Four Legged Aliens

Four Legged Aliens
— by Lee Pitts

And you thought the Endangered Species Act was bad! Just wait until you hear what your government has in store for you now. How does the U.S. Invasive Species Super Structure sound? Whoever thought this one up must be from outer space!

Last May, when President Clinton had other important issues on his mind, he issued a draft Presidential Executive Order that would make cows and corn “Invasive Alien Species.” If Clinton gets his way, or perhaps his successor Al Gore, any freedoms the feds could not trample with the Endangered Species Act they may annihilate with the Invasive Alien Species Council. Only, instead of saving plants and animals they plan on eradicating them. If your place was somehow passed over by the feds in protecting species, you surely won´t be missed when they come to exterminate them. We warn you, this story is NOT going to leave you with a warm and fuzzy feeling. This is one alien sighting you had better take seriously.

Aliens That Go Moo

Like a lot of other green nonsense, the drivel that follows originated at the UN Conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. That confab came up with six fundamental causes of biodiversity loss. Naturally, things like overpopulation, capitalism, inequity in land ownership and lack of adequate education made the hit list. But so too was “the introduction of exotic species associated with agriculture, forestry and fisheries.” Environmentalists refer to these species as “human induced disturbers of ecosystems.” Along with other bad things in our society, they blame our European forefathers who came to this country sowing seeds of destruction.

If the UN was going to launch an offensive against star thistle, knapweed, leafy spurge, wild pigs, rats and kudzu perhaps this could be a movement private property owners could get behind. But it goes much farther than that. According to Tom McDonnell of the ASCI, most international cooperation on alien species falls under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Article 8 of that document suggests there is overwhelming evidence of the negative effects of alien plant and animal species at both the local an global level. “Such introductions can lead to severe disruption of ecological communities.” To prevent such a tragedy the UN urged countries to: “prevent the introduction, control or eradicate those alien species which threaten ecosystems, habitats or species.” In case you missed it the UN is attempting to outlaw cows, pigs and sheep on this continent!

The UN´s Global Biodiversity Assessment, which the U.S. helped write, clearly considers livestock on this continent an invasive alien species. We are quoting now from that document: “The massive changes in species composition of temperate grasslands in Australia, South America and Western North America (that´s us folks) was a result of the introduction of ungulates which have destroyed native plant communities.” Ungulates, by the way, are animals with hooves.

In the spirit of the UN Conference, Clinton drafted an Order to eliminate or minimize the economic, ecological and human health impacts of invasive alien species. His Executive Order defines alien species, calls for a plan to rid our lands of them and establishes national and regional councils to carry out his mandate.

Whether it was planned that way or not, most crop and animal species in North America clearly fall within the definition of “alien species.” And it does not matter if those alien species were introduced on purpose or accidentally. According to the draft of Clinton´s Executive Order an “invasive species is one that does or COULD HARM the economy, ecology or human health of the United States.”

Tobacco COULD HARM the human health, a cow COULD HARM the ecology and biotech crops COULD HARM the economy. I think you get the picture. The problem is that most human dietary needs are met by species considered by this Administration as “invasive alien species.”

The Weed Team

According to UN documents, introducing new species is bad because they displace or destroy indigenous species, expose the species to new pathogens, pollute the gene pool and disrupt the natural energy cycle. It is estimated that 20% of the vertebrates thought to be in danger of extinction are threatened in some way by invasive alien species. Many scientists feel that these alien species must be eliminated because they are systematically destroying habitat and are exploiting natural ecosystems. President Clinton must agree because the Executive Order that he signed states that “federal agencies shall, to the extent permitted by law, and in cooperation with states, tribes and local governments prevent the introduction and spread of invasive alien species into ecosystems and control them.”

We are talking about a new governmental effort to develop techniques to restore ecosystems to their natural state in order to “maintain biodiversity for the good of society, the culture, the economy and the environment.” To implement the plan Clinton issued an organizational chart of the “Proposed US Alien Invasive Species Super Structure.” At the top of the chart is the National Invasive Alien Species Council. It will consist, but is not limited to one member from the Interior, Commerce, Agriculture, Defense, State, Transportation, Treasury Departments and the EPA. It will be co chaired by the secretaries of Ag, Commerce and the Interior.

Below that group on the chart are sub-groups such as the Injurious Wildlife Task Force and the National Center for Biological Invasions. Here´s where it gets interesting. The work on the ground will be done by Regional Councils which include private conservation groups, The Nature Conservancy and the appropriate federal agency. Please note that agricultural interests, universities and private landowners are excluded from the administrative level that includes the Nature Conservancy and conservation groups. We assume that ranchers and farmers might be allowed to participate in groups lower on the organizational chart. Perhaps as members of an “Interagency Weed Team.”

Within 18 months from last May, President Clinton´s Order is supposed to have a National Alien Species Management Plan in place. This management plan will be charged with eradicating infestations, reducing their populations, changing human activities that may be spreading alien species, prevent their spread from infected areas and conduct restoration activities. They shall also have in place a plan that measures the outcome of such activities.

This Could Take Some Time

So, how big a job does the National Invasive Alien Council have in front of it? In most ecosystems the number of alien plant and animal species is unknown. And that will be part of the task, to identify them. We do know that invasive species are found everywhere in the world except Antarctica. They are even found in nature preserves designed to keep them out, which should indicate the daunting task ahead. Generally, warm desert and semi-arid places have fewer invasives. In Australia and New Zealand there are estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 native species of plants and about 1,500 to 2,000 non-natives. Britain has 49 mammalian species and 21 of these are alien to the country. In southern Georgia there are 26 native plant species and 54 non-natives growing in the same area. It would appear Georgia might be a candidate for the equivalent of a toxic super fund site for alien species.

It will take a long time to eradicate the aliens. On an island near Hawaii rabbits were introduced in 1903 as a source of meat. Within 29 years the number of plant species had fallen from 20 to 4. After the extermination of the rabbits it took 38 years to get the number of species back up to 16. In other words, this is the type of long term, expensive project that bureaucrats and green groups love.

A Can Of Invasive Alien Worms

Within 36 months of Clinton´s Executive Order the Invasive Species Council must be implementing measures to fix the “problem.” These measures must control the species in a cost effective and environmentally sound manner. The management plan will include ways to eradicate some species which are threatening ecosystems and habitats of endangered species. This would appear to give the government broad latitude in coming on your ranch to inventory, sample, treat and monitor invasive species. We can only guess what possibilities await, but the UN blueprint provides some clues. We quote: “In most cases invasives reduce local diversity or abundance of a given population, or alter community structure. Removal of these invasives is often accompanied by recovery.”

Will cows be removed from some ecosystems because they are an alien species destroying natives? Will farmers have to change their planting patterns? We are opening a can of worms here, probably a can of invasive alien worms.

The President´s Order will impact any rancher or farmer who is receiving any federal aid or participates in federal programs because livestock and crops are not excluded. It could impact ranchers participating in a grazing program such as CRP. The Invasive Species Council will also be given broad latitude in using tax policies and other incentives to foster land use practices that benefit native species and eradicate alien ones. Alien species easements as well as other arrangements between conservation groups and private property owners could be in the offing.

The tools in their management arsenal include: establish parks and reserves to protect and regulate sensitive habitats; form seed banks and microbial culture collections to maintain germ plasm; foster agricultural practices that protect soil biota; implement a wide range of land use planning and zoning tools in urban and rural areas; develop an emergency response strategy for the introduction of any new invasive alien species; and institute associated laws, policies and administrative procedures to facilitate these measures.

Although the bureaucrats must take into consideration the economic impact of their actions, according to Tom McDonnell, “nothing in this document excludes intrinsic and environmental values from being given greater consideration than economic values in such decisions.”

That´s The Theory Anyway

Radical environmentalists have long sought a way to control or regulate new biotech products, which they generally despise. With this Executive Order it now looks that they have found that tool. Despite the fact that the potential for filling hungry mouths is enhanced by the technology, the UN feels that “loss of species and habitat diversity as a result of environmental introductions of genetically modified organisms is THEORETICALLY possible.” (Emphasis ours) What they are concerned about is a loss of unique germ plasm, genetic diversity as in the case of endangered species, or a pollution of the gene pool.

This Will Be Interesting

We wonder how the Council will respond to an oil spill when the genetically modified organisms they so despise are used to clean it up. What will they do if a Kangaroo Rat is found to be an alien invasive species in an ecosystem far from a preserve? Will they start killing the rats they are protecting elsewhere? After a fire will they seed the hills with fast growing alien species or slower growing native ones? This Presidential Order dealing with invasive alien species has the potential to make the Endangered Species Act look reasonable by comparison. We can only suppose that since, by definition, ranchers and farmers are “alien invasive species” that they too must be eradicated. Or at least controlled. This action by President Clinton could go a long way towards accomplishing that.