Natural and Invasive

By Rayleigh Lei, Outreach and Events Coordinator, Team Mass Movement

Pulling Invasive Species from Spy Pond

In between our visit to the Bayside Restaurant and Sylvan Nursery, we had time to go visit a Mass Audubon field station. Americorps and SEEAL members were working together to pull invasive plants as we walked right in. Seeing them made me think back to a week earlier when we were doing the same thing, but on the banks of Spy Pond in Arlington.

It also reminded me of something else. In Lawrence, we visited Den Rock Park, which looks like any other forest even though it was clear cut twice. The park contained a pond/marsh that had dead trees sticking out here and there. The area used to be forested, but using dams, the beavers flooded the area, killing the trees. Many of them fell down soon after.

From this, one might say that it is futile to pull invasive plants. As it did for the forest in Lawrence, Nature will find some way to accommodate invasive plants and make it look “natural”; a whole new ecosystem based on these invasive species might be created. After all, the current local ecosystem depends on these native plants, which were invasive at one point. Plus, isn’t this the natural progression? Species that are a better fit for their environmental niche will outcompete their neighbors; because they proliferate, invasive species are probably the better fit.

One response might be that people doing this have a deep connection to their local environment; they notice the change and want to do something about it. It’s like picking up litter, only biological. Shouldn’t we applaud them for the work, as if they had picked up human trash?

It goes deeper than that. When we pick up the trash, we implicitly take responsibility for it even if it probably wasn’t our fault. Similarly, when we pull invasive species, we are taking responsibility for changing the ecosystem. Further, we also are trying to revert the ecosystem back to its original state, one that was more or less beneficial to us.

That is exactly what we’re trying to do by stopping climate change; we acknowledge our responsibility in causing it and want to preserve a climate that has allowed us to proliferate and become the dominant species. Climate change skeptics might argue that climate change is cyclical or Nature will take care of it, but can we wait so long for an uncertain future? After all, natural climate changes takes place over thousands, if not tens of thousands, years. In that amount of time, who knows what will be the dominant species. So, while there are ramifications to this decision, taking action against climate change is the one we can implement now and have the most control over.

Yet, does this address the concern taking action is unnatural? Environments change and accordingly force species to go extinct or evolve; one professor pointed out that by stopping climate change and preserving the current climate, we’re stopping evolution. We’re doing something similar by pulling invasive species, only that it’ll primarily affect a local ecosystem.

One answer among many is that the preservation of our species is paramount. All animals struggle to exist; it seems fair to assume that we can prioritize our species’ existence over others. In that way, we’re no different from the rest of nature; we’re like the beavers in Den Rock Park, changing/creating a habitat for ourselves so we can exist.

Are there other ways we act like the rest of Nature (in addition to the obvious)? In other words, to what extent are our actions and creations natural? When we pull invasive species, address climate change, or undertake other like actions, I hope we ponder this question.

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