In the early 1900’s, professionals entered Yellowstone National Park and killed wolves. Lots of wolves. Shooters lined the ridges of Hawk Mountain, Pennsylvania and blasted migrating raptors. Others poisoned badgers and mountain lions and bragged about it.
And what were all of these people called in their day?
At the time, many “knew” there were “good animals” and “bad animals.” Predators, it was widely believed, must be eradicated due to their harmful impacts on “good animals.” Thus, even bird-watching journals contained advice on how to blow away magpies and owls.
We’ve come a long way. Or have we?
Today, it would be difficult to find a conservationist with a death wish against goshawks. But conservationists still have their “bad” animals (and plants).
They’re called invasive species.
Weeds are the new wolves.
Like early predator eradication reports, weed control stories often contain war metaphors, even in Nature Conservancy magazine. (“Napalm in the morning,” anyone?).
But perhaps “non-native” does not always equal “harmful.” Maybe, as at least one recent study suggests, most invasives eventually come into balance with the natural habitat.
In other cases, as fellow Cool Green Science blogger Erik Meijaard points out, some non-native critters may just be filling niches in landscapes irrevocably changed by humans.
I know there’s a time and a place for invasive species control. As a life-long hunter, I’m not an animal sentimentalist. I’ve killed feral hogs. I don’t want rats wiping out rare birds.
But we need to lose the war metaphors, and the neo-Puritanical notions about “bad animals” and “good animals.”
And we need to always question our assumptions — to ask if we’re really looking at long-term conservation or just applying our own values and conventional wisdom (native = good, non-native = bad) to complex issues.
(Photo: Is weed control today’s version of predator control? Credit: Gary Grimm/Mountain Visions)