Invading America

Mirra Fine - Blog

If you havent heard, Invasive Species are huge these days: both in the consciousness of sustainable food fans, and in the way they are ruining everything we’ve come to love (our crops, dogs, lawns, native fish, and overall ecology). I’ve had the opportunity to meet with a number of invasive species community members over the past 6 months, and I can tell you this — if you fall under the category of Feral Pig, Canadian Goose, Asian Carp, Florida Iguana, Garlic Mustard or Kudzu, stop reading this now and run and hide. Because everyone is trying to kill you.

And not just “kill you” in a casual, “bring down their numbers” sort of way. People are hanging out of helicopters, wielding machine guns and wearing magazine belts, doing their best to completely eradicate these animals. Obviously, I’m referring to Texas here. But they aren’t the only ones working towards a invasive-free society.  The city of Boca Grande, Florida has hired a man to drive around in a golf cart and shoot iguanas;  the state of Illinois has allowed fisherman to “fish the hell out of” (I’m paraphrasing) Asian Carp; And though I don’t think the state government had anything to do with the water skiier in full football padding, outfitted with a sword and a wolverine glove slicing fish in half as they fly out of the water (thank you YouTube), they weren’t too upset about it.

Maybe they have a point. Asian Carp were introduced to the U.S. in the 60s and have since been quickly making our little country their home. They threaten native species by out-competing our fish for the plankton that forms the base of the aquatic food chain. So in the words of our youth, they are f-ing sh*t up…and reproducing at alarming rates. One fisherman in Illinois told us when he first got out on the Peoria River a few years ago, it was so packed with carp his boat motor would slice through hundreds at a time. To make matters worse, silver carp can jump 10 feet out of the water, which has resulted in injuries to boaters when a giant fish hits them in the face. (This is not funny. Though I can see how it would read that way.)

In December of last year, DNA tests found signs of Asian Carp above the Coon Rapids Dam upstream of Minneapolis and people are (for good reason) worrying that it will hurt the lakes’ $7 billion fishing industry. Last week, the Outdoor Heritage Council said they will recommend that MN Legislature increase legacy funds spent on fighting invasive species from the current $3 million to $5.5 million. There are also proposals to create a U of M Aquatic Invasive Species Center to keep tabs on the 180 invasive species in the Great Lakes and 140 in the Mississippi River.

So, things could be better. And I’m not even yet talking about the feral pigs who kill your dog and ruin your crops, but since you brought it up… In certain parts of Texas, there are more pigs than people. In certain parts of California, young campers are given instructions on what to do if a wild, rabid pig runs through your cabin. (In fact, feral pigs are considered the most popular game species in California). And if you’re a farmer anywhere in the South, you hire volunteers like forester Mark J. Hainds (an expert on invasive pigs, and author of Year of the Pig) to come during the middle of the night and “take care” of your problem.

“If you eat food,” Hainds explains, “You do not want feral pigs spreading into our major agricultural areas. Because, if a given property has adjacent high pig populations, most agricultural crops are rendered unfeasible.” So it’s not so surprising that Hainds’ services come in handy. “One family unit of pigs can wipe out a field of corn, peanuts or other vegetables if the unwary landowner leaves crops unprotected,” he explains.

“Feral pigs, if left unchecked, wipe out native plant and animal species. But, unlike other invasive species, these have several positive attributes that under some circumstances, may balance out the negative consequences of allowing populations to persist.” For example, they are fun to hunt. And the meat according to Hainds is “vastly preferable to the tasteless meat produced by agricultural behemoths that nearly wiped out the family farmer.”

However if you wipe out this sustainable source of tasty meat (as most places across america are advocating), it will be right back to that same tasteless stuff from the grocery store. So maybe eradication isnt the only answer? “With enough hunters and appropriate regulations,” Hainds tells us, “feral hog populations may be kept in check, and may be considered a renewable resource.”

For vegetarians whose sole purpose of their food choice is sustaining the environment, eating invasive species is about as sustainable as you can get. But for other vegetarians (like myself) who don’t want to kill animals for their own consumption, or for any reason… there’s got to be another answer to the problem. Come on, invasive species were introduced to this country at no fault of their own, but rather due to the irresponsible actions of humans (ie. feral pigs were brought here by the Spanish in the 1700s). So the current idea of killing as many as possible seems unfair. But do we have any other options to manage these numbers?

Maybe. According to Wildlife Scientist Stephanie L. Boyles Griffin of The Humane Society of the United States’ Wildlife and Habitat Protection Department: “Since every state has different laws governing the management of wild pigs, and there are currently no federal laws that prohibit the interstate trafficking of these animals, as quickly as some states implement plans in an attempt to eradicate them, others are transporting them across state lines and introducing them back into the environment.  It’s a vicious cycle and the best way to end it is to work with state and federal legislators to establish new laws and strengthen existing laws prohibiting the transport and intra- and interstate sale and commerce of wild pigs for the purpose of stocking hunting grounds and canned hunt facilities. Only then can we work towards the implementation of effective, humane, sustainable, effective solutions, such as development and use of immunocontraception vaccines to stabilize and reduce wild pig populations over time.”

Over time. But what about in the meantime? As Griffin explains, “we must oppose the use of primitive and unnecessarily cruel hunting practices in which pigs are harassed, gunned down with machine guns and/or attacked by dogs to the point of exhaustion before being killed (often being knifed to death, and in some states, hunters are allowed to kill pigs with spears).” Though it is a good point, it isn’t a solution to the current problem. The Humane Society has been implementing successful tactics to resolve the invasive Canada Geese population in both urban and rural areas. So they may just be on to something.

But at a time when even the most conscientious and sensitive Vegetarians (myself included) are still killing animals by their diet choices, who knows what the best answer is to the question of managing invasive species? Let’s be honest, fields full of corn, peanuts and any other grapes are certainly not in their native form. So essentially, we’re trying to wipe out invasives that are hurting our invasive farming practices. And if we’re gonna go there, most of us aren’t exactly “natives” either.

Regardless of what side of the coin your find yourself on, I highly recommend reading Hainds’ book. And whether or not you advocate hunting, eating meat, animal rights or sustainability, invasive species are a real and present issue, and I think we need everyone to enter the debate to find a sensible solution.

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  • Austin

    http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2012/01/31/415422/gop-python-policy-everglades/

    Burmese pythons are eradicating all live in the Everglades.

    • Rich3800

      Let’s give the Everglades homeless food, let them hunt Burmese pythons for it.

      • Anonymous

        Unfortunately Pythons are too high on the food chain and so they have lots of mercury etc. – thus inedible.

  • http://citygirlcountryfood.wordpress.com/ sewassbe

    NYC was talking last year about killing off goose populations in Central Park and I was like, why not harvest all those goose and give homeless and needy people a delicious, roast goose Christmas dinner? 

    We could also take the other option and reintroduce natural (and native) predators back into the wild. But eating them is also an excellent option. In the Hudson Valley of NY we have a big problem with overpopulated deer. If there is a harsh winter they starve and die off and if there is disease it spreads like wildfire. They are also nuisances to those of us trying to grow food. I’ve always thought the solution to overpopulated but edible animal populations would be to allow a commercial hunting license. Commercial hunters would be able to take more deer/geese/feral pigs than other hunters (they could be trained by DEC officers) and could butcher and process them for sale. I would love to be able to buy wild venison or boar or goose. You could do the same thing with asian carp and other invasive fish species. 

    Also, apparently Japanese knotweed if you get it in the spring when its just coming up and looks like red asparagus it tastes like rhubarb. You can also eat garlic mustard. And wild chives (scourge of any perfect lawn person – not us, trust me). I have all three in my yard. Planning to try and eat them this spring, along with young dandelion leaves. If only you could eat thistles…

    • Anonymous

      Good point about NYC, probably something to do with liability

      The problem with commercial hunting is that there has to be a USDA health inspector around.  So the only way to legally sell wild boar is to trap and then have the inspector there for the slaughter.  Of course they could change that law which would be awesome.
      Garlic mustard was introduced as a food, then it took over everything.  

      Also, you can eat thistle.  Milk thistle leaves are tasty.  And other types have stalks that are edible.

      • Ed Chiles

        Wild pigs are one of the most underappreciated food sources out there. I believe that one of the answers to the feral pig problem that we have in Florida and many other states is to harvest this fabulous animal for the table. I eat a lot of wild game, elk, deer, buffalo. I do so mainly because of the superior taste but also because I’d much rather eat organic meat than commercially processed product.
         
        Our Florida wild pig is better than any other wild hoof stock. Check out Iberico Bellotto, prized because it is “free range” and raised on acorns. I had the opportunity to taste it cured, which they do for 2 to 3 years, recently at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. It goes for 1250.00 for a 12 to15 lb cured ham. The Iberico fresco is 30.00 a lb. What we need to do is establish a market for humanely harvested wild feral hog. Chef’s would love it! We can help control the population and allow people to enjoy this most incredible wild organic meat.

  • http://twitter.com/joshuaretterer joshua retterer

    Great post, Mirra!

    • http://twitter.com/kaleandcola Mirra Fine

      Thanks Joshua!

  • Bluewater

    Great Article

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6CAOETJED3XCHY3T4ZYGKSBEIE Oh boy

    Disgusting.  Any ploy, any excuse, anything to push the consumption of flesh.  Flesh, flesh, and more animal flesh to stuff up your faces.  Not a bit of mercy or anything else for the creatures who now have to pay for HUMAN fuck-ups.  I can’t wait for humans to be listed on a menu somewhere by something, I’ll be pointing them in YOUR general direction.  This site is a just a come-on to push the social habit of consuming flesh and eating other species, plain and simple.  You’ve fooled no one today.

    • Anonymous

      the person/blogger who wrote this post, doesn’t eat Flesh, unless it is that of a fruit or vegetable. In this piece, she was considering what to do about those “human F-ups” – a very real situation effects other species (not just humans). Did you read the post? Did you look at any videos? The recipes? Please don’t wish my death, and certainly not the death of my partner/vegetarian who is opening up a dialogue.

    • http://twitter.com/mjcustard mjcustard

      No worries that you will be listed on a menu anywhere – way to acidic and bitter.  Next time maybe you will actually read, think, and process before commenting.

    • http://twitter.com/kaleandcola Mirra Fine

      You have an opportunity here to have a dialog about a solution, as opposed to name calling and finger pointing. Since you obviously have a strong reaction to the killing of animals, I would love for you to actually read the post and provide your honest and thoughtful suggestion as to how to handle the invasive species problem.  That would be much more productive than simply writing blind, angry messages. 

      Also, maybe use your real name and picture. 

    • Foody2 and oliver

      I wonder what other large pieces of important information you miss out on every day because of your inner tsunami of unexamined rage. Others will hear you more clearly once you take the shrapnel off your words.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HHXLO4JPVK5UTPTPA6KK2PWF5U colleenp

    i cannot believe people rage about this, and start talking about canniblizim.  I bet they are lighting candles and mourning the fact they killed all the rats on “rat island”

    people would rather have humans be slaughterd in massive quantides in slow painful ways than “kill a innocent cute widdle _________”

    should I tell them “we have human hunting, it’s called war and cyber bullying”.

  • Rich3800

    The damage human interventions have done to nature is so great that there’s no time to waste to correct it. So, I would advocate the most efficient  ways. 

  • http://twitter.com/LSRebhan Lindsay Rebhan

    The amount of increased species migrating and taking over areas is an indicator of our ecosystems being pushed to extremes, distress, and pollution. Climate change brings these phenomenons into the light even more. It’s like Nature’s way of healing, a response that seems chaotic but in fact is only responding to a larger system change. Years ago I was enlightened by permaculturalists Dave Jacke in workshop where we were discussing “war terminology” in reference to the natural world, i.e. eradicating invasives. He prefers to call these species “opportunists”, which in fact they are, they are often remediating the landscape, preparing it for it’s next successful transformation. Opportunists typically only thrive in areas that have been disturbed or distressed already. That being said – humans need to increased our healthy management role in the ecosystem and harvest what we can, as food, medicine, and fiber to help the overall natural balance. I view humans as the ultimate opportunist species, it is our responsibility to help ecosystems through their changes, without poisons, chemicals and inhumane practices.

  • Sboxall

    There are always two sides to every story. Evolution and the survival of the fittest has always governed the world’s progressing creation. Unfortunately, humans, as have been seen for centuries, seems to feel they can improve on nature! Mankind has moved, transplanted and altered the natural habitat of so many species of plants and creatures that there are too many ‘corrections’ to conceive right now.
    BUT, have we ever considered that this man-made ‘problem’ may be of ‘divine’ intention?
    Question, questions! I have no problems eating a feral pig or a Canada goose (they taste great by the way!) but I don’t think we will ever know exactly what the long term effect of over-population of humans will mean. We are an arrogant bunch after all!!!

  • http://invasivore.org/ Invasivore

    Love seeing thoughtful discussions about eating invasive species!  Keep up the great work!

  • Foody2 and Oliver

    Once again you give us a panoramic view (which makes it very difficult for us not to see what you are talking about) of an important issue that won’t just go away….and you have the courage to show up as yourself in the telling of it. I’m afraid to see it but more afraid not to. Here goes…….off to read Year of the Pig.

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  • Sean via CLE

    Mirra i love that you touched on the subject of invasive species. As a resident of the great lakes region, we have had to deal with three rather large biological f-ups in the past 15-20 years starting with low on the food chain with invasive zebra mussels and then moving onto the round goby. Im not sure if its purely coincidental but now that the asian carp population is spreading onward throughout the great lakes, the invasive species keeps getting higher on the food chain and that worries me quite a bit. Thanks for bringing light to this issue that we have been coping with for too long.