Sunday, June 12, 2011

Rethink the native versus alien species divide

Some scientists are saying: Rethink the native versus alien species divide.
An editorial in Nature argues that not only have too many resources been invested in curbing and controlling invasive species but that the entire concept of the threat of non-native species is flawed.
As some of us have been arguing for nearly 20 years,  humans have caused most of the earth’s problems such as climate change, urbanization and drastically changing the land, all which makes “the native-versus-alien species dichotomy in conservation increasingly meaningless."
The latest edition of Animal People states: “eradicating ‘invasive’ species is just the current politically correct term for what used to be called ‘pest control’.”
“People like to have an enemy, and vilifying non-native species makes the world very simple,” said ecologist Mark Davis of Macalester University. “The public got sold this nativist paradigm: Native species are the good ones, and non-native species are bad. It’s a 20th century concept, like wilderness, that doesn’t make sense in the 21st century.”
The Animal People magazine team said many years ago that “Except on small islands, where the effects of feral animals and wild exotics are usually ambiguous, introduced species over time tend to help more native species that they harm, by filling ecological niches that have not only been left open by the extirpation of other species, but are also essential to preventing the collapse of whole ecosystems.
“In their zeal to annihilate feral and wild exotic animals,” they argued, “wildlife regulatory agencies often don’t give nature credit for finding ways to accommodate new species.
They concluded: “The war against the largely imaginary alien menace goes on…both in the name of ecology and in opposition to ecological principle.”
It is strange that most of the environmental groups don’t tackle Agribusiness.

This is from a Rainforest website:

As the demand in the Western world for cheap meat increases, more and more rainforests are destroyed to provide grazing land for animals. In Brazil alone, there are an estimated 220 million head of cattle, 20 million goats, 60 million pigs, and 700 million chickens. Most of Central and Latin America's tropical and temperate rainforests have been lost to cattle operations to meet the world demand, and still the cattle operations continue to move southward into the heart of the South American rainforests. To graze one steer in Amazonia takes two full acres. Most of the ranchers in the Amazon operate at a loss, yielding only paper profits purely as tax shelters. Ranchers' fortunes are made only when ranching is supported by government giveaways. A banker or rich landowner in Brazil can slash and burn a huge tract of land in the Amazon rainforest, seed it with grass for cattle, and realize millions of dollars worth of government-subsidized loans, tax credits, and write-offs in return for developing the land. These government development schemes rarely make a profit, as they are actually selling cheap beef to industrialized nations. One single cattle operation in Brazil that was co-owned by British Barclays Bank and one of Brazil's wealthiest families was responsible for the destruction of almost 500,000 acres of virgin rainforest. The cattle operation never made a profit, but government write-offs sheltered huge logging profits earned off of logging other land in the Brazilian rainforest owned by the same investors. These generous tax and credit incentives have created more than 29 million acres of large cattle ranches in the Brazilian Amazon, even though the typical ranch could cover less than half its costs without these subsidies. Even these grazing lands don't last forever. Soon the lack of nutrients in the soil and overgrazing degrade them, and they are abandoned for newly cleared land. In Brazil alone, more than 63,000 square miles of land has reportedly been abandoned in this way.

Why don’t the environmental groups challenge “cattle” -----also an invasive species. In my opinion there are several reasons:
(1)  When you challenge the beef industry they fight back. Remember the law suit against Oprah at the height of the mad cow disease period?
The cattle producers sued Oprah under a 1995 Texas law under which people can be held liable if they make false and disparaging statements about perishable food products. In April 1996, the topic of the show was mad cow disease, an outbreak of which had occurred in Britain. The disease in cattle has been linked to a related disease in humans that kills people by slowing destroying brain tissue.
Ex-rancher Howard Lyman was on the show and he criticized the practice of feeding processed livestock to cattle, linked to the outbreak in Europe. Oprah said: “Lyman’s remarks just stopped me cold from eating another burger.” Lyman was also sued by the cattle producers. He said that an outbreak of human form of mad cow disease could make AIDS look like the common cold. Cattle producers claim that the remarks on the show sent cattle prices tumbling, costing them 12 million.
(2)   Environmentalists are afraid of upsetting their membership, who may interpret this as a call to vegetarianism.
(3)   Or on the other hand, they may be afraid some of their members may ask if they themselves have given up eating beef, or at least cut back on red meat.
Whatever the reason, it’s easier for them to tackle the “little ole cat ladies” who take care of feral colonies, and for them to turn the cat into a scapegoat, than face a multi-billion dollar industry that really does harm the environment.
From a 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture report called Livestock’s Long Shadow: “ Indeed, the livestock sector may well be the leading player in the reduction of biodiversity, since it is the major driver of deforestation, as well as one of the leading drivers of land degradation, pollution, climate change, overfishing, sedimentation of coastal areas and facilitation of invasions by alien species.”
Feral pigs: Another animal now on the “hit list.” Animal People notes that feral pigs have been living in Texas for 300 years. Now a new Bill allows landowners to shoot pigs and coyotes from helicopters. The hit list includes red foxes, bobcats and stray dogs. Bobcats are on the list as they may kill chickens. But chickens are now intensively farmed and the old Farmer Brown farms where chickens run around the barnyard, no longer exists. But poor old bobcats still make the hit list.
Fortunately there are some scientists today questioning the way we are treating the environment and individual animals.
“The way that we breed animals for food is a threat to the planet. It pollutes our environment while consuming huge amounts of water, grain, petroleum, pesticides and drugs. The results are disastrous.”
David Brubaker, PhD, Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins University
Environmental News Network, 9/20/99
We agree with Animal People when they say: “The time is right for the humane community to exercise leadership—not just on behalf of feral cats, mute swans, wild horses, or the other popular species—but on behalf of the confluence of humane consideration for individual animal life with the ecological principle that every individual, of any species, contributes positively to the evolutionary process.”