Hey invasive species, you’re not that bad. I mean, I’m sorry for pulling you out and stuff but you can just get really overbearing sometimes. Maybe we can talk things through, I mean Ivy, you’ve got a lot of weaving potential. And thistle, you’re hella medicinal. So whadda ya say? Truce?
Ps. You’re still not allowed in the Garry Oak Meadows…
Travelling species wreaking havoc are an inevitable side effect of the hyper connected world we now live in. As part of the Ecological Restoration club at UVic, a question I am constantly contemplating is that of ethics and invasive species removal. On one hand, humans are ( a large part of) the reason why so many species have been introduced into sensitive ecosystems, leading my opinions to think that we should claim responsibility for our screw-ups and restore. On the other hand, recent attempts at environmental management- or mismanagement- have lead to seemingly more harm than good. Is it our place to interfere with ecosystems?
“It is only our limited time frame that creates the whole “natives versus exotics” controversy. Wind animals, sea currents, and continental drift have always dispersed species into new environments… The planet has been awash in surging , swarming species movement since life began. The fact that it is not one great homogeneous tangled weed lot is persuasive testimony to the fact that intact ecosystems are very difficult to invade.”
I love to walk, particularly anywhere non-paved. For a while I was walking fifteen minutes a day to practice breath and ease of mind. One morning it was particularly quiet- I could here small branches giving into the wind and hitting the ground, joining the debris there. I could here the birds that were most incessant, and the ones who saved their called for seemingly important matters. And I could also hear the crunchy echo of my footsteps along the path- the footsteps that compacted the soil, shifted little rocks around, carried seeds. Our impact on the planet is inevitable. Even in meditation the exchange of oxygen never stops- we are always interacting with the planet. There is a quote by activist Julia Butterfly-Hill “ The question is not ‘can you make a difference’. You already do make a difference. It’s just a matter of what kind of difference you want to make, during your life on this planet.” I began to formulate that care towards how humans interact with the planet looks a lot difference depending on space and cultural place. Humans are not separate from nature, no matter how many concrete walls we build between us. The plants will always persevere through the pavement.
So many questions about ecological restoration still arise for me, and I took the opportunity to ponder some out loud while walking with Oliver Kellhammer (Ecological Artist! Activist! Writer! Educator! A star member of punk band the Enemas !). Oliver’s approach to how we view degraded ecosystems and invasive species tied together a lot of loose strings in my eco-philosophy. As humans, we have always manipulated ecosystems. From early agriculture in the fertile crescent, to indigenous land management practices such as clam gardens and camas beds- our species has created cultural niches in ecosystems that benefit us and sometimes the biodiversity of the entire system as well. Instead of viewing nature and wilderness as “pristine” or “untouched” we must instead turn our questioning to how we impact the natural world. Oliver’s work in urban areas using exotic species to show the perseverance of the natural world was extremely inspiring. I began to accept that some areas are meant to be novel ecosystems, and not restored to a historical state. The idea of historical restoration also brings up a plethora of ponderings- when do we restore to? With the changing climate Oliver suggested that we look to the past, at a more similar climate model in order to mitigate. This echoes the need to observe and adapt that was expressed by Adam and Tamara at Linnaea. Flooded cypress forests may be the closest climate model in our trajectory, so might might have to buckle up and head to the Eocene!
Many of the invasive species we now find here have medicinal properties , or are just plain yummy( Dandelion root tea?) I was amazed by how much more I learnt about the benefits of urban “weeds” not only for a source a food, but a source of beauty and ecological art. By painting exotic species in a different light, Oliver challenges the perspectives we have towards species and what is deemed “worthy” to be in our garden. By creating spaces for people to interact and notice urban biology, Oliver opens up a different view of the species that exist all around us- and can be an aid to food security in agricultural deserts.
So Finally, word of sympathy for the weeds. We really should be giving invasive species mad props. I mean, they’re just great at what they do. With their nitrogen fixing properties, ability to hold soil and wildlife provisioning skills, maybe we all need to say a little thanks to the weeds persevering against all odds and adding a little green to a grey landscape.