Beyond the War on Invasive Species: Interview with Tao Orion

I am republishing with permission a portion of Kollibri terre Sonnenblume’s interview of Tao Orion.  Kollibri is a writer, photographer, tree hugger, animal lover, and cultural dissident. Kollibri was born and raised in Nebraska, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Writing at the St. Olaf Paracollege, and lived in the Twin Cities and Boston before moving to Portland in 2001. Since 2011, Kollibri has lived predominantly in rural areas in the Western US, working in agriculture and exploring wildtending. Kollibri has published several books, including The Troubles of ‘Invasive’ Plants (with Nicole Patrice Hill), originally a zine and soon to be published as a book.  Kollibri has also recorded interviews available as podcasts, “Voices for Nature & Peace,” which can be found at radiofreesunroot.com.

Conservation Sense and Nonsense


Tao Orion, author of “Beyond the War on Invasive Species”

Tao Orion is the author of “Beyond the War on Invasive Species: A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration.” She is a permaculture designer, teacher, homesteader, and mother living in the southern Willamette Valley of Oregon. I interviewed her on May 18, 2020, for my podcast, “Voices for Nature & Peace.” What follows is a partial transcript of that conversation, edited for clarity. [Listen to the entire interview here]

Kollibri terre Sonnenblume, macska moksha press

K: A lot of people have heard the term, “invasive species” and most of them of course are assuming it’s something bad, but when it comes right down to it, it’s actually very difficult to define the term and we could even say that there isn’t one definition of that term.

T: Yes, that’s something that I found really interesting as I was researching my book, because I was really trying to find out if there was a clear, objective description of what an invasive species is, and I found that even the National Invasive Species Council—which in the US is the federal government level board that looks at invasive species issues—spent years on deliberating on the definition and even so, they weren’t able to come up with something that I felt was purely an objective description that could be [applied] in all contexts. It seemed to vary from place to place and time to time.

K: Monsanto was one of the companies involved in setting [that council] up.

T: That’s another disturbing element about how the big frenzy around invasive species and the purported damage that they do came to be so popular; a lot of that was informed and funded by pesticide interests to spur the sale of products, herbicides in particular, to deal with species invasions.

K: I think that most people are probably not aware of the fact that the use of pesticides and herbicides has been rising over the last 20 years, not falling. I think people hear about organic agriculture and they think we must be on the right path. But due in part to the war on invasives and also due to genetically modifying crops to be Round-up Ready so they can survive the use of pesticides—these two things seem to have driven an increase in the use of pesticides over the last 20 years.

T: Yes, it’s definitely alarming. My background is in organic agriculture. I was immersed in that world. Even before writing this book, I was under the impression that herbicides were somewhat less toxic in the realm of pesticide toxicity [as opposed to insecticides or fungicides, for example]. In researching herbicides more for invasive species management and agriculture in general, I learned a lot more about their toxicity and insidious toxicity to insects and mammals and other lifeforms that I don’t think gets talked about enough. People assume they’re more ecologically benign, but really they’re not, and that’s important to bring to the table.

K: One thing you mentioned in your book that I hadn’t thought about much before is that it’s not only the active ingredient in a pesticide, but also the adjuvants—the things that they add to the active ingredient to help it stick to plants or to help make it soluble in water, etc.

T: Yeah, that was a big realization for me too. We talk about these two different terms: “Round Up” is the trade name of the herbicide, of which “glyphosate” is considered the active ingredient. Glyphosate is the ingredient that’s tested for pesticide registration purposes, but that might be only ten percent of a mixture that’s sold in the bottle. The rest of that solution is made up of other ingredients that help the herbicide stay on the plant if it rains or if its windy, or help the herbicide active ingredient penetrate the cells of the plant. A lot of these are trade secrets so they’re not tested and the manufacturers don’t have to say what’s in there. But one compound that has been pulled out and studied by independent researchers is POEA [polyoxyethyleneamine], which has been shown to make glyphosate penetrate human placental cells. So even if you come into contact with glyphosate itself, that wouldn’t necessarily happen, but if you come into contact with Round Up, which contains this adjuvant, POEA, it can actually then allow the glyphosate to enter into the cell. Because that’s what it’s in there to do.

K: The reason we’ve been talking about pesticides because herbicides are such a big part of getting rid of “invasive” species… But your book tries to turn things on its head and to question the concept of whether we should be trying to eradicate them.

T: Yes. I was shocked when I started working in the field of ecological restoration, coming from a background in organic agriculture. I had heard of “invasive species” before but when I got into this context, I was around people who did this professionally, it was just assumed that I was going to use herbicides and I would be totally fine with that, because that’s just what everybody did. The whole context was, “we have to get rid of these plants at all costs, and if we do, everything will be okay.” [Laughs.] That’s the the framework in which we’re approaching ecosystem restoration, and to me, I was amazed because from a more holistic perspective, I could see right off the bat that in every case where invasive species were thriving, there were other things going on in the ecosystem that pesticides weren’t going to address.

It’s the same in conventional agriculture. If you’re having, quote, pest pressure issues, the issue isn’t the pest, the issue is the soil or the plant stress or drought stress. There’s all these different things playing into the manifestation of pest pressure in the ecosystem. So, taking that knowledge a few steps further to ecosystem restoration I think is really necessary. A lot of people involved in these contexts are really highly trained ecologists and it’s still hard for me to square that with the belief that herbicides, pesticides are the only solution. These are often people who are shopping at organic food markets, and only buy organic food, and believe really strongly in that framework for food production, and yet are making decisions about ecosystem restoration outside of agricultural contexts that rely on pesticides and I just think that really needs to be questioned.

I had some very interesting discussions over the years and maybe the needle is starting to shift a little bit, although as you mention, sometimes these discussions flare up online where people are really quite defensive about their position and belief around this.

K: The issue tends to infect any discussion around plants. I’ve been using a couple of plant ID groups on Facebook because I’m in a new area and I’m seeing things coming up and I’m like, “What is this?” Of course if you’re in a native plant group, that’s definitely going to be someplace where [the invasive framework] is strong. You know, a native-plants-equals-good, non-native-plants-equals-bad, black and white paradigm. Which brings us around to looking at the invasive plant not being a problem in and of itself but of being a symptom of something going on.

T: That’s a huge part of the conversation that a lot of folks really aren’t willing to easily engage in, but the design of our livelihood system has really degraded ecosystems to a place where native flora and fauna aren’t thriving. You know, to really sit with that, and acknowledge it, think about how we might approach things differently as a basis for our understanding is challenging. It’s a lot easier to blame the messenger. Also I think one of the things that’s really missing from the discussion of native plants is the fact that native ecosystems were or are managed by indigenous people. They don’t just exist in a vacuum, free from people’s influence and the whole idea of this “pristine” wilderness is very much a western, colonial thought pattern that definitely needs to be disrupted.

K: What you’re referring to in part is that when people are designating a plant as invasive or non-native, there’s a point in time they’re referring to, and that might be different from place to place, but it’s generally accepted in the United States that anything anything that showed up after 1492 is not native. There are people who are willing to describe most non-native plants as “invasive” or throw them in that bin as soon as possible, and then the poisons come out, so this is an important issue.

T: Yes, but we don’t really know the social, ecological, economic context that was going on at that point in time that led to a particular assemblage of plants. There’s no doubt that the floral and faunal assemblies were different, but we should think really hard about why they’ve changed. Draining the wetlands of the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys in California has major ecological implications. Damming the Colorado River for hydro-power and irrigation capacity has major ecological implications. These bigger scale things that we do—that we support—are going to change the surrounding ecosystem. If we can acknowledge that and observe what’s happening because of those major shifts, I think we’ll be in a better position to understand so called “invasions” from a more holistic perspective.

K: Because the entry of an invasive plant or animal into a landscape is in virtually all cases preceded by a human-caused disturbance of some kind.

T: It’s interesting. When I was writing, [I wondered if I] should I put forward the idea of reclaiming a different name because “invasive species” has kind of this negative connotation, but the more I looked into evolutionary biology and some of the ways—in the deep time perspective—how systems have changed, “invasion” is one of these processes and it’s not unnatural. Taking that longer term perspective is important as well. That’s how plants came to be on land. There were marine beds of algae hanging out in the shallow seas a couple billion years ago and eventually, speciation happened because of changing conditions and the land was “invaded” by those plants. You just see that change over time leading to the type of biodiversity that we have now, punctuated by other kinds of events of course, but it’s not something that’s “outside the realm of nature,” which is how invasive species are situated in a lot of discussions.

8 thoughts on “Beyond the War on Invasive Species: Interview with Tao Orion”

  1. Thank you for showing us the larger perspective on ‘invasive species”. I sent it to my daughter who is in graduate school . She and I had an argument over Monsanto being the origin of the invasive species movement. It’s great to have a source for that info other than my sometimes faulty memory.
    I recommend that anyone interested in the topic of pesticides read The Pesticide Conspiracy, written decades ago. It still speaks the truth. People think that Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring solved all of our pesticide problems. Not true. Nothing has changed except the decline of the use of DDT in the US. We still manufacture it and export it.

    1. Although there are other books that are critical of invasion biology, Tao Orion’s book is unique in its emphasis on the herbicides used by the “restoration” industry. It’s an issue that deserves much more attention than it gets.

      I’m not sure why the public isn’t more concerned about the herbicides being used in their parks and open spaces. I think the public doesn’t realize how much herbicide is being used. Many land managers don’t post pesticide application notices and California State law does not require that they do for most of the products being used, such as glyphosate. When green vegetation turns brown after it has been sprayed with herbicide, the public doesn’t understand why. Based on my 25-year experience watching this issue, I can tell you that trying to figure out where herbicide is being used isn’t easy.

      Many of the critiques of invasion biology have been written by academic scientists who don’t seem to be concerned about herbicide use or perhaps they aren’t aware of the extent of the use. I think that’s because academic scientists are reluctant to speak outside their expertise. In other words, an ecologist is unwilling to speak about toxic chemicals.

      Tao Orion’s book is therefore very important to those who want to understand the damage being done to the environment by the “restoration” industry.

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. What is an invasive species? Yes, definitions vary, but it is a plant that does not “play well” in a locally evolved ecology that it is introduced in and can cause domino-like cascades of problems. Nowhere does Orion consider evolutionary “speed”, and the rate of introduced species by humans is phenomenal.

    As plants are the basis of most ecologies, humans are creating a biological stew with increasingly unpredictable results. The permaculture tradition evolved from a very anthropocentric viewpoint, and this would work if we had any real idea how to “create” new ecologies that work from the mess we have made…we don’t, because we don’t know enough about them.

    To characterize native plant protectors as absolutists or invasive species biologists (there are thousands of them) as shills for the pesticide industry is so short sighted it is hard to know where to begin. These are people fighting extinction. Take a look at the work of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

    I have spent decades studying this stuff while watching the ecological relationships of plants and animals where I live break down. I spent years in the field working on invasive species manually because I had been fed the “anti-pesticide/herbicide” “all or nothing” argument. I don’t know anyone who loves using them or feels they are safe or a great option. But there are many areas where I live where native plants (evolved over 16,000 years since glaciation) can’t grow because there are so many predator-free human introductions. Where is a native plant supposed to grow if it cannot grow where it evolved???? No wonder birds are precipitously declining…their food supply…the insects that evolved lock-and-key on native plants can’t just switch diets because the permaculture people planted a bunch of invasive species.

    In this book the author promotes the planting of Japanese Knotweed in brooks to slow water down to serve the function that beavers once performed in the creation of rich meadows. One of the worst invasive species in the world…worked with it for 15 years (using a wide array of methods) and never killed a plant. It is swallowing hectares where I live. The more you cut it to eat it, the more it grows. It should be banned, as it only serves generalist pollinators. Tell me again why we can’t create habitat for and protect beavers, a keystone species supporting many, many other co-evolved plants and animals?

    I had an actual scientist (this author is NOT) tell me once if you want to pull the wool over people’s eyes, write a book…because it is not subject to peer review. I strongly suggest that readers compare this book to the work of Dr. Douglas Tallamy who is a bona fide scientist and ecologist. He makes the most eloquent and backed by rigorous experimentation arguments as to why we need native plants. No it is not “all or nothing”, but it is about the plants’ utility, and not just about meeting human needs. I keep hoping this author gets that “ah HA” moment where she realizes she has been on the wrong track. As a garden designer, Tallamy made me realize that most of my life I was doing harm to the ecology by planting only for humans. Please look into this issue carefully, especially if you are looking to plant on your own land…because planting invasive species can totally kill your enjoyment and use of it.

    1. I invited Tao Orion to reply to your comment. This is what she sent with permission to publish it as a reply.
      Million Trees

      Hi Million Trees,
      Thanks for sending this [comment]. I would generally say that my perspective on why native plants aren’t thriving is different from the person who commented. I see it as related to the wide scale, short-sighted, and highly unfortunate ways that historic and contemporary colonizing interests in the US and elsewhere have decided to manage land and natural resources. I am in fact a huge proponent of native plants and ecosystems – and recognize that a prerequisite for their thriving is intertwined with cultural management, use of, and care for those plants and the wider ecosystems that they depend on. Meaning to talk about the lack of thriving of native plants, one must also talk about the displacement of indigenous people, and the subsequent turn towards commodification of land, water, plants, trees, minerals, and animals, and look deeply at the ecological ramifications of the socioeconomic system that we live in. This is something that Tallamy never speaks to. I am familiar with his work and appreciate it in some ways. However, the problem that I see with his stance is that by planting only native species in your yard, you are essentially exporting the destruction of native plant-based ecosystems in the name of agriculture, forestry, mining, fishing, etc. somewhere “else” by not providing, at least to some degree, for your own subsistence needs. It’s a bit of “nimby”ism in my opinion, and doesn’t get to the root of the problem of why native plants are failing to thrive on a wide scale, and relatedly, why invasive species are also thriving. Sure, with enough resources, you could have a picture-perfect native plant only habitat garden filled with a diverse array of native plants, insects, and birds, which is wonderful. But where do you get your food, and what is the story of the native plant ecosystem that was likely destroyed to bring that food (lumber, roofing tiles, cabinets, etc.) to you, stacked beautifully under soft lights in your local store? And what about the stories of the people that were likely displaced from that land (and other lands) to bring that food, etc. to you? On my farm, we plant and actively manage for populations of numerous native plant and animal species, and we also grow a number of non-native species for food, fuel, fiber, and medicine. And we manage for invasive species at the same time utilizing an array of non-herbicide techniques suited to our ecological context. And we help many other people do the same. This perspective is what I’m aiming for in my book.
      Also, at no point in my book do I advocate planting Japanese knotweed. I have seen it growing in many many watersheds in my area where beavers were trapped to near extinction and the hills are eroding from multiple rotations of clearcut-based “forestry” leading to massive sedimentation, stream channelization, and massive declines in native fish habitat. Am I surprised that Japanese knotweed thrives in these contexts? Not in the least. Do I think of it as the primary problem affecting these waterways? No, because I always like to look upstream to find the deeper patterns of what is going on in an ecosystem at any given time. Invasive species are a clue to much deeper and more important stories about how we can relate to the world that sustains us in ways that foster highly functional and biodiverse ecosystems.
      Always happy to chat about this!
      Tao

      1. Thank you for both of your responses…I eagerly read everything I can on the subject, and am interested in different viewpoints. I hope the book is well referenced, because I like to read the original science…how that work is interpreted in the media or by lay writers is often deplorable and misleading.

        Webmaster: I appreciate your willingness to read different viewpoints. I do the same. I’ve read Tallamy’s books and studies. I also read the publications of the California Native Plant Society and California Invasive Plant Council and attend their conferences and presentations. I will respond to a few of your comments and provide a few of the scientific references that inform my articles.

        Thank you Ms. Orion for your response. It is interesting in that it pretty much immediately shifts the discussion towards a philosophical/political world-view, which is, largely, what permaculture is, in the absence of the science to support it in either yields for humans on a plausible scale, or benefits ecologically. It is a bunch of human-centric ideas packaged with a catchy marketable name that results in dollars, especially if you can get everyone to believe that ecologists are actually supporters of the military industrial complex, lol.

        I was pleased to see the (below) well-referenced response to the book, which, in turn, asks who is the doing the controlling? I know what the First Nations people in my part of the world would say: more colonial attitude.

        There is no evidence to support that humans can simply pick and chose a mix of plants from around the planet to make “new” ecologies that either support us of the rest of the animal and plant kingdom…that to me is the epitome of hubris, which I can excuse, to some extent because of how poorly we actually understand ecologies that we have already severely impacted as a species on a global level.

        Webmaster: Few of the changes in our landscape in the past 400 years are the result of humans “picking and choosing a mix of plants from around the planet.” Species have been dispersed around the planet by natural forces since life as we know it evolved over 500 million years ago. Here are a few references that provide specific examples: The Monkey’s Voyage by Alan de Quieroz; Song of the Dodo by David Quammen (for a description of the rapid, natural repopulation of Krakatoa after volcanic eruption); and a local example of natural dispersal of non-native plants on California’s premiere scientific institution: https://milliontrees.me/2011/03/14/the-living-roof-a-failed-experiment-in-native-plant-gardening/

        Aside from natural dispersal by extreme weather, cataclysmic geological events, dispersal by birds and animals, etc., climate change is now rearranging ecosystems as plants and animals are forced to move to find what they need to survive. Here are a few references that provide specific examples: Inheritors of the Earth by Chris Thomas; The Next Great Migration by Sonia Shah.

        And here are a few references about climate changes in deep time that help us understand that when the climate changes, vegetation changes: The Little Ice Age by Brian Fagan; The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert; After the Ice Age by E.C. Pielou. By the end of this century, plants and animals will live wherever they can survive with or without our intervention. No amount of “management” will compensate for the powerful natural forces that will determine what survives the changed climate.

        I resented the ad hominem attacks on people like me who have seen for example, in my short lifetime the massive disorganization of the Everglades National Park with plants and animals introduced to the degree that much of it is now unrecognizable. The loss of virtually all the birds I grew up with, now replaced with peacocks and iguanas. The way the was written, I am just a shill for Monsanto. Nope. But when I evaluate the transformation in my own thinking, I have hope for evolution from a person who obviously is looking for better answers as I am. I just wish we could work together rather than attack each other or at best be dismissive of the others’ viewpoints…because time is wasting. The problem of invasive species huge, and I wish Orion’s book had spent even a little time actually addressing those. I do own the book…I will take the beavers, thank you, and don’t believe humans can “improve” a natural water course by introducing things like concrete gabions (or leaving the knotweed). Beavers make the best meadows and highly useful to people…just ask those Native Americans!

        The book is furthering an agenda of zero tolerance for the use of herbicides or pesticides, and that is problematic for me having spent literal decades of my summers in manual control efforts, believing that agenda and being humiliated by plants happily overrunning the evolved “food forest” where I live now in Nova Scotia that once supported millions of indigenous people.

        No one likes herbicides, but in the absence of a labor force willing to abandon its modern conveniences to do very hard work, they are important tools in restoration ecology, and methods are improving as a result of careful science to determine how the least amount of them could be used to gain the greatest amount of benefits to the maximum amount of species. Throwing those tools away is about like tossing chemotherapy or vaccinations because of that “all-or-nothing” black or white point of view that native plant supporters are being (unjustly) accused of. Anyone visiting my garden would find I am not an absolutist, but I spend 90% of my time trying (without success) to keep invasive species that showed up in decorative hanging baskets at bay. As a result, I have a massive uptick in native bird and insect biodiversity happening in my back yard and that is the most exciting experience that I work to share.

        Webmaster: Herbicides are controversial because there is scientific evidence that they damage the soil (“Mind the Microbes: Below ground effects of herbicides used to manage invasive plants,” by V. Montellano; available here https://www.cal-ipc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Cal-IPC_Dispatch_newsletter_winter_2019-2020_FINAL.pdf) and are harmful to wildlife: The Environmental Protection Agency recently published a Biological Evaluation of glyphosate products. EPA reports that glyphosate is “likely to adversely affect” 93% of legally protected endangered and threatened plants and animals. That finding applies equally to all plants and animals, whether they are legally protected or not because the physiological processes of species in the same order are similar. This is a review article of the trophic cascades in ecosystems that are initiated by pesticide use: https://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/TrophicCascades-cited.pdf

        Pesticides (including herbicides) are used by most “restoration” projects. The damage done to soil contributes to the frequent failure of projects to install native landscapes. Although the projects claim to benefit wildlife, the pesticides they use are actually harming wildlife.

        Empirical studies do not substantiate the claim that birds do not use non-native plants. For example, a meta-analysis of 120 studies done in 30 countries concludes, “the science does not support the supposition that native plantings are required for biodiversity…it is clear that an automatic preference for native trees when planning in urban areas is not a science-based policy.” (Linda Chalker-Scott, “Nonnative, Noninvasive Woody Species Can Enhance Urban Landscape Biodiversity,” Arboriculture & Urban Forestry, 2015, 41(4): 173-186) Subirdia by John Marzluff (University of Washington) is consistent with that finding: “From a bird’s perspective, a large park created by human hands or by nature is not all that different.” A published study of the removal of Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) is an example of the loss of valuable habitat. They found that the lowest overall survival rates of nesting birds were found in the plots in which honeysuckle had been removed. (Amanda D. Rodewald, et. al., “Does removal of invasives restore ecological networks? An experimental approach,” Biological Invasions, March 2015)

        I do appreciate the different perspectives on where to go from here…I really don’t know…the second Columbian exchange is well underway…only now it is coming faster and harder via internet and planes, and an attitude that “I should be free to plant what I want, even if it creates expensive problems), so buckle up.

        Webmaster: Yes, we are in this together. We have many shared goals. No one has all the answers. We have limited information to inform what we are trying to accomplish. Therefore, we are not in a position to assume that we know more about what wildlife needs than the animals we wish to protect. Animals are in the best position to know where they must live and what they must eat to survive.

        I do not “feel free to plant what I want.” Rather my activism has always been focused solely on what is being destroyed, rather than what is being planted. I encourage you to plant what you prefer. I ask only that your colleagues quit destroying everything they don’t prefer, particularly with pesticides and particularly on public land owned by everyone.

        I used to promote native plants as “easy, non-consumptive, not needing fertilizer or extra watering…” but now it is a matter of “circling the wagons” because…yes, they are losing to competitors with no evolved checks on their populations, and the ability to change soil chemistry to their liking.

        Webmaster: I have been watching native plant “restorations” in the San Francisco Bay Area for 25 years. I remember the early days when land managers claimed their projects were “once-and-done.” In fact, the original plan was to destroy everything with herbicides without planting anything, with the expectation that native plants would emerge from the bare earth once their competition was eliminated. 25 years later, there is an understanding that what they have started will never be done. It is a permanent commitment to spray non-native plants annually with herbicide, plant and irrigate. Even then, they have little to show for 25 years of effort.

        Non-scientific manifestos like this are very surprising from a blog that claims to use “scientific studies and observation” to make its points. My observations in the field led me to look for the science…the days I realized that pollinator network disruption directly impacted native plant reproduction, and the day I understood allelopathy without knowing the term for it were cataclysmic. Every bit of human existence from atmosphere to oil in the car relies on plants, so we have a lot of work to do if we want to survive. Because the fact is that the scientific method is about eliminating variables and testing for a result…it has no idea how to measure complex communities…so really, none of us knows what we are doing, we are blind men around an elephant….but the damage is being done, and not just with invasive plants but animals and diseases too. There are only a few trees in my Acadian forests not under direct threat on the scale of the American Chestnut or Dutch Elm…so much that ecologists believe it can no longer be called that…the beech, hemlock, ash, alternate leaf dogwood, and spruce are dying right outside my window. Having as many species of plants as possible able to live WHERE THEY ARE NATIVE and stopping Anthropocene extinction is our best hope for resilience. We have mucked up the garden of Eden…we were never kicked out. It is the only one we have.

        Again, I don’t even think Dr. Tallamy is an absolutist on native plants…I am not…there is not enough of the native ecology left to sustain me, but I would love to see enough people defend, say the wild strawberry, which used to be valued and so ubiquitous there was a festival each year that it could support me AND the other 60 or so species it supports. I am happy if I can get one person to plant a shrub that might replace the 4 species of viburnums dying of a plant nursery introduced pest that once supported the pileated woodpeckers here, or leave a rotting log as a home for carpenter ants (and protect the house from them by preventing wet wood). Thank you both for your comments. Native plants are not petunias…the whole habitat works in concert. They can’t simply be “put back”. This is what few people understand and why we need to step up our understanding of them and our protection of them.
        View at Medium.com

        Webmaster: Thank you for this opportunity to provide you with the scientific sources of information that have informed my advocacy for 25 years. We all have a debt to pay for the changes that humans have made in the environment. Keeping an open mind about how to restore nature is one way we can repay that debt.

    2. I also invited Kollibri terre Sonnenblume to reply to your comment. This is what Kollibri sent, with permission to publish it as a reply:
      Million Trees

      For the peer-reviewed science on invasion biology, I recommend Mark Davis’ book, “Invasion Biology.” Davis has been a biology professor since 1981, and has written dozens of his own articles. His book draws on over 1000 peer-reviewed articles from the field and summarizes the research and the debate on many, many topics and hypothesis, including every subject you’ve brought up here. It’s a fascinating book not only because it’s so incredibly well researched but also because it happens to show that scientists don’t agree on much. Invasion biology is marked as much by contention as by consensus. Which is pretty typical of science, but which is something we non-scientists (myself included) tend to forget. Long story short, the scientific field of invasion biology does not posit anything as simple as, “native=good, non-native=bad.” Further, new concepts like “movement ecology” and “novel ecosystems” have arisen in biology that are offering different lenses for viewing the changes in flora and fauna assemblies around the world, but such concepts are still largely unknown outside scientific circles.

      Personally, reading Davis’ book shifted my perception of invasion biology from skepticism to respect, because I learned how much nuance is revealed by the actual research, field studies, etc. It also helped me to see that, separate from the scientific field of invasion biology, there is a cultural phenomena that we could call, “invasion ideology,” and that’s the source of the black-and-white view of the world that I, as a plant lover, oppose. The philosophical lineage of invasion ideology is found not in science but in what Sonia Shah, in her book, “The Next Great Migration,” describes as the “Christian paradigm of an unchanging, orderly world.”

      Most people–including too many scientists–are unaware of this distinction between the science and the ideology. Culture is the water we swim in, and we are often unaware of its influence on us and our ideas. As result, debates about “invasive” species are often doomed from the start, because what’s being discussed is not science but belief.

      So, in the interest of science, I urge you to read Davis’ book. Perhaps you will have an equivalent reaction in the other direction, moving towards skepticism…

  3. Thank you so much for this important post and also for answering so well those who are advocating more poison use. At this point, it seems that the groundwater in many parts of the Bay Area is contaminated with glyphosate (which is partly why some people think they are gluten intolerant, even when eating organic wheat, but have no problem eating wheat products in Europe.) Cancer and chronic illness are already epidemic. There is no excuse to keep poisoning us and the animals and entire environment against our will.

    I have learned to recognize most places that have been sprayed, whether in our parks, along roadsides, next to reservoirs and the bay, etc., if you or anyone else would like to see what it looks like. I so much want to get this information available so all can see it. The extent of pesticide spraying in our East Bay Parks is massive and horrifying, while Marin parks and watershed aren’t poisoned. So clearly, park maintenance without poison can be done in a number of ways, which not only would not be harming people, but increasing jobs.

    It’s not true that people don’t want to use poisons. I know of too many who brag about it. And others who are obsessed with killing certain species they hate. (One friend doesn’t even know the actual species she hates and ignores that her targeted plant is edible, medicinal, and the only flower that blooms in many urban wasteland areas in summer.) Several friends who use poison keep insisting I eat food from their yard, even though they know I won’t knowingly eat anything non-organic. One even made a fuss over how much she hated Monsanto, but I could see her entire yard had that poisoned look I know too well. As she showed us more of her yard, we saw her containers of “Roundup,”, so she said they were empty. (Because she had already used it on her yard, fruit trees, etc. ) Another friend has never used glyphosate in the over 40 years I’ve known her, but just started because of one plant she hates. I don’t know why they don’t realize that their poison is forever.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m horrified by how many people I expect to know better and who profess to care about the environment, just don’t. But at the very least, we can try to stop the organizations running our parks and watershed areas from using poison.

    I so agree about “restoration” being: “a permanent commitment to spray non-native plants annually with herbicide, plant and irrigate. Even then, they have little to show for 25 years of effort.” It’s a disaster doing irreparable harm.

    I’m not seeing less birds at all, but a dramatic increase, including species considered endangered. However, it’s heartbreaking to see these rare, vulnerable species living and eating in waterways near and in the bay that is filthy with sewage and garbage, but then pesticides are added to that? What can be the justification?

    Another thing I’m learning about our native birds is that, in spite of the propaganda, they definitely use and need introduced plants called “weeds” for food, nesting material, habitat, and protection from predators. Even some of the plants that I’d not be aware enough previously to appreciate, are clearly treasured by many bird species. Birds are having a hard enough time with lack of water and increasing heat and with trees and shrubs killed, without depriving them of the very plants who help them survive. Some of the most maligned trees, Eucalyptus, are the favored nesting trees for large raptors, like hawks, Great Horned Owls, etc. Plus, Monarch Butterflies are using Eucalyptus.

    Meanwhile, I’m also seeing what seems to be bizarre hypocritical treatment of rare and endangered native wildflowers, where, like at Mt. Diablo, “vegetation management” has dumped huge piles of cut trees and shrubs that they shredded (not “chipped”) right on top of the rare, beautiful golden Mt. Diablo Globe Lily (Calochortus pulchellus) just as it was beginning to bloom, for no rational reason. I’ve been trying for the last month to reach whoever is responsible to find out why and how to stop it.

    Again, thank you so much for providing this essential information that I can share while trying to reach the people deep in believing the nature-hating propaganda.

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