The New York Times published an op-ed by a member of their Editorial Board on Sunday, September 8, 2013, entitled, “Hey, You Calling Me an Invasive Species?” It is a spirited defense of non-native plants. Surely this is an indication that our challenge of the native plant movement is now mainstream. We will touch on a few of the op-ed’s main themes, but we urge you to read the op-ed here.
Using the eucalyptus forest on Mount Sutro as an example. the Editorial Board member, Verlyn Klinkenborg, makes the point that many of our non-native plants have been here for hundreds of years. Since they have been here for several generations of humans, most of us no longer consider them foreigners:
“But the trees on Mount Sutro have been there within the memory of every living San Franciscan, and to the generations who have grown up within view of them, it seems almost perverse to insist that they are alien.”
The distinction between native and non-native depends upon an arbitrarily selected “snapshot” of our landscape taken just prior to the arrival of Europeans. On the East Coast, that’s the early 16th Century. In the San Francisco Bay Area, that’s 1769, when Portola’s men saw the San Francisco Bay. The Times op-ed reminds us that this particular snapshot is becoming more and more irrelevant because of climate change. If plants and animals don’t move in response to that change they will not survive:
“As plants and their pests adjust their range under the influence of global warming, what becomes of the distinction between native and nonnative? To any individual species, it doesn’t matter whether it’s native or not. The only thing that matters is whether its habitat is suitable.”
Finally, Mr. Klinkenborg takes us on a verbal tour of Central Park to make the point that our open spaces are a mélange of native and non-native plants and animals. We can see with our eyes that they are living in harmony and to pluck only those considered non-native from their midst would be needlessly destructive and disruptive of the peace that reigns there:
“Nature in Central Park can’t be divided into native or nonnative species, and neither can it be on Mount Sutro. The eucalyptus trees that grow there may be naturalized rather than native, but try telling that to all the other creatures that live in those woods or the people who hike there.”
Mr. Klinkenborg’s final sentence reminds us that we are the original “invaders:”
“And when it comes to the distinction between native and nonnative, we always leave one species out: call us what you will—native, naturalized, alien or invasive.”
The absurdity of nativism is becoming more and more evident. Our objections to its destructive consequences will eventually be heard. It’s just a matter of time.