The attack of the invasive species
By Cheryl K. Chumley
To borrow from Alice, the business of farming grows curiouser and curiouser.
Only the most blissfully unaware would think of today's farming as a pure industry, driven solely by free-market principle and supply-demand economics, devoid of federal intervention and subsidy or international influence and trade treaty. But the picture painted at the 2005 Agricultural Forum, hosted February 24-25 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, holds the future of farmers as this: While one hand plants, the other is busied whapping back the conservationists who want nothing more than to control giant swaths of this nation's lands.
How else to perceive the sheer abundance of conservation and land preservation tables in the exhibition hall of this forum?
Mixed among the expected displays -- the tables offering the likes of grains' and soybeans' outlooks and research on weather trends -- were slews of land-use and land policy materials. From new conservation programs to invasive species alerts, the core theme captured was this: Farmers are being bombarded from all directions with messages on environmentalism, to such extent that food production is starting to seem secondary to land preservation.
Just take the topic of invasive species, for one.
Defined as "alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm to human health," the issue was thrust front and center during former President Bill Clinton's administration. In a 1999 executive order -- telling in itself, by the way, as it indicates little support from Congress -- Clinton tasked officials from a range of federal departments, from Commerce and Interior to Transportation and Defense, to form a council and develop a management plan to halt the spread of invasive species.
Given that invasive species is defined as alien species, and that alien species is subsequently defined as "any species, including its seeds, eggs, spore, or other biological material capable of propagating that species, that is not native to that ecosystem," the management plan ostensibly carries with it justification to oversee the spread of almost any plant, animal or organic life form nationwide. As an aside, it would seem logical that Americans themselves could be labeled "invasive species," as those of English, Irish, French, and the rest of the descending ethnicities came from abroad, and have since arguably "caused economic and environmental harm."
But back to point, and the significance of this executive order, which is that the federal agencies making up the Invasive Species Council have, at their disposal, a vast array of laws and powers to carry out eradication efforts, including the right to control activities on private lands, especially those located near national parks, forests and ranges.
Interestingly, both Defense and State departments are exempted from Invasive Species Council mandates. But for the rest of America, the danger of these species is real -- so real, in fact, that it's characterized, rather humorously, as one of the most vicious threats facing our nation since … well, since the last environmental threat, anyway.
In its management plan, Meeting the Invasive Species Challenge, the Council found "invasive species are everywhere" and are "one of the most serious environmental threats of the 21st century."
Wow, that's pretty darn serious. Who would have thought the likes of golf course grass seed, commonly imported from Afghanistan, could carry such risk? If only the invasive species weren't so sneaky, perhaps the level of danger would not be so high.
But these pesky, oft-invisible critters "move as unknown stowaways and hitchhikers … by air, water, rail or road," threatening "plant, animal and human health" in the process, refusing to rest until the devastation is complete, the report continues.
The cost to the innocent? Roughly $137 billion and untold acres per year, researchers say.
"Every year, (invasive species) spread across three million additional acres, an area twice the size of Delaware. Every day, up to 4,600 acres of additional federal public areas in the (West) … are negatively impacted," this same Invasive Species Council report finds.
Good God, why hasn't someone called out the National Guard? If the United States is losing the comparable land mass of two Delawares per year, then shouldn't we be doing something other than setting up informational booths at farming forums?
Of course, maybe this scare is just that -- yet another environmental fright thrown our way, next to climate change and global warming, to enact an agenda that seems more aligned with taking and controlling private property rather than truly "saving" humans from any real danger.
Cheryl K. Chumley may be reached at email@example.com.
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