I t seems a good time to change the term “invasive species” to “entrenched species.”
For the better part of 30 years, I’ve watched our Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and its equivalencies around the country fight battle after battle that’s no more winnable than the war on drugs. Some plant or animal from elsewhere shows up in our backyard, and great effort is expended to eradicate it.
Never works. Not with plants, and not with animals—probably never will. Once some “foreign” species gains a foothold in favorable habitat, full extermination becomes nearly impossible.
It’s worth noting about now, that we as a species, already are eyeballing other planets for potential human habitation not a whole lot of years from now. If we find the right planet, one that provides everything we need, what are the odds we’d just turn around and come home if some native species tried to run us off?
Someday when we find the right planet, figure out how to get there and determine who makes the trip, we’ll take up residence. We’ll start using that place’s resources, and make ourselves at home.
Interplanetary habitation is “invasive species” on a grand scale. It’s not much different from what’s happened thousands of times in our own country with plants and animals of all sizes—and even with people.
According to my radio peers, I spend an inordinate amount of time outdoors, which means probably about the same as most of you. We see things out there that we wouldn’t see anywhere else (which is a big part of why we go). And increasingly, we’re seeing things that weren’t there the previous time.
For example, there are parakeets, flocks of them, tweeting around Sugar Land, where I live. Eurasian collared doves are common now all over Texas, across the South back through Florida, and in the Bahamas, which they overran after being brought there by the pet trade.
Many of Houston’s bayou banks are pocked with the burrowing holes of armored catfish. Lake Conroe’s white amurs ate nearly all that lake’s vegetation, then survived on grass clippings. South Texas has monkeys. Real-deal monkeys. And pigs. Countless, nasty pigs in every Texas county.
Most of these so-called invasive species didn’t invade at all. Instead, they were brought here deliberately for one well-meaning purpose or another. Others came on their own, sort of like half the population of Michigan during the 1970s and 1980s. When they arrived, they liked what they found. (Who could blame them?) And so they stayed.
As have wide varieties of snakes, spiders and insects that hitched stowaway rides on modern transportation. As have many other species of reptiles and amphibians and small mammals that arrived first-class, by animal standards, as paid freight within the pet trade.
Some escaped into their new habitats on their own. Others were set free when they became too big or too loud or too burdensome on their owners.
How they got into our ecosystem, however, doesn’t matter. What matters is that they’re here and, more importantly, that we’re unlikely ever to fully rid ourselves of them.
The notion of protecting any geographical region from “invasive” species of plants or animals these days is fantasy. Instead, focus should shift toward living alongside these newcomers.
The world is feeling smaller in a sense. You jump on a jet in Houston, fly to Asia or Africa or South America or anywhere else jets go these days, and you step off that aircraft into a totally different—for now—world.
Somebody sneezes, and the virus that caused the sneeze gets up your nose. A pair of little bugs crawl into your suitcase at some faraway hotel and hitch rides back here. A shipment of bananas or pineapples or any other consumable gets packaged for shipment, and something native to the farms from which those crops were harvested crawls or slithers or hops on board.
It could be as large as a snake or as small as a seed. And in the relative blink of an eye, it’s 10,000 miles from where it started.
Invasive species, by the way, aren’t unique to the United States. Our largemouth bass, for example, has made itsway into water bodies around Japan, where they were welcomed with roughly the same hospitality we show grass carp and feral hogs.
They’ve tried but failed to get rid of bass and been about as successful as we have with hogs. Ultimately, both countries will wind up working around those newcomers, not eradicating them.
Some people think we’re in charge of all things around us, that we somehow can repel unwanted visitors. Nature would beg to differ.
Those parakeets and collared doves used to annoy me. How dare they share air with Texas mourning doves, cardinals and blue jays, I’d grumble. Now, they’re just two more cool species I might see around the neighborhood, and I like counting birds.
Email Doug Pike at
Email Doug Pike at [email protected]