Panel set to draft feral hit list

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2000:

WASHINGTON D.C.––Cruelty is of no concern to the Invasive Species Council, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt signified on January 26, excluding humane representation from a 32-member Invasive Species Advisory Committee named to help direct the federal war on feral wildlife.

There was no room on ISAC, as the advisory committee is called, for anyone from any of the more than 10,000 U.S. organizations formed to prevent cruelty to animals, whose donor base includes one household in four, and may be larger than the constituency who elected President Bill Clinton.

But there was room for a representative from Monsanto––a leading maker of the pesticides used in ever-growing volume against alleged “invasive species,” and coincidentally a leader in creating and introducing new species via genetic engineering.

The biotech industry was the big winner when White House influence shifted the focus of implementing the 1992 United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity from securing royalties on genetic resources to eradicating feral wildlife.

Genetic royalties, sought by underdeveloped nations to fund conservation, could cost the biotech industry billions of dollars, as increasing numbers of lucrative products are synthesized with genes taken from species native to tropical rainforests and other remote habitat.

But the only ISAC member with any history of public concern for preventing suffering to non-native species whom A N IMAL PEOPLE was able to identify is Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council representative Marshall Meyers––and Meyers has lobbied against legislative and regulatory proposals by the humane community at least as often over the years as he has endorsed them.

Anticipating appointment, Meyers told ANIMAL PEOPLE at the October 1999 American Humane Association conference in Minneapolis that he would try to restrain zealous cruelty and “nonsense,” but warned that he expected humane issues to get short shrift. Meyers meanwhile will have his hands full defending the pet industry, which appears to rank with agriculture, recreational horticulture, and the hunting industry in number of problematic alien species intentionally brought to the U.S., and/or introduced from the U.S. to other nations.

Altogether, ISAC includes nine academics, nine industry representatives,seven representatives of public agencies, and six representatives from anti-”invasive species” environmental groups. Most prominent among the latter are Faith T. Campbell of the American Lands Alliance, a longtime crusader for the massacre of animals who eat or trample rare plants, and Nature Conservancy president John T. Sawhill.

Founded in 1951, TNC has never been friendly toward non-native wildlife, and has been notably dismissive of humane concerns under Sawhill, who took office in 1990.

Seven years after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals cofounder Alex Pacheco documented the prolonged suffering of feral pigs and goats who were snared and left to die slowly on TNC land in Hawaii, Sawhill remains unapologetic.

Neither has TNC responded positively to the 1997 disclosure by Voice for Wildlife of abuses by volunteers working on a tallgrass prairie restoration project near Chicago.

Killing goats

The probable model for ISAC recommendations, however, will probably be the joint TNC/National Park Service effort to restore the Channel Islands off southern California to pre-Columbian conditions––now underway for more than 25 years.

TNC and the National Park Service twice in 1999 celebrated presumed success in eradicating feral sheep from Santa Cruz Island, the largest of the islands. According to L o s Angeles Times staff reports, sheep culls and live removals began circa 1977. For 12 years, starting in 1984, the work was done mainly by bowhunters who paid the last private landholder on the island $550 per weekend apiece to shoot sheep, with a bag limit of five per trip.

In November 1996, estimating from plant damage that about 2,500 sheep were left, TNC and the Park Service closed the hunting concession and in February 1997 began a drive toward complete extermination. Sharpshooters killed some sheep; others were taken to the mainland, where a fortunate 750 went to the Farm Sanctuary refuge in northern California. The rest were sold to ranchers.

“The last animal, an old toothless ewe hiding in a cave, was captured on September 8, 1999, culminating two years of roundups that netted 9,267 animals and cost $2.1 million,” Gary Polakovic of the L o s Angeles Times wrote when TNC and the Park Service first declared victory.

“With sheep gone, feral pigs will multiply rapidly,” Polakovic continued. “The Park Service and TNC are contemplating an all-out assault, including use of rifle squads, herbicide-dropping aircraft, and fire, to annihilate pigs and their protective thickets of fennel, a non-native plant that forms dense eightfoot-tall groves on the island.”

But––having overestimated the impact of sheep on plants by a factor of four ––the Park Service and TNC underestimated the ability of wary survivors to remain hidden.

For the moment, the last sheep on Santa Cruz Island appear to have been another ewe and her three-day-old lamb, captured together on December 3, 1999, and transported to the mainland four days later.

Now the Park Service is attempting to kill all the black rats on nearby Anacapa and San Miguel Islands.

Just to the south, the Catalina Island Conservancy fell short of eradicating goats from Santa Catalina before the end of 1999. More than 20 years of shooting, including from helicopters, purportedly brought the goal within sight. A rescue effort organized by Bill Dyer of In Defense of Animals and the brushclearing firm Goats R Us removed 121 goats alive during October and November 1999.

But Goats R Us owner Terri Holleman had prior commitments to other projects in December and January. Declaring an urgent need to exterminate the remaining goats before the spring birthing season, the Catalina Island Conservancy dispatched sharpshooters.

As of January 18, the sharpshooters thought they had killed 63 goats, with about 20 still at large.

Catalina Island Conservancy board member Jean Michel Cousteau argued in a form letter to protesters that the well-being of rare plant species on the island outweighed concern for individual goats. Cousteau is also president of Ocean Futures, formed by the 1999 merger of the Jean Michel Cousteau Foundation with the Free Willy/Keiko Foundation, which continues a $14 million effort to rehabilitate the orca star of the F r e e Willy! films for eventual return to the wild.

Human control

“The alien species invasion is turning even staunch conservationists into stone cold killers,” recently observed Associated Press science writer Joseph Verrengia. “They’re trapping nutria. Poisoning sport fish. Spraying weeds from aircraft like it was Vietnam, not North Dakota. Ripping out saltcedar with bulldozers and chains.”

Responded Wilderness Society ecologist Greg Aplet, “Restoring the wilderness means bringing some land under tighter human control.”

But trying to eradicate any species, once it finds a habitat niche, is fundamentally tampering with nature. Whether humans or other agents of transport cause a species to migrate, seeking to reverse the migration is trying to reverse one of the engines of evolution, which creates species differentiation through the process of animals and plants adapting to new or altered habitat.

If wilderness is kept from changing, natural processes no longer occur. It is not even wild––just preserved.

Such philosophical issues are not likely to concern ISAC. But they do concern Canadian deep ecologist David Orton, of Green Web, who in January published a discussion paper comparing and contrasting “deep ecology” and “animal rights” perspectives with evident sympathy for both.

“There are a number of theoretical issues here which need to be discussed further,” Orton wrote. “For example, what is an ‘exotic,’ given the new reality of interrelated ecosystems in a globalized world? Can a feral animal who has been in a place for a long period become non-feral? Perhaps a more important question is, should humans be seen as ‘exotics’ in most regions of the world, given our reputed African origins?

“Deep ecologists and animal rights supporters are also at odds on the issue of chemical birth control for various species,” Orton continued, pointing out that such intervention tends to be favored by animal rights organizations but not by deep ecologists, who argue that humans should interfere with nature as little as possible.

Chemical weapons are nonetheless likely to be favored by ISAC, and not just because of the presence on the panel of Monsanto scientist Nelroy E. Jackson.

Another institution with a seat on the panel, the Environmental Defense Fund, might be seen as a check-and-balance on heavy pesticide use, since the most prominent EDF project is the High Production Volume chemical toxicity retesting initiative which became subject of PETA protest in late 1998 and early 1999 until the protocols were amended to reduce the anticipated amount of animal testing associated with it.

But don’t bet that EDF or any other advocacy group represented on ISAC will stand against any proposed chemical use because it might cause avoidable animal suffering. EDF, like other mainstream environmental organizations, appears to be of two minds about chemicals: against them, except when used to kill nature in order to save it.

Thirty-eight years after Rachel Carson sounded a global alarm about pesticides in her 1962 bestseller Silent Spring, chemical safety issues are still among the environmental concerns most recognized by the public, and most likely to be mentioned in fundraising mailings. The case against current pesticide use is generally not as strong as it was in Carson’s time, because many of the pesticides which persist longest in soil and water have been banned or restricted, replaced by others that biodegrade to quasi-harmlessness within days or weeks. But short-term impacts from spray-drift, runoff, and collateral damage to wildlife are all still frequently evident ––which was the major pretext for the EDF High Production Volume program.

Organic agriculture, often touted by pesticide critics, including EDF, tends to harm wildlife more than it helps on an acre-toacre basis, since lower yields oblige more use of land to produce equivalent crop volume, and since organic growers rely more on traps and shotguns to protect their output.

Short of persuading the world to go vegetarian, which could double or even triple the acreage left to wildlife by eliminating the need to cultivate a large share of the land now used for fodder crops, there may be no “better” alternative for native animals and plants than the present combination of high-yield farming––mostly of introduced species––with protected reserves.

But the protection is relative. Even land never tilled is exposed to pollen, poisons, nutrients, and microbes transported by wind, water, animals, and humans. What thrives depends less on what arrives as a transient than upon the conditions it finds.

If the habitat niches for similar species are filled and the occupants are healthy, transients fail––a tendency affirmed in the November 19, 1999 edition of Science b y John Stachowicz, Robert Whitlatch, and Richard Osman, who investigated S p e c i e s Diversity and Invasion Resistance in a Marine Ecosystem along the Connecticut shore.

Among the many forces which may open habitat to transients, at least temporarily, few work faster or more ubiquitously than pesticides and fertilizers, either synthetic or natural. Evidence is mounting that many feral species have established themselves as well as they have in part because effects of pesticide and fertilizer use have killed native competitors––not so much directly, however, as by changing the local environmental chemistry.

A five-year study of ecological change in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, for instance, coordinated by Rutgers University adjunct ecology professor Robert A. Zampella, reported in January that fertilizer and pesticide residues have combined with septic waste to transform formerly acidic soil and nutrientpoor waterways into a much richer habitat. Non-native fish and frogs who couldn’t have survived in the Pine Barrens as recently as 1950 now do well there. Some native species are meanwhile in trouble––and killing all the non-natives won’t help them.

Paradoxically, researchers at the Environmental Protection Agency research station in Corvallis, Oregon, reported in the December 1999 edition of E n v i r o n m e n t a l Toxicology and Chemistry that in habitats which were richer to begin with, nitrate fertilizer residues seem to be encouraging forms of algae which feed trematode flatworms who in turn become deadly frog parasites. The syndrome is reportedly afflicting frogs throughout the midwest and northeast. But even as especially sensitive frog species decline and disappear, invasive bullfrogs are proving resistant, and are taking over the open niches, maintaining the ecological roles of frogs and keeping total frog biomass approximately the same.

Stuart Weiss of the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University offered another paradox in the December 1999 edition of Conservation Biology.

“Widely seen as an ecological nono,” the editors summarized, “grazing turns out to be essential to San Francisco Bay checkerspot butterflies. Smog sources deposit extra nitrogen on nutrient-poor grasslands. This extra nitrogen enhances the invasion of nonnative grasses, which displace the plants that Bay checkerspot butterflies depend on. Cows,” who are non-native animals, “help the butterflies by eating the non-native grasses, which allows the native plants to grow.”

Chemical warfare

It may be that the 6,500 alien species now thriving in the U.S., as counted by the 1999 U.S. Geological Survey report on Status & Trends of the Nation’s Biological Resources, are maintaining biodiversity much more than harming it. And alien species could be at least as important abroad.

Yet government and land trust biologists around the world are now deploying pesticides against alien species with a zeal that would have appalled Carson, trying to kill their way back to habitats as they were when first documented.

Among recent examples, Parks Canada in December 1999 poisoned all the fish in Moraine Lake, in Banf National Park, Alberta, to make it “historically accurate,” as project leader Charlie Pacas put it, by eliminating several non-native species. Native bull trout, long gone from Moraine Lake, are to be reintroduced later.

“It’s B.S.,” former Banff National Park chief wildlife warden Rick Kunelius told Joan Crockett of the Calgary Herald. “It’s unrealistic to think we’re going to recreate an area that’s pure as snow.”

And the purges may not work. A California Department of Fish and Game effort to poison non-native northern pike in Lake Davis during 1997 wrought enduring ecological havoc––but the pike survived.

Despite the risks, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in late January began injecting Rotenone through holes in the ice covering much of the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge. The plan is to eradicate non-native carp. Fish-eating birds and otters may also be poisoned.

Pesticides historically lose effectiveness against fast-reproducing species, as descendants of genetically resistant survivors come to dominate the population. Species slower to reproduce, however, like most predators, may suffer for decades from pesticide residues ingested with their prey.

Leicester University biologist Robert Smith and colleagues warned in late January that anti-coagulant rat baits are no longer very effective against rats in parts of Britain where the baits have been used intensely. Now the major victims are native rat predators, including kites, barn owls, weasels, stoats, and foxes. The finding implies that poisoning rats to save birds on remote islands may not work.

Genetically engineered biocides meant to harm only specific target species are in development. Releasing them, however, will be in essence introducing one alien species to exterminate another, intending that the second alien will extinguish the first before jumping into any other species.

In cruder form, that strategy has already backfired many times, as domestic cats, mongooses, and cane toads, among other species, spread around the world through futile efforts to kill off previously introduced mice, rats, snakes, and rabbits. When familiar prey ran scarce, or proved harder to catch, the introduced predators turned to hunting native species.

But introduced predators are not necessarily as deadly to native species as is often represented. In Australia, for example, Northern Territory Conservation Commission chief wildlife officer Bill Freeland is reportedly skeptical of the purported loss of native reptiles after the arrival of cane toads.

“Those reports are anecdotal,” Freeland objected recently to Greg Roberts of the Melbourne Age. “Goannas,” a species supposedly especially vulnerable to cane toads, “still exist in places where you have had cane toads for 60-odd years. Nobody,” Freeland insisted, “has been able to give me any quantitative evidence showing a decline in wildlife species” caused by cane toads.

Instead, Freeland and others theorize, cane toads may be taking the rap for harm done by agricultural pesticides, to which the toads––who are themselves poisonous–– seem more resistant.

The most notable introductions of target-specific biocides to date were the spread of rabbit hemorrhagic disease to Australia in 1994 and New Zealand in 1996. Up to 90% of the exposed rabbits were killed within a matter of months. But already the rabbit population of many regions has recovered, and the new rabbit generation is markedly less susceptible.

What’s it all about? 

In fact, there is no evidence as yet that any successful alien species has ever been lastingly extirpated from a continental habitat.

The Invasive Species Council, consisting of Interior Secretary Babbitt, Commerce Secretary William Daley, and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, was named by President Bill Clinton just before his February 1999 impeachment trial before the U.S. Senate for allegedly misusing his office and lying to Congress about liaisons with former White House aide Monica Lewinsky.

Creating the council gave Clinton an excuse to nearly double the $28.8 million budget of the USDA Wildlife Services branch–– formerly called Animal Damage Control, and still mainly engaged in killing coyotes on behalf of western ranchers. Bolstering the prestige and budget of Wildlife Services was accordingly a boon to 26 western Senators.

It, and the appointment of ISAC, purportedly came in compliance with the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). The object was said to be protection of endangered and threatened species.

But the CBD Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical, and Technological Advice reported less than two weeks later that, “There are no records of global extinction of a continental species due to invasive species.”

So if all the killing, both underway and proposed, isn’t getting rid of anything, and isn’t saving anything, what is it about?

A hint at a hidden undercurrent came from Amsterdam in the normally gentle Netherlands in April 1999, where the major ethnic tension is between native Dutch and immigrants from former Dutch colonies:employees of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines heaved 440 live Chinese squirrels into an industrial-sized meat grinder, because they arrived without proper entry documents.

Apologizing afterward, KLM six months later adopted a policy against transporting any live animals other than poultry, equines, ornamental fish, dogs, cats, zoo specimens, and animals en route to be returned to the wild.

It is not the Dutch way to mistreat immigrants and refugees. But it happened.

The Japanese Environment Agency offered another hint about the subtext to purging alien species in December 1999: a week after the World Trade Organization summit in Seattle put Japan under intensified pressure to open markets to foreign competition, the JEA announced plans to escalate a two-year-old war on feral raccoons and mongooses. The raccoons came from the U.S.; the mongooses came from India. The U.S. and India are Japan’s two biggest trading partners.

A third clue came from Tanzania, where a small but influential population of Indian ethnicity, mostly engaged in commerce, is at times resented for relative economic success. There, in December and January, as India aligned itself in opposition to a Tanzanian application to sell an elephant ivory stockpile, the Wildlife Conservation Society of Tanzania and Canadian Fund for Local Initiatives directed a massacre of about 150,000 Indian crows.

As ANIMAL PEOPLE pointed out in May 1999, U.S. concern about alien species seems strongest in states where growing Hispanic and Asian communities challenge the cultural and political status quo.

In Australia, pogroms against feral species on purported behalf of native wildlife gained popularity during the late 1970s and early 1980s, soon after barriers were removed to Asian immigration. Before that, most Australian feral wildlife massacres were just a matter of stockmen killing species who might compete with sheep.

Ultimately the human relationship with animals reflects the human relationship with humans. Scapegoats are stoned not because they are goats, but because they are invested with the burden of human sin.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.