Nativist propaganda: Turning the Easter Bunny into an enemy

In our last post, we reviewed Invasive and Introduced Plants and Animals:  Human Perceptions, Attitudes, and Approaches to Management. (1) The main thesis of that collection of scientific articles is that invasion biology is as much a cultural construct as it is a scientific discipline.  Here we provide a specific example of a propaganda campaign in support of an eradication project that illustrates that point.

Rabbits are not native to either Britain or Australia, but they have lived in Britain long enough that they aren’t considered invaders there.  In fact, they are romanticized in British children’s literature and cultural traditions:

Peter Rabbit“The rabbit also is alien [to Britain] but especially following… abandonment of traditional grassland management, is vital in maintaining many species-rich wildflower pastures and hugely important as food for predators such as common buzzards.  And, of course, in 1902 Beatrix Potter gave her fictional rabbit a blue waistcoat, a trug with carrots in it, and the name Peter, and single-handedly generated a huge sentimental  cultural association between humans and rabbits, particularly from our formative experiences as readers of the genre of children’s nature literature.   This one book has sold over 45 million copies worldwide and been translated into 36 languages.  The rabbit has many friends.  Enemies of the rabbit, most especially the Anti-Rabbit Research Foundation on Australia…, return to the power of children’s literature to counter the rampant sentimentality for the British invader down under.  Aussie kids are urged (through popular primary school books) to cherish and embrace the native desert marsupial Bilby at Easter time, and to shun the more traditional (but culturally invasive) Easter Bunny.  They eat chocolate Easter Bilbies as part of scientifically sponsored cultural ecological restoration.  There may be a tendency to chuckle at this evidence. But this is serious stuff in an invaded land such as Australia.  Severing cultural ties with rabbits needs to be done at a young age, before the powerful and mentally invasive Beatrix Potter-effect can take hold!” (1)

Propaganda is no laughing matter

Here are a few examples of similar propaganda campaigns that are used in the San Francisco Bay Area to support their destructive projects:

  • Nativists claim they are “managing” the urban forest.  Do you think that word describes the project on Mount Sutro that will destroy 90% of the trees and understory on 75% of the mountain?  Doesn’t “destroying” seem a more accurate description of that project?
  • Nativists often claim they will replace all the non-native trees they destroy with native trees.  Do you think dune scrub and grassland is accurately described as a native “forest?”  Isn’t this a classic fraud of “bait-and-switch?”
  • Sometimes nativists claim that native plants will “regenerate” where non-natives are destroyed without planting anything.  Anyone who believes that has not seen the result of these projects, where weeds reign even when natives are planted.
  • Nativists claim that the eucalyptus forest is dying of old age.  The predominant species of eucalyptus in the Bay Area lives in Australia from 200-500 years.  Professional arborists tell us they are healthy.  Why should we believe the eucalyptus forest is dying?

These propaganda campaigns are often successful because the public doesn’t have time to inform themselves of the reality.  The written documents that describe these projects are often hundreds–sometimes thousands–of pages long.  If people aren’t regular visitors to the parks where these projects have been in progress for years, they don’t know that most are weedy messes.  As the projects get bigger and more land managers install them, they are more difficult to hide from the public.  That’s why the ranks of critics are growing and getting noisier.  We will eventually be heard. 

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Invasive & Introduced Plants and Animals:  Human Perspectives, Attitudes, and Approaches to Management, editors Ian Rotherham, Robert Lambert, Earthscan Publishing, London, Washington, DC, 2011.