Battling Invasive Species

Imagine my shock and intrigue when I came across this passage:

“The gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar), also known as the spongy moth, was introduced in 1868 into the United States by Étienne Léopold Trouvelot, a French scientist living in Medford, Massachusetts. Because native silk-spinning caterpillars were susceptible to disease, Trouvelot imported the species in order to breed a more resistant hybrid species. Some of the moths escaped, found suitable habitat, and began breeding. The gypsy moth is now a major pest of hardwood trees in the Eastern United States.… [In fact,] according to a 2011 report, the gypsy moth is now one of the most destructive insects in the Eastern United States.” (Wikipedia)

Gypsy moths escaped from a lab?!

Curiosity and tinkering by man unleashing an undesirable phenomenon which becomes unstoppable: it’s actually an archetypal story.

Remember Jurassic Park? “What could go wrong? The cloned beasts will never get off the island.” And it’s written by a medical doctor, interestingly enough.

We know this theme deep down in our bones.

It’s Pandora’s box playing out again… and again. Or Adam and Eve. The insatiable curiosity leading to the inevitable regretful moment. It makes you pause even longer on the question of where Artificial Intelligence is heading. Is that the next version of humanity going beyond what we intend or can control? If it’s so archetypal and plays out repeatedly, what are we to make of it?

Now what?

The most challenging part of the Pandora’s box myth is that it doesn’t offer anything for a solution. In fact, Pandora tried to close the box and only succeeded to lock in one thing: hope. Remember that part? Not exactly an ideal bedtime story. We are left with the question, “what now?” If you look at it, our knee jerk reaction is to go to war.

Battling Invasive Species

We battle against invasive species. We say things like, they must be stopped. They are bad. Period. We spray chemicals. We do it in the name of preservation (peace). And the same goes for disease or pestilence in any form. They just don’t fit. We will fight them all. They have too great a potential to cause harm to the environment, the economy, or to human health for us to resist war.

But what if war is a bad idea. Didn’t we learn that trying to close the box cuts us off from a part of ourselves. We need a more deliberate approach, one that won’t make us wonder if our solutions just exacerbate the problem.

Non-war tools

1. Inclusion. Eradication specialists may be starting to rethink their approach.

  • ‘Conservationists may be thwarting their own efforts, as well as causing harm to wildlife, in their battle against invasive species
  • In numerous cases, non-native species have been shown to benefit wildlife, while their management — from toxic chemicals to culling — may be causing more harm than good.’

Have you ever heard of the Manichaean myth about the kingdom of light? It was invaded by dark forces, and light prevailed. The punishment handed down was to incorporate the dark into the kingdom of light. It’s the ultimate integrative model. Let your invaders punishment be to become part of the kingdom. The new territory where light and dark were combined, where the dark could be redeemed by the light, was called humanity.

2. Positivity. Accentuate the silver lining. In certain cases and in certain aspects, invasive species are ‘actually quite beneficial, and perhaps it’s time to recognize that. In California, for example, native butterflies feed on non-native plants. In Puerto Rico, alien trees help restore abandoned pastures to a condition suitable for native plants. Non native birds are filling a gap and are spreading native plant seed. Even the much-maligned zebra mussel helps filter toxins from lakes.’ How can invasive be recognized and harnessed for good?

3. Let natural biologic systems help. Spongy moths have a number of natural predators, the most effective being small mammals. Other predators include birds and parasitoids. How do we let them thrive in the effort to incorporate the ‘invasives’?

4. Forgiveness. We humans have to tinker. We will tinker. We’re here to tinker. We just have to be pretty humble about it. Mistakes happen. It’s embarrassing but as long as you’re honest and apologize and are careful we’re all right with it. It all fits.

Even if Trouvelot had evil intentions, like using the infestation to advance his magical French cure-all tincture, for example, so what? This plague is here, just like the last one and just like the next one. It’s an opportunity to practice our best selves and our highest principles. And if those are practiced more intensely because of a mean-spirited gesture somewhere, the gesture is transformed into a force for good.

Hope prevails

1 million acres of deforestation in an average year from the gypsy moth is no slouch, and the solutions are complex. Staying with our best tools, the ones that are most representative of our wholeness, gives us access to hope, and that is my message for you here. 

Covid update

Recorded cases continue to drift down slightly in our area. We are in 25 cases per day in the county range and up slightly to 130,000 per day in the country. Ba.5, Omicron variant, and what possibly could come of it, is in the news quite heavily. What’s quite relevant is how others (Portugal, S Africa) have already done with it. I expect worst case scenario a peak much muted from the Jan Omicron peak (maybe 30% of that at most), lasting for about 6-8 weeks. Best case, smaller peak and shorter term.