“Invasive” means any species that somebody hates
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2002:
WASHINGTON D.C.–Australia and New Zealand may be the most
bioxenophobic of nations, with Britain (page 9) not far behind, but
environmental eugenics have a strong following in the U.S. as well.
Attempting to eradicate non-native species from land holdings
is in fact official policy of the U.S. National Park Service, The
Nature Conservancy, and many other government agencies and
non-governmental organizations involved in conservation.
Paradoxically, some government agencies and nonprofit
hunting clubs are still translocating and introducing populations of
the same species that others are attempting to get rid of. Even as
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service moves to reclassify nonmigratory
giant Canada geese in the Great Lakes region as an “invasive” pest
species, for instance, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources
translocated 4,100 of the geese from the Detroit area to Chelsea,
Iowa, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources translocated
262 geese from Horicon to Black River Falls.
The object of each translocation was to increase hunting opportunities.
The object of redefining nonmigratory giant Canada geese as
an “invasive” pest is to exempt them from coverage by the 1916
Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This would allow states to expand their
nonmigratory giant Canada goose hunting seasons without obtaining
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reclassified the Atlantic
coast population of nonmigratory giant Canada geese in 1994.
Birds have friends
But excluding either goose population from the Migratory Bird
Treaty Act may soon be challenged in court under a precedent won by
mute swan defender Joyce Hill in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
Washington D.C. Circuit in December 2001.
The appellate court held that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service does not have the authority to exclude species listed under
the Migratory Bird Treaty Act from continued protection. The Fish
and Wildlife Service had excluded mute swans to help state wildlife
agencies expedite extirpation efforts, notably in Connecticut,
Maryland, and Virginia, where the presence of small but growing
mute swan populations is blamed for the slow recovery of trumpeter
swans, who were hunted to the verge of extinction in the 19th
The appellate court verdict is poorly enforced, Save Our
Swans USA founder Kathryn Burton, of Old Lyme, Connecticut, told
ANIMAL PEOPLE on July 26.
“I have reviewed more than 45 applications and permits to
kill mute swans on National Wildlife Refuges, destroy their eggs,
and destroy their nests,” Burton said. “All are out of compliance
with the [Migratory Bird Treaty Act] regulations, leaving more than
half of each form incomplete, including the portions for
descriptions of the damage” that the swans are supposedly doing.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources on July 18
introduced a new plan to exterminate the estimated 4,000 mute swans
now inhabiting Chesapeake Bay.
“If these were French poodles, there would be protests,” Burton said.
There were protests on behalf of nonmigratory giant Canada
geese in June and July in the Seattle area, however, as USDA
Wildlife Services implemented an annual cull of about 4,000.
Activist Bob Chorush, 55, was charged with assault on June 21 after
braking suddenly in front of a USDA Wildlife Services truck,
resulting in a low-speed collision near the Renton Municipal Airport.
The protest group Give Geese A Chance claimed a victory on
July 9 when the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department announced
that no more geese would be killed within Seattle during 2002.
Sixty-four geese had been killed, out of an anticipated total of
1,000. The geese are killed each year not for doing biological harm,
but rather because of citizen complaints about goose poop on park
lawns, ballfields, and golf courses.
Repelling an alien invader has become a catch-all
rationalization for almost any kind of high-volume killing.
The current U.S. federal budget, for example, includes
$12.8 million in subsidies for Louisiana fur trappers, tucked into
the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act to
encourage killing nutria.
The nutria was introduced to the U.S. from Argentina during
the early 20th century as an intended replacement for beaver, who
had been trapped to the verge of extinction. Though beaver
eventually recaptured much of their former habitat, after decades as
a protected species, nutria thrived especially in Louisiana, where
they were reputedly introduced by tabasco sauce baron E.A. McIlhenny
in 1938, five years after a previous attempted introduction failed.
The McIlhenny nutria escaped from captivity in 1940, proliferated,
and became a staple part of the American alligator diet, as
alligators followed beavers in recovery from endangerment.
The state of Louisiana collected trapping royalties on more
than a million nutria pelts per year from 1962 until fur sales
crashed in the late 1980s. Since 1988, Louisiana Fur and Alligator
Advisory Council manager Greg Linscombe has tried to rebuild the
nutria trapping industry, but pelt demand has not recovered, and
promoting nutria cuisine attracted more skeptical publicity than
Linscombe hit the jackpot, however, by promoting the notion
of nutria as introduced destroyer of bayou wetlands–although the
major sources of bayou destruction are subsidence, caused by pumping
oil out from underneath Louisiana; navigational improvement and
flood control projects which accelerate the flow of water and
increase erosion; and tropical storms, which keep the Louisiana
coast in a state of constant change.
Blaming nutria for the damage deflects blame from major
industries. Louisiana trappers are now offered a bounty of $4.00 per
tail for each nutria they kill, up to 400,000 per year. The bounty
is comparable to the current market value of nutria pelts. The
bounty will enable the trappers to sell nutria pelts at below the
cost of acquisition. Linscombe reportedly hopes this will rebuild
market demand in eastern Europe and Asia.
Even with the subsidy, however, Louisiana trappers will
have a hard time underselling fur entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia,
who started their own nutria ranching industry during the mid-1990s.
Liming tree frogs
Pursuing a scheme of similar scope and probable futility,
USDA Wildlife Services has already committed $200,000 to a pilot
study of ways and means to eradicate coqui tree frogs from an
estimated 300 sites on the four biggest islands of Hawaii. The pilot
study is to precede a three-year attempted extermination, for which
USDA Wildlife Services hopes to get $10.8 million from Congress.
Native to Puerto Rico, the tiny tree frogs were first
apparently documented in Hawaii in 1997, but may have come several
years earlier, probably as stowaways in some sort of cargo. They
reportedly hatch in concentrations of 8,000 to 20,000 per acre,
eating about 46,000 insects and other very small creatures per acre
during their first few hours, but are rapidly depleted by birds and
other predators. The only significant harm they seem to do is
keeping residents awake with their shrill mating calls. Puerto
Ricans, however, do not seem to find the coqui mating calls
problematic, and Puerto Rican editorialists have expressed surprise
and shock that anyone should wish to eradicate the coqui, viewed in
Puerto Rico as something of an island symbol.
Because coqui are so small and so prolific, finding a way to
kill them without killing everything else in the Hawaii rainforest
has proved problematic. Originally USDA Wildlife Services proposed
intensive spraying, using a mixture of concentrated caffeine, the
pesticide pyrthium, and hydrated lime. Because of the difficulty of
establishing that the caffeine and pyrthium would not harm native
species, the current plan reportedly calls for using only the
The attempted nutria and coqui eradications are legacies of
the pledge to “mobilize the federal government to defend against
aggressive predators and pests” issued by former U.S. President Bill
Clinton on February 2, 1999, on the eve of his impeachment trial
before the U.S. Senate. Creating the cabinet-level Invasive Species
Council, Clinton pleased Senators from ranching states that heavily
rely on USDA Wildlife Services for predator control by requesting
that the Wildlife Services budget be doubled, just six months after
the House of Representatives briefly cut the agency out of the
federal budget entirely.
The Clinton anti-invasive species strategy, believed to have
been engineered by then-Vice President Albert Gore, included implied
promises of funding for other pest control projects all over the
country. Many were advanced on the premise of protecting endangered
The Invasive Species Council has lapsed from prominence under
President George W. Bush, whose biosecurity concerns center on germ
warfare. The work of the Invasive Species Council itself seems
likely to be subsumed into the mandate of the Depart-ment of Homeland
Security that Bush is trying to create by merging programs from other
agencies, including USDA Wildlife Services, which would come into
the Department of Homeland Security as part of the USDA Animal and
Plant Health Inspection Service.
What that will mean in terms of continuing the federal
mobilization against “invasive species” remains as unclear as what it
might mean in terms of USDA-APHIS enforcement of the Animal Welfare
Recent history suggests, however, that any species may be
labeled “invasive” if someone influential wants to kill it.
USDA Wildlife Services in late 2001, for example, sought
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permission to poison as many as six
million allegedly overabundant blackbirds in spring 2002, at request
of sunflower growers in the Dakotas–whose major customers are
sellers of seeds to keepers of backyard bird-feeding stations.
USDA Wildlife Services had already killed 230,000 blackbirds
for the sunflower growers in 1993, and had gradually increased the
total to 500,000 a year through 1999, when a court verdict halted
the program pending U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorization, as
required by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Birds of as many as 294
other species were jeopardized by the poisoning, documentedly eating
from some of the baited sites.
The poisoning was also opposed by Canadian authorities.
Explained Kate Jaimet of the Ottawa Citizen, “There is no undisputed
proof that the birds passing through the Dakotas in the spring are
the same birds causing the damage in the fall. Scientific studies by
Agriculture Canada, among others, show that while some of the birds
remain to nest in the Dakotas, others migrate onward to Montana and
the Canadian prairie provinces. In Canada, blackbirds are not
considered an agricultural pest, and perform the beneficial service
of eating insects.”
Even in the Dakotas, Jaimet continued, “The overall damage
they do amounts to only one or two percent of the value of the crop,
compared with 6% lost to disease and 7% lost to insects.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in January 2002 ordered an
impact study that will delay any further blackbird poisoning at least
As the proposed massacre was in the headlines of leading
Canadian newspapers, Quebec population minister Remy Trudel and nine
friends flew to Argentina to shoot birds at a Cordoba Valley hunting
ranch owned by Quebecois expatriate Serge Dompierre. They killed
18,000 doves in just six days.
Grilled by the Journal de Montreal, Montreal Gazette, and
Canadian Press, Trudel asserted that, “I did it in respect for the
environment. There are 20 million of these birds that harm
But the hunting ranches of the Cordoba Valley work to keep
the doves abundant, to keep customers like Trudel coming.
And if local farmers really wanted to be rid of abundant
doves, they would rely on poison, like USDA Wildlife Services, not
the often inaccurate shotguns of tourists.