Biology in the News Explained

Keep the invasives out of your communities

What do invasive species and chain businesses have in common? They exist in order to economically benefit a few people, at the expense of most people. They kill off local competitors, which has the long-term effect of destroying communities. We invite most of them into our landscapes and communities where they do their damage, and even help them establish, instead of making an effort to keep them out, or at least making them compete on the same terms as the locals. Each time we invite one in we think that this one couldn’t possibly make a difference. We then complain and moan to the government to do something when the cumulative effect becomes obvious over time, but much too late to prevent. They homogenize communities, until over time, it’s hard to remember where you are, just by looking around you.

Admittedly, these comparisons are apt only for intentionally introduced invasive species, but most of the worst ones are, because we gave them that leg up that helped them establish. Witness the many horticultural escapees, not to mention European starlings, which failed to establish more than once before an introduction finally took.

The ultimate reason that both invasive species and chain businesses exist is money. The few who expect to make a profit moving species around the world, and planting identical businesses around the world, benefit at the expense of the rest of us. We’re the ones who have to expend time and money in a fruitless mission to eradicate pests such as purple loosestrife which was recently still available to buy in many states, even as it was belatedly placed on the noxious weed lists of dozens of other states. We’re the ones who would prefer to get exercise, save money, and reduce pollution by walking to a nearby downtown to get what we needed, but who more and more every day have to get in the car and drive for miles to get the merest necessity.

The ecological community changes produced by invasive species and the human community changes produced by chain stores are slow in developing, so usually it is too late when we realize it is a problem. For some reason we do not learn from these mistakes, however. We continue to allow, apparently to serve general principles of economic freedom, importation of alien species which could become invasive, and we assign no responsibility to the importer if they do. We continue to compete for chain stores to open into our communities with tax breaks and other incentives because we are naively convinced by big business that the money brought into the community in the form of property taxes and minimum wage jobs from one employer is somehow better than the taxes and jobs provided by local businesses that will often be driven out of business by the chains. Somehow the profit that goes to local business owners, and thus stays in the local economy, versus the profit from chains that flies out of state seems always to be left out of the equation. Lower prices? Well, of course lower prices are necessary when there is less money in the community to spend. These stores don’t arrive to serve an existing need; they create their clientele, rather like cheatgrass creates a fire-dependent ecosystem that extinguishes the natives unable to survive in it, but that suits the cheatgrass perfectly.

We need to stop the transformation of our ecological and economic communities. Downtowns are the heart and soul of small communities, and the small town leaders are letting them be gutted because they fear any consideration but short-term economics. This leads to exurb zoning where no one ever goes outside except to get in their cars. It is too late in many towns, but not all. Some are revitalizing city centers. Community leaders need to hear from those who believe that quality of life, including opportunities to walk and talk to other community members, is more important than a surfeit of minimum-wage jobs, just as nurseries need to hear from those of us who believe that it is not right to sell destructive invasives such as Russian olive trees, even if it is legal to do so.

Once the money, or the native species, leave the community, they are never coming back.


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