hesitated more on joining the herbicide discussion. Convenient, illogical “standards” that consider an entire category acceptable where I like it and unacceptable where I don’t, are the very reason I hesitated to broach the subject. You can’t have it both ways. And since mass communication only allows for a maximum of two ways, I have to choose the extreme “Always acceptable.”

      To waste a few more words (why is it so hard to admit to being pessimistic??): we don’t POUR herbicides on our crops. Please read even a few simple paragraphs on the actual process of modern agriculture. Or visit an actual “scary, Big-Ag, corporate” farm. You will find it is nothing like you expect.

      Fun fact: “organic” (such a useful word absolutely ruined by fools) farms don’t allow “synthetic” herbicides, which have a small set of well-defined effects and clear lifespans. Instead they use natural herbicides such as copper and its salts, which have a vast array of proven negative effects on a vast array of species and which never, ever, ever biodegrade. (In case you wonder why: copper is an element.)

      While I’m at it (“it” being challenging the general philosophy–born of affluence and its attendant removal from the less attractive aspects of nature–that has made “herbicide” and “pesticide” into boogeyman words, when in reality we owe our current great good fortune and relatively easy lives to their existences) I’ll dig my own grave a last little bit deeper, and address the biggest boogeyman of all, which you mentioned: Monsanto.

      Myth: Monsanto is the devil incarnate. Truth: Monsanto, like all other corporate entities, and individuals, has done things later shown to be harmful. But, when the entirety of its existence is assessed, Monsanto has done immeasurably more good than harm. It is the whipping boy of the moment for people who do measurably more harm than good through ignorance and hubris and a general mucking-up of the conversation.

      Sorry, forgot to mention: can people who don’t understand the word “science” please, PLEASE, for the love of god, stop using it. (“Citizen-science stewards”???) “Organic” is already debased beyond redemption. I can state from personal experience: that word exists solely to be combined with “Chemistry” and offered as a college course to weed out potential medical school candidates. 🙂 But it isn’t too late to save “science.”

      ———-
      Note: As stated above, I can provide references for anything non-philosophical I’ve said, for anyone who is actually interested in the open-minded gathering and assessment of information. I admit this is a blatant cop-out, but I won’t do it for knee-jerk challengers of anything outside their worldview, or for topics I can’t get excited about to begin with.

      At the risk of sycophancy, I just can’t say strongly- or often enough how much I admire the speed, ease and thoroughness with which Milliontrees assembles publication-quality arguments. The fact that it seems so effortless is a sure marker that it isn’t.

      It’s important to express gratitude to those who are willing and able to do the heavy lifting.

    • January 3, 2015 5:39 pm

      I’ll take the bait, although I probably shouldn’t. “Citizen-science” is an issue because it prevents us from having a substantive debate. It’s rarely mentioned on Million Trees because we prefer positive to negative arguments.

      In conversations with native plant advocates in the past 17 years, we are often flabbergasted by their ignorance of basic scientific facts. Here is a brief list of some of the absurd statements we have heard native plant advocates make, often in public hearings:
      • “Grassland stores more carbon than forests.” Since above-ground carbon storage is proportional to biomass, this is not an accurate statement.
      • The manager of one of the local “restoration” projects that is destroying ALL non-native trees addressed a class of 180 undergraduates at UC Berkeley to recruit volunteers to his projects. He said “Carbon stored in non-native trees doesn’t count. Only carbon stored in native trees counts.” This is a ridiculous statement. That it went unchallenged in a course at UC Berkeley is very alarming.
      • In response to informing a native plant advocate that there is fossil evidence that Monterey pines lived in the San Francisco Bay Area many times in the past, she said, “I don’t believe you.” We provided her with a copy of the scientific study which she said she could not understand. Monterey pines are one of the tree species being eradicated in the Bay Area because it did not live here in 1769, the specific point in time they are attempting to replicate.
      • Another local native plant advocate attended Professor Shapiro’s presentation at the Commonwealth Club. Unfortunately he did not understand Mr. Shapiro’s message. Two weeks after Professor Shapiro’s presentation, the native plant advocate addressed the Planning Commission during a public hearing, claiming that Professor Shapiro’s presentation supported San Francisco’s massive native plant “restorations.” He does not support these massive projects and his presentation was clear to those who understood it.

      Believe me, I could go on, but I think these examples make the point.

      We appreciate your giving us credit for the research we do and the civil manner in which we communicate it here on Million Trees. Maintaining this tone is much more difficult in face-to-face encounters.

      • takebackthegreen permalink
        January 4, 2015 1:05 am

        I wish I could unlearn that citizen-science is a real thing. It sounds like a very deep rabbit hole. I’m staying away as long as I can.

        I’m glad you took the bait. Those are interesting and depressing anecdotes. I’ve only heard the audio of Shapiro’s excellent speech. I feel like it would take a fair amount of effort to confuse his message.

        Thank you for reminding me of a question I had regarding the most recent and interesting fact I’ve learned on the subject (on these very pages): the Monterey Pine fossil record. Such a beautiful, unassailable demonstration of the arbitrariness of the whole nativist enterprise. You would expect it to deal a crippling blow. I’ll cross my fingers and ask: Has it had any discernible effect?

        Webmaster: The original study of the existence of Monterey pine in the Bay Area was published in 1998 in Fremontia, which is the journal of the California Native Plant Society. The author, C.I. Millar, closed with her suggestion that Monterey pine NOT be destroyed where it existed in the past. It is rather ironic that it was published by the California Native Plant Society because they are, of course, the main drivers of demands to eradicate everything considered “non-native.” Here is a synopsis available on-line: http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/montereypines_01. You can also find the original article in the on-line archives of Fremontia: 26(3):12–16. No, this article has not had any influence on those who are destroying Monterey pine. In the case of the woman who refuses to believe they have existed here in the past, at the time of the conversation she was raving about how pleased she was that about 500 pines were destroyed on the Marin Headlands by the National Park Service.

        In the spirit of year-end philosophising: Do the civil, rational discussions EVER have any effect? Are they even noticed above the din? CAN they have any effect on a process as horrifying as policy-making “informed” by public comment (which is to discourse what string is to string theory)? I’d appreciate your thoughts, since you have experience in that arena. The committee would also accept an answer to the consolidated question: Is there hope?

        Webmaster: Although I am unaware of ever having changed anyone’s mind, there are among our collaborators several people who were native plant advocates in the past who arrived at their own conclusions after participating in futile projects. There seem to be a few members of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission, and Urban Forestry Council who understand what we are saying. I can’t say how they arrived at that conclusion. At the moment, I do not see any broader movement in our direction in the near term. I believe that climate change will eventually settle the debate because in the end it’s a question of where things will grow.

        Million Trees is aimed at the majority of people who have not yet formed an opinion about nativism. They are being bombarded with stories about “invasive species.” We are trying to be the antidote to that media onslaught. We don’t honestly expect to change the minds of those who are already committed to the ideology, especially those who are earning their living on these projects.

        Related topic: are there equivalent data regarding the history of Monterey Cypress, a far more interesting, attractive and useful tree in my biased opinion? As a less-common–sorry, rare and virtuous–species, is it safe from the nativists?

        Webmaster: I am unaware of similar fossil evidence for Monterey cypress. They are NOT safe. Many have been destroyed by state and national parks. Many of the 1,600 trees that are planned for destruction on Mount Davidson are cypress. Although I like both pines and cypress, the cypress seems a sadder loss because they live about 100 years longer than the pines.

  5. Patsy Cotterill permalink
    January 4, 2015 2:00 pm

    “Patsy from the Prairies.” I do not know enough to comment on the merits of your specific initiative in the San Francisco Bay area. I do believe that every issue should be judged on its own merits. It is indeed unfortunate if native plant advocates (a neutral term much better than “nativists”) get carried away by their ideology and ignore scientific facts – science is the base on which we are all grounded.
    You say, “You (meaning me) extrapolate our advocacy into unrelated issues.” No, on the contrary, it is you (italics) who extrapolates. I can understand your concern for your beloved Bay eucalypts; what I object to is your expansion of this crusade into opposition to the cutting down of all trees, your promotion of aliens (though I do also agree that a measured response to weeds is in order, they are great subjects for teaching botany, for example), and above all your propaganda against the credibility of restorationists and conservationists as a means to support your initial cause.

    Webmaster: Million Trees was never in a position to define the topics for debate. We merely react to the justifications used by native plant advocates to support their demands to eradicate all non-native trees in the Bay Area. When they claim that their demands are “science-based” we are forced to examine the arguments they claim are “scientific.” Without exception, we find that their justifications are not supported by science. So, if native plant advocates want us to quit using scientific arguments, they can do so by not claiming that their projects are “science-based.”

    If you wish to have a meaningful debate, you would be wise to quit putting words in our mouth. Our eucalypts are not “beloved.” (At least not by us.) Rather they are the trees that will grow here and we value our urban forest, which is performing many valuable ecological functions.

    I am completely in agreement with you on the causes of extinction threats – though I don’t find it helpful to state that everything will go extinct in the end, yes, one day the sun will die but does that stop us from doing things today? – population increase, economic development, and climate change. I live in a city in Alberta, Canada with a red-hot economy that receives some 60,000 immigrants per year, and it shows in many ways, not least the loss of native habitats to suburbanization (cultivated plants and weeds replacing native ones), transportation, as well as to increasing fragmentation and degradation to accommodate people. Since it is all but impossible to counter population increase, all we native plant advocates can do is to try to preserve natural habitats (first priority, but difficult) and restore those habitat remnants that are left but have been degraded by human activity (second priority, also difficult).

    Webmaster: Million Trees has not said that “everything will go extinct in the end.” If you wish to respond to takebackgreen, please do so. Again, please do not put words in our mouth.

    If you have read other posts on Million Trees, you know that we encourage native plant advocates to plant whatever they wish. By all means, plant native plants. Just quit destroying everything else. It seems a small request

    As to your comment about Milliontrees having no responsibility for the economic welfare of restorationists, that was a low blow. These scientists are hardly the CEOs of the business world, earning multi-millions! As for me, I’m a volunteer. I spend much of my summers trying to protect local prairie remnants from the incursions of agricultural weeds, in part so that people can have some appreciation of their natural heritage. It costs me financially, and I admit I may not be ultimately successful in my objectives, but I think it worthwhile to try, as does every other individual or organization that attempts to buck a trend for what they consider to be a worthy cause.

    Webmaster: We have yet to find a paid “restorationist” who can accurately be called a “scientist.

    When I used the phrase “good things” I wasn’t referring to aesthetics, although these prairies I frequent are certainly prettier than say, a bunch of industrial buildings (which are nearby). I was referring to ecological values.

    Webmaster: You did not use the phrase “good things.” You are putting words in your own mouth. You said, “People like the environments and landscapes they are familiar with and want to defend them.” I don’t see how that phrase can be interpreted to mean “ecological values.”

    According to conventional scientific wisdom, natural communities are more efficient, productive, resilient and support more life than weedy ones, poor in species, more ephemeral, whose members compete for similar resources.

    Webmaster: Yes, this is the conventional wisdom, but it is NOT supported by empirical scientific studies, which do not find “more life” in native compared to non-native habitats. Nor are there any scientific studies that find native habitats more “productive or resilient.” You see, this is how Million Trees is dragged into using scientific arguments. Native plant advocates make claims that are not accurate and so we must refute them. If native plant advocates will quit fabricating these claims, Million Trees will not be forced to debunk them.

    Citizen scientist? What’s the problem? I consider myself a citizen scientist because although I have a background in biology and try to read and understand the relevant scientific literature, I don’t engage in these projects professionally. I am fully aware that restoration science isn’t an exact science and is in its infancy. Another reason why it does not need ideologically-motivated detractors but rather honest critics.

    Webmaster: The problem with citizen scientists is that they are NOT scientists, but they claim to be. If they fabricate nonsense, how does that make their critics “dishonest?”

    As for your respondent “takebackthegreen” – a misleading appellation if ever there was one – I won’t deign to reply except to say: I never mentioned Monsanto. I recognize that herbicides are a complicated issue. The benefits of “organic” as applied to vegetation raised organically and livestock fed on the same chiefly consist in maintaining fertile, healthy soils, surely the basis of all good agriculture (including animal welfare).

    Webmaster: Regardless of your personal opinion of herbicides, the fact remains that our public parks are being sprayed with herbicides and your personal opinion is not preventing them from doing so. Therefore, “restoration” projects will be judged accordingly, whether you like it or not.

    Just want your readers to be aware that there are counter-arguments to yours, Milliontrees, and hopefully to make their own judgments on a case-by-case basis.

    Webmaster: If you are a regular reader of Million Trees, you have seen comments from other native plant advocates here. We post as many of them as we can, avoiding only threats, name-calling, and pointless repetition.

    As you say, case-by-case judgments are clearly advisable. Million Trees has not presumed to judge what you are doing in Alberta, Canada and you would be wise not to pass judgment on the destruction of our urban forest in the San Francisco Bay Area.

  6. Still Skeptical permalink
    January 4, 2015 8:08 pm

    Wow. In the same comment in which Patsy says Milliontrees is not an “honest critic,” she objects to Milliontrees’ “opposition to the cutting down of all trees.” Nowhere does Milliontrees express “opposition to the cutting down of all trees.” When Patsy sinks to the purely ad hominem questioning of the honesty of her correspondent, while at the same time she dishonestly misrepresents what Milliontrees says, she demonstrates, as Jon Stewart would say, “Ya got nuthin’.”

    Identifying economic self-interest is critical for understanding the “restoration” movement, whatever Patty thinks. It’s not about highly paid CEO’s. I don’t believe native plant restorations are particularly important to Monsanto; they make their money selling chemicals to corporate agriculture. The people who “get the money” are the army of self-styled “ecologists” who are employed by public agencies and non-profits, and contractors who perform the destructive projects. Example: In San Francisco the major native plant restoration effort is the Rec and Park Department’s “Natural Areas Program.” I have attended many public hearings over the last 15 years, dealing with various aspects of the Natural Areas Program. The public speakers arguing for the necessity of NAP’s destructive projects are uniformly employees of NAP, employees of the Rec and Park Dept, employees of San Francisco’s Commission on the Environment, consultants hired by Rec and Park, employees of similar public agencies (with similar self-interest) from around the Bay who come to show support, and contractors (and their employees) who perform the destruction work. Their jobs wouldn’t exist without the war on non-native plants. This is a huge, established, self-perpetuating economic interest group. It’s how they make a living; and they will fight fiercely to maintain their incomes. On the other hand, absolutely no one is making a dime exposing the false, repetitive, pseudo-scientific gibberish spouted by the native plant fans. The economic self-interest is all on one side of the debate. I, for one, remain grateful to the Milliontrees people who carry on bravely, uncompensated, in the interest of preserving our public parks.

    Patsy certainly does wander into unrelated issues when she says Milliontrees’ argument implies “rampant economic exploitation, suppression of fire, building of huge homes in semi-natural areas, damming rivers, etc.” Milliontrees supports none of these things and Patsy presents a dishonest “straw man” argument to imply that these evils follow from Milliontrees’ debunking of nativist pseudo-science.

    Why are these arguments about “science?” Because nativists say it’s about science. Patsy, and other nativists, could simply say, “We really like native plants. We like them better than we like non-native plants.” And then people could discuss various aesthetic and emotional preferences for what should exist on their public lands. But nativists know that’s a loser; they would not be able to convince the public at large to engage in large, expensive, destructive projects in pursuit of one small group’s narrow aesthetic vision. So they repeat, ad nausem, that “science” says their aesthetic preference is better, that science requires their vision to be implemented. The false nativist claims made under the guise of “science” are well covered elsewhere on this website; I won’t rehash them all now. But Patsy should read further. Because instead of just saying she prefers native plants, she repeats the familiar ideological litany in her comment: “natural [I assume Patsy means ‘native’] communities are more efficient, productive, resilient and support more life than weedy ones.” There is no scientific evidence for any of these four claimed superiority of native plants over non-native plants. Milliontrees presents considerable evidence the claims are false. So when you spout such “scienciness,” you shouldn’t be surprised when knowledgeable people debunk your fake science and present countering real science.

    Patsy said earlier that if she searched the scientific literature she could find scientific support for her belief that some native plants in the United States have been driven to extinction by non-native plants. So I say, “Try it!” Mark Davis is a distinguished professor of invasion biology; he did the literature search; he didn’t find such evidence. But if your “belief” is superior to the work of a real scientific expert, go ahead; let us know what you find.

  7. January 5, 2015 3:33 pm

    We’d like to thank MillionTrees for hosting these discussions. They’re seldom found elsewhere; the pro-Nativist website usually don’t publish the opposing arguments rather than engaging with them. And we’d like to thank both Patsy Cotterill and Takebackthegreen for their participation. It’s such a pleasure to see thoughtful responses rather than the usual Internet rants.

    • January 5, 2015 4:37 pm

      Thank you, Webmaster. However, I would much prefer that these questions go to SaveSutro, as I know you would respond with more patience and kindness than I can consistently muster.

  8. takebackthegreen permalink
    January 6, 2015 6:21 am

    Hmm. I’m not sure if my input is included in the reference to things that require patience and kindness. I came to the subject late and from a completely different perspective than others whose “side” I find myself on.

    If responding to comments, supportive or otherwise, is a time suck, I get that. My ego isn’t based on being heard. I can’t think of anything I’ve ever typed into a web browser that is important enough to take up valuable time. There’s at least a 50/50 shot the world will continue on without my keen insight.

    We share a goal. If my contribution to the cause needs to be not adding to your workload, consider it done.

    🙂

    Since this is probably a wrap for me regardless: I understand your take on herbicides and the strategic usefulness thereof. Because I do believe truth matters, and cutting off noses to spite faces is a proud tradition where I come from, I have to at least mention how surprised I was at the very poor quality of the truthout.org reference you cited regarding kidney stones and glyphosate. The quickest way to summarize the long list of problems is this: it does not meet the basic standards of a college research paper in any field, least of all science. It was laughably bad. I didn’t have time to follow the other links, so I will always think of it as strange anomaly.

    For what it’s worth: your own reporting and reflection are objectively better by any measure, not least of which is grammar. Is that site even edited? Nevermind. Doesn’t matter.

    If you ever need noisy supporters in the audience at a hearing or something, I can provide three. SaveSutro knows how to reach me.

    🙂

    • January 6, 2015 7:37 am

      Please don’t quit contributing, asking whatever questions you wish, and questioning whatever you read on Million Trees. That’s how we all learn….including Million Trees. Your questions and those of native plant advocates are opportunities for which we are grateful. We weren’t complaining about them, rather we were crediting SaveSutro with the credit she deserves for her consistently dispassionate communication style.

      We always hesitate to use epidemiological evidence of the toxicity of herbicide use. The cause-and-effect relationship is always impossible to prove. The particular link I selected for the report of kidney damage where glyphosate is heavily used may not be the strongest. It is one of many. Before rejecting it entirely, please look at other links by doing a search “glyphosate Roundup kidney failure”

      We also looked at the link you provided. We see some evidence of support from the manufacturers of pesticides, so it is not entirely without blame either. For example, the argument that herbicides use “different pathways” and therefore cannot harm animals, is definitely an industry-originated argument. Critics such as Center for Environmental Health (Caroline Cox) say it is without merit. Unfortunately, the physiology isn’t well understood so it hasn’t been possible to disprove that claim entirely.

      We know little about pesticides because little testing is done. Europe has reacted to that uncertainty differently from the USA. They use the precautionary principle to ban many pesticides we use even when they do not have irrefutable evidence of their harm. Ironically, San Francisco has mandated the use of the precautionary principle in its purchasing policy, but the political clout of the native plant movement has effectively prevented its use in the case of the herbicides they use.

      • takebackthegreen permalink
        January 9, 2015 2:35 am

        Only because I feel so strongly that basic scientific literacy is important, I need to correct one assertion made above.

        Senseaboutscience.org is most emphatically NOT in any way supported by “industry.” It is a British non-profit educational organization whose mission includes correcting errors in media and culture.

        The reason I think the website is important enough to include in my avatar is precisely because its information assiduously strives for neutrality and accuracy. More importantly, it is written for the layperson, in terms that are easily understandable. Issues are addressed by expert scientists in the relevant field. For the more scientifically literate reader, there are good refreshers on basic concepts.

        I believe the confusion over the source of support for the site stems from the fact that it is British and we Americans may not be used to British terminology. Royal Society of Chemists is equivalent to our American Chemical Society. They are organizations of professional scientists working in thousands of different settings.

        The words “chemical” and “chemistry” and “science” do not have negative connotations any more than “biology,” “physics,” or “geology.” They are branches of science. They get so terribly misused in media that it is easy to forget that they have actual definitions.

        It is important to have a site where a layperson can go and learn the facts, as they are currently understood by academic experts, about the real world. The tide of confusion and misinformation spread in popular culture can be overwhelming.

        A vital source of information run by a charitable organization deserves defending.

  9. January 9, 2015 3:06 pm

    “Chemical” has become short hand for referring to manufactured substances that are not natural. Of course we can play games that everything is a “chemical” to confuse people.

    Herbicides and any “pesticides” are toxic. If you’ve seen a California Newt who had just crawled though the sprayed area along our roadsides dying a horrible death, you won’t believe the myths that the toxicity of herbicides hasn’t been proven.

    Yes, plants make their own poisons to protect themselves, but Monsanto and other companies’ poisons are on a whole other level. Viet Nam has never recovered from Agent Orange herbicide that the US used on the people, land, and water. There are still birth defects and cancer and auto-immune illnesses as a result. It is criminal.

    Advocating herbicides to feed an over-populated world is no excuse to introduce more toxins into our water, earth, and air that is already heavily polluted. People need to stop over-populating.

    Yes, “We MUST stop the hype and fear-mongering, ” but that should be applied to telling us we need these poisons that will cause cancer, more auto-immune illnesses, etc. forever contaminating the environment, because people will starve. Poisoning our home (the earth) is never the answer to anything. We’ve seen the results that Rachel Carson wrote about. It is just common sense to say no to poisons. I do not know of any case where it’s needed.

    It’s also just horrifying to see each spring the lush green turned into dead brown because people are herbiciding where it doesn’t even make sense. Some counties will cut or trim rather than use the poisons.

    I wish the animals killed and affected by the poisoning and by the nativists’ desire to kill trees and other plants could have a vote. I still cannot get over the hypocrisy of people having non-natives in their own yards, but want to destroy the homes and food of native animals.

    As Million Trees has told us so many times, our tall and beautiful exotic trees may end up being the only trees to survive disease and drought. They create wonderful diversity of plants and animal life. Mixed Monterey Pine forest has far more complexity than only native forest, and the trees are just beautiful. They also can live a very long time, in spite of misinformation about their life spans, and when dead, they continue to help the native animals.

    It is a travesty and tragedy that they and other trees are being killed on public lands and we have no vote to protect our friends.

    • takebackthegreen permalink
      January 10, 2015 8:13 am

      Well, BevJo, we end up at the same conclusion: nativists should not be allowed to cut down eucalypts. It is hard to believe that in 2014, in the SF Bay Area, we have to fight against alleged “environmentalists” to keep them from clear-cutting healthy forests. Bizarre and tragic…

      On a more positive note, centuries of human endeavor to understand our world can’t be undone by people content to live in ignorance. You, Bev Jo, are made of atoms, mostly carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen… those are elements. Chemical elements.

      If you understand “chemical” to only mean something else, something like “poison,” you condemn yourself to living in the dark. You choose to close your eyes to the awe and wonder that comes with knowing how the natural world around you works. “Chemistry” means so much more than you currently know. There’s a whole universe waiting for you…

  10. January 10, 2015 7:06 pm

    Of course I agree with you, takebackthegreen, about protecting all of our trees, but I am anything but closing my “eyes to the awe and wonder that comes from knowing how the natural world around me works.” I certainly do not live “in ignorance” just because I disagree with you.

    Why the patronizing insults? Are my objections to the harm pesticides cause the environment that threatening, to completely divert from what I said?

    My comment was simply about the game-playing used to harass people who refer to “chemicals” as short hand when talking about toxic or unnatural manufactured chemicals. When I asked Saul Ferdan, the idiot in charge of continuing herbicide spraying near our watershed and reservoirs and along roadsides where there is no excuse for it, he played the same game — he told me “water is a chemical,” when I referred to the toxic chemical Glyphosate he was using. We can keep playing that game forever, and take apart every word to stop thinking and common sense, which is the intent.

    But the fact remains that herbicides kill and are not necessary and do affect our environment in ways that people only guess at. Why even take the risk?

    I’m guessing I know more about the natural world and how it works than you do,

    And thank you again, to Million Trees for this wonderful blog protecting our precious trees.

  11. January 27, 2015 12:22 pm

    I am not entering the above comments discussion per se and didn’t take the time to read them yet – I’m only saying that I have enjoyed that Death of a Millions Trees has addressed the topic of plants in a way that I have been intuitively feeling for a while – since I moved from San Francisco to some acreage in the northern Sacramento Valley.

    Not being a skilled farmer or rancher I actually felt overwhelmed by the idea of managing my pastures and land. All the examples I had around me are primarily conventional mechanized agriculture, with plenty of non-organic practices. None of it felt like what I would do.

    In my yard I was confronted with a turf lawn that quickly proved ridiculous in its requirements for water and mowing, let alone “weed” management.

    Two books informed me enough to look way from these traditions and trust nature. “The American Meadow Garden:Creating a Natural Alternative to the Traditional Lawn” and “One Straw Revolution”.

    My lack of disposable income left no choice but to simply observe what happened by not doing anything save some judicial mowing. I started to really see the plants and pay attention to their cycles. I developed an admiration for plants and trees regardless of whether I was “supposed” to like them or not. The evolution of my lawn into a variegated field has been tremendous.

    Then comes along your recommendation of The Wild Wisdom of Weeds. Wow! My previous lawn is a veritable wild market and I hadn’t even known it. The book educated me on how the so called weeds are actually improving my pastures and not ruining them. I have found organic and other ways of least harm to restore the balance of plants to the land where my intervention is necessary to meet the needs of the horses in my care.

    When the evolution, conservation and preservation of nature seem counter to human existence, best we question our part before we say that nature is at fault. So many of the conflicts we have with nature are created by us through domestication when we decided that our best interest was to somehow control or correct that which is neither controllable or wrong.

    • January 27, 2015 12:40 pm

      Thank you for your wise and interesting comment. At the heart of it is an appreciation and respect for nature based on careful observation…always the best teacher. Please come again and comment when you are inspired to do so.

  12. February 19, 2016 3:02 pm

    Hello – I enjoyed reading this review of Katrina’s book. I also enjoyed her book, and learned a lot from it. That said – I also found many aspects of this book that raised concerns, mainly about how readers of the book might misapply what Katrina wrote, resulting in harm to their health, the health of wild plant populations, and/or sensitive habitats. These concerns are spelled out in detail in a critique I wrote on Katrina’s book, which appears on the Ecological Landscape Alliance website. Here’s the link: http://www.ecolandscaping.org/10/book-reviews/a-critique-the-wild-wisdom-of-weeds/

    I encourage anyone reading Katrina’s book to read my critique as well.

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