Saturday, May 18, 2013

Combating invasive species in Rochester, NY during Climate Change


CCInvasiveSpeciesWhile we continue to battle the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) that is devastating our ash trees, we should ponder the issue of invasive species as our Rochester, NY region warms. This is alarming because ash trees are almost 8% of all trees in NY State. Back in 2008 the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) put out a public comment on trying to stop this bug that was making its way north, but by 2011 we had our first sighting. We have since enacted laws prohibiting the transporting of firewood and many learned how to save some favorite ash trees (a chemical inoculation), but this is a battle we are going to lose. By the time you notice infestations like the EAB, it’s probably too late to do anything but control the rate of tree loss. On top of that, Climate Change will allow the EAB to spread faster.

Also, looming over our Great Lake’s water is the probable infestation of the Asian Carp that could potentially transform the lakes’ ecology. A species like the Asian Carp is able to do this by stripping the food web of plankton, the lakes’ fundamental resource (from National Wildlife’s The Asian Carp Threat to the Great Lakes.) We’ve known for years that the carp has been making its way up the Mississippi River towards our precious waters. And we’ve tried many ways to stop it from entering the Great Lakes, but the inconsistent funding to thwart its infestation means we’re probably going to get them any day now. (Some, who are checking Great Lakes’ water for carp DNA, think they’re already here.)

And it all makes you wonder: When is a good time to start planning for invasive species? For example, when should we have started searching for the Zebra Mussel, an invader from the Baltic Sea that made its way to the Great Lakes and Finger Lakes via ships’ ballast tanks coming through the St. Lawrence Seaway? Should we have considered all possible hitchhikers that might make it to the Great Lakes, from all parts of the world, then try and figure out which ones would be the most likely threats? Seems impossibly daunting.

Compound all this with Climate Change. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines invasive species as “…an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” (Invasive Species, EPA). [Note that not all non-native species are ‘invasive’: the honey bee is not currently considered ‘invasive’.] But others think invasive species have always infiltrated ecologies by air and water--and humans. Invasive species are just part of the evolutionary process that makes everything more robust. According to this view, we’ve just become too comfortable with our cushy surroundings and should learn to see the big picture:

“The good news from all this is that nature emerges as resilient and adaptable, able to bounce back from the worst we can throw at it.” (True Nature: Revising Ideas On What is Pristine and Wild, 5/16/2013 Environment 360)

The trouble with this ecological laissez-faire attitude is that even if this view is true (and arm-chair environmentalists just don’t understand the science of the matter) is that Climate Change renders a lot of historical adaptation scenarios null and void. While it is critical in Climate Change planning to revisit just what invasive species are and what a pristine environment is, it is a fantastic leap of faith in nature’s resilience to think nature can handle anything thrown at it. The speed at which the planet is warming is unprecedented, requiring both native and nonnative plants and animals to adapt far quicker and with more variables than they have had to before. Think about thousands of manmade chemicals that have entered our environment since the Second Industrial Revolution. There are no precedents to the kind of Climate Change we are going to experience. Our best bet for combating invasive species during Climate Change is to get our heads around the comprehensiveness of the Climate Change issue, and then act accordingly.

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