Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Edward Hoagland, invasive species and a beginning

On my commute to work this morning, I finished reading Edward Hoagland's Tigers & Ice. I admire Hoagland for his beautiful prose and life well-led, and the collection of essays was a pleasure to read.

Hoagland bridges the divide between conservation and preservation. He begrudgingly accepts change and understands that the sustainability movement must strive to ensure environmental health without neglecting the human animal. Like most of us, though, he is loathe to see the landscapes he cherishes fade or vanish.

The preservationist urge is rooted in nostalgia and fear. These feelings are natural, but not entirely wholesome. The current furor over invasive species is a good example. Although introduced or "alien" species often wreak havoc in their adoptive ecosystems, every species qualifies, at one time or another, as an "exotic." When the northwestern islands of Hawaii first rose from the ocean floor five million years ago, they were barren, volcanic rock. Every species that we now consider "native" to Hawaii migrated to the island chain, or else was carried there by currents and happenstance.

Like humans, most species appear in one locale and, if successful, radiate outward over time. With this in mind, it seems rather xenophobic to patrol our borders and wage war against "the invaders." On the other hand, biologists rank the worldwide invasive species problem second only to habitat loss in terms of negative environmental impact. (In terms of biodiversity, it may be even more destructive; exotics are often trophic generalists, allowing them to displace the trophic specialists.)

At any rate, I'm sure there will be much more written about invasive species in future HH posts. The subject is one of many contemporary conservation concerns I would like to mull over in this forum.

I am an artist, so readers can also expect to see regular art postings.

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