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Natives Only and Moonscaping  RSS feed

 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
Posts: 2570
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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I have been watching the moonscaping of my county my entire life. It's usually done with the alleged purpose of eradicating some so called noxious weed. When I was a child, the county commissioners were determined to eradicate dyers woad. So they started a spray campaign. The broadleaved wild-flowers basically disappeared, as the county sprayed willy-nilly -- any stand of plants with yellow flowers in the spring, regardless of species, regardless of what else was growing there. Regardless of whether or not the ecosystem looked like a moonscape when they were done. The county acted like a Gestapo, threatening people with violence if they didn't remove dyers woad from their land, barging onto to people's land, and poisoning the land, and then adding insult to injury by sending a bill for the poisoning service. Even as a child, this sort of behavior, over a plant, caused me to have a life-long and abiding disrespect for native plant enthusiasts, and for the government bureaucrats that do the bidding of native-only believers.

The war against dyers woad was lost before it even started. 50 years later, dyers woad still grows in a few niche micro-environments, just like it did before. It doesn't grow on north facing slopes, nor in the shade. It doesn't thrive anywhere that sheep are grazed. It has a very narrow micro-environment where it thrives, and it doesn't stray far from it. Sure, it has a brilliant floral display in the spring, and the seeds are slightly burry in the fall, but other than that, it's just a plant living in a niche-environment. Lots of other plants grow right along side it. I suppose that millions of dollars and hours have been spent on trying to eradicate a species that could not have been eradicated. Mother nature has a lots bigger budget than puny man.

So why, in the name of preservation, would someone moonscape an ecosystem? I see it with other species in other micro-environments. I shake my head in dismay... I don't care if the phragmites growing in the local swamp are a hybrid with European phragmites. A phragmite growing in the swamp is still just a phragmite growing in the swamp. If they are close enough genetically to hybridize with each other, then I'd call them the same species anyway, regardless of where the genetics were located some hundreds of years ago.

I don't care if tamarisk and Russian olive grow in my county. Whatever. A tree is a tree. And I hate the constant moonscaping that do-gooders engage in to try to eradicate them. With my own eyes, I never observe the alleged mono-cultures that are imputed to so-called invasive species. I see them growing in clumps sometimes, with plenty of wildlife, insects, and other plants growing right alongside them. I don't observe "disasters" with my own eyes. I just see plants growing and providing ecosystem services. I live in a continental ecosystem. Perhaps your mileage may vary on an island, but I'm unlikely to ever even visit an island.

On dark-nights-of-the-soul, I think of natives-only ideas as being merely a ploy by the chemical companies as a way to sell more poisons.

Wow Joseph... Tell us how you really feel.... LOL!






 
Todd Parr
pollinator
Posts: 1236
Location: Wisconsin, zone 4
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Amen.
 
Tyler Ludens
pollinator
Posts: 9741
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
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The moonscaping thing seems to be particularly prevalent in dry places where few things grow. The "clean it up" impulse that so many people seem to have, is exaggerated, so that even in places like the Middle East, already a desert, people carefully sweep up any organic material and burn it. I'm not sure how to dissuade people from doing this except to create beautiful landscapes in which things are not "cleaned up" so that people can see them. Most people I think would prefer to live in the middle of a lovely garden than in the middle of a parking lot.



 
John Weiland
Posts: 934
Location: RRV of da Nort
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@Joseph L: "With my own eyes, I never observe the alleged mono-cultures that are imputed to so-called invasive species."

Well, I'm going to boldly suggest that you probably do observe this with the case of cheatgrass. Unless I'm mistaken, cheatgrass is a near-blanketing monoculture invasive of the intermountain west in the US. Can't even begin to tell you how many seeds of that plant I've pulled out of my socks. But that being said, I would have no inclination to take a torch to all of it (which would do no better than the annual range fires anyway) and would prefer for natural means, that have throughout time taken care of out-of-balance populations, to re-right the ship. Intriguingly, I've begun to see reports of fungal pathogens of barley that may be changing their virulence and race structure based on the ubiquity of cheatgrass. It's not outlandish to imagine a phase whereby a pathotype emerges, much like Dutch Elm Disease or Chestnut Blight, that will knock back the cheatgrass population and select for new resistant types. At the same time, this event may lead to a re-population with either different invasives or some of the natives. Same thing can happen with the trees, but takes much longer for the recovery to be observed.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
gardener
Posts: 2570
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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I observe plenty of cheatgrass. But I don't observe mon-cultures of cheatgrass. I observe patches. Plenty of other species grow within the patches. The patches are interrupted with plenty of other micro-climates that are not suitable for cheatgrass. It grows in sunny areas. Rarely in the shade. Mostly on south facing slopes. Hardly ever on north facing slopes. It doesn't out-compete sagebrush, balsamroot, or any shrub or tree. It's an annual that completes it's life cycle by June, so the rest of the year, other plant species are using the space. So yes, I observe plenty of cheatgrass, but not mono-cultures of cheatgrass, and not devastation, or ecosystem destruction. It's just an annual plant that does well here in some micro-climates because it is well adapted to the rainfall patterns in this area.

And no, I don't like the seed pods sticking into my socks! I suspect that if it didn't have that trait that it wouldn't be held in derision.



 
Phil Stevens
Posts: 14
Location: Ashhurst New Zealand
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With all due respect, if you know more about the lifecycle of some of the more problematic invasives, and more about the ecosystems they are disrupting, you're less likely to make observations like "it looks ok, so it must be ok." You're near the margin of the area overspread by cheatgrass and probably don't get to observe its replacement tendencies. In large parts of the Great Basin, it has pretty much displaced the sagebrush and perennial bunchgrasses which used to dominate the range. It did this by growing quickly in the spring, using more of the available soil nitrogen, and drying out early to avoid the heat of summer. Unfortunately for the natives, this provided a fuel source for summertime fires, which could move like prairie fires because the dead cheatgrass makes a continuous blanket, as opposed to the scattered, clumpy growth pattern of the natives. So the fire regime changed practically overnight from lots of small spot fires to massive ones. The end result was perfect for more cheatgrass but wiped out a lot of natives, and not just the plants but the entire food web that built up around them, from the soil microbes and fungi to the insects, birds and large mammals.

The same sort of thing is happening further south in Arizona and northwest Mexico with buffelgrass and its spread through a diverse and productive desert that is simply not adapted to fire in any way. Walk a pristine chunk of Sonoran Desert and if you know what to look for you can find something edible any time of year. Walk a section that's been overtaken by buffel and you'll see less than half of what used to be there -- and if it's burned that will go down to near zero. Same goes with tamarisk...there are virtually no cottonwood/willow gallery forests left in that part of the world and a whole universe of riparian species that used to depend on them are gone. In New Zealand the effects of invasives are so extreme that we now manage some of our offshore islands as arks to try and keep some of our birds from going extinct.

I think there's a stewardship ethic that informs permaculture that sometimes gets lost in the comparative utility conversation. What we try to do in NZ is accept that we've utterly altered the landscape, but since we're so lightly populated there's still an opportunity to rewild lots of the country (and a lot of tangible yield-related benefits that come out of this, particularly in the restoration of soils and watersheds). Permies here do this by keeping any problematic species close to home where they can be monitored, considering alternatives to anything prone to escape, and turning areas back to bush where possible.

I accept that there are probably large swathes of land that are beyond hope of restoration and I despise moonscaping freaks (usually what they wind up doing is tipping things even further toward the invasives), but I don't think that we should be turning a blind (or jaundiced) eye to the notion of ecosystem integrity and what is appropriate to place. What's problematic on a sunny slope may not be an issue in a damp wooded cove, and what we observe in a marginally broken biome may be nothing like the reality of a wrecked one. As practitioners, we should at least attempt to strike some sort of balance.
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Posts: 2570
Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Phil: For my occupation, I used to travel thousands of miles in spring, summer, and fall, on jeep trails throughout the Great Basin, and all over Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Nevada. For many years I followed that routine. I assure you that the hype about cheatgrass is exactly that. Hype... Mother Gaia is huge. And there are tremendous numbers of micro-climates jumbled all over and inter-mingled with each other. Cheatgrass is just one species among a multitude. Its population varies from place to place. It doesn't have magical powers to destroy other species. I can't observe it destroying ecosystems. It's just a plant that grows in some micro-climates.

For what it's worth, from about 15,000 years ago until 150 years ago, fire was the primary land-management protocol in this area... So suppressing wildfires is a modern development. If mother Gaia wants to manage the land around here with fire, and cheatgrass helps her to do that, in spite of man's attempts to thwart her will, then welcome cheatgrass. I am incapable of making any judgment about whether sagebrush is good or bad. It seems to be the climax species in this area. A mature sagebrush "forest" seems like one of the least diverse ecosystems in this area. If cheatgrass helps to reset the ecosystem to something that can support more diversity, then welcome cheatgrass. In any case, that ship sailed a long time ago. Cheatgrass is currently an indigenous species, so no point worrying about it. The cheatgrass budget far exceeds any time or money that anyone can devote to it's eradication. It will never be defeated, so why waste the time or labor to even try?


 
Phil Stevens
Posts: 14
Location: Ashhurst New Zealand
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Joseph: I'm not disputing your experience, but just because a sagebrush climax community "seems like" a low diversity ecosystem doesn't mean there aren't things going on there that you don't notice. People say that sort of thing about arid and semiarid environments all the time. I would wager that in most cases, the comprehensive biodiversity of a cheatgrass modified Great Basin landscape is going to be lower than an intact one unless you go back to Asia, gather up all the cohorts and coevolved symbionts. and translocate those as well. Good luck with that.

My in-laws have hunted all over central and eastern Oregon for close to fifty years. Their observations (like yours also anecdotal, but relying on more than mere visual and aesthetic assessments) are that places where the range has gone to cheatgrass have poorer game populations with the possible exception of deer.

I agree that in this case, the ship has sailed. I don't think that necessarily makes the argument that we should concede every battle, or that some Lovelockean invisible hand has it all sorted.
 
Tao Orion
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Location: Cottage Grove, OR
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Cheatgrass is such an interesting example of the tendency to 'blame the messenger,' in this case invasive species, when an ecosystem is transformed by other forces. The Great Basin was historically managed by fire to produce a wide diversity of perennial foods, including stands of perennial bunchgrasses that fed sizeable populations of deer, antelope, elk, buffalo, and the people and other predators who ate them and managed their populations. Sagebrush was present, but not prevalent, as its not incredibly edible. Removing the indigenous people of the area by force or by disease completely changed the ecosystem dynamics of the area. Incipient with this decline in historic ecosystem management came other changes - namely the unmanaged grazing of domesticated livestock like sheep and cows, and the eventual near-extermination of all the predators that may have eaten them. The proliferation of cheatgrass today follows this sad history of poor land management decisions in this brittle landscape, and to me its no surprise that a plant like this grows in the area laid waste by conventional ranching practices. We need to seriously examine the nature of public and private lands grazing in the intermountain western US, because the way it has been practiced for the last 150 years or so is driving the landscape towards desertification. Spraying cheatgrass with herbicide is never going to change these dynamics, as its a short-sighted approach causing more ecological harm while not addressing the "root" of the intersecting economic, political, social, and ecological issues at hand.
 
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