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Um, I think they are all non-native

I thought it was kind of silly how often I have seen blogs commenting on the story about Bette Midler cutting down her own trees in Hawaii.  We should be supporting her property rights, not searching around for trivial examples of supposed hypocrisy.  However, I did note this line from Midler's spokesman:

"The whole idea with cutting the trees down was with the idea of improving the lot with native species" instead of the nonnative, invasive species that had grown there, Graham said. "It's unfortunate that a mistake was made."

Given that the island rose out of the sea as volcanic molten lava, my wild guess, without having a degree in botany, is that most all the plants and animals in Hawaii are non-native.  For example, the Big Island only rose out of the sea less than 500,000 years ago.  I am pretty sure no trees came up with the lava.

This strikes me as a common form of environmental anthropomorphism -- "Normal" is defined as the condition in which man has observed things over the last 200 or so years, a blink of the eye in geologic time.  So the only allowable plants and animals are those that existed at the moment man started to observe a certain location.  In the same way, "normal" for world temperatures is defined as what we observed them to be in about 1950.  Climate and nature and geology follow multiple cycles and trend lines, some of which stretch for millions of years.  It is hubris to say that we know what "normal" is.

Posted on August 22, 2007 at 11:19 AM | Permalink

Comments

There is a nonbogus concept of native species even in a place like Hawaii. It includes those which were there before any people came. Not just since the white man came (say, 200 years ago), but excluding such animals as the pig, which came with the first people prehistorically. The plants and animals which came, say, 500,000 or 100,000 years ago, have evolved into distinct species, rather like Darwin's finches et al on Galapagos. These species are generally unique to Hawaii, or at least are distinct subspecific variants.

They are also unused to the presence of the species which came, quite suddenly in evolutionary terms, with man. They are endangered by some of the more aggressive species brought by man, most notably the pig. There are plenty of pigs in the world, but it is rather sad to see unique Hawaiian species and ecosystems fall prey to the pig and to other globally common animals.

Posted by: DWPittelli | Aug 22, 2007 1:37:35 PM

I can see how that definition of "native"—that which evolved and adapted to a certain place—is better than the snapshot definition.

On the other hand, for all we know, there were several species in ancient Hawaii that fit that definition and yet were wiped out when a coconut floated ashore carrying who knows what from elsewhere, the invader killed off the now-forgotten natives, and now the invader is threatened by the latest newcomers.

Slightly tangential: It is my understanding that species adapt to fill a particular niche, and that's what makes them "valuable" to Mother Nature, such as the now-disappeared pollinators that used to service some Hawaiian flowers. But if that niche ceases to exist, does Nature "need" that species anymore? For example, if a species of deep-sea tubeworms evolved to live off the specific mineral content of a volcanic hot spot, and that hot spot disappears, is it a sad thing, from Nature's perspective, to lose that type of tubeworm?

Furthermore, if humans eliminate a special niche and thereby eliminate the animal that can live only there, what's the loss? No niche, no need for the adapted species, right?

Posted by: dicentra | Aug 22, 2007 4:58:50 PM

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Posted by: Audi Head Gasket | Aug 22, 2007 10:34:44 PM

and if humans disappear, is it a sad thing from nature's perspective?
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I don't mean anything by that - it's just that nature being sad is a strange concept to me.

Posted by: Rick | Aug 22, 2007 10:44:33 PM

Personally I am more interested in maintaining a fair amount of diverse wilderness, rather than insuring that "loser" animals like the dodo are perpetuated rather than wiped out by rats and pigs and hunters. And I'd note that some of what passes for species diversity, and/or is protected by the Endangered Species Act, is trivial (subspecies, or even species with minor niches). Further, and despite the impression sometimes given by environmentalist groups, most species are not unique in some way important to us, such as production of toxins with medical potential for man. All that said, I am in favor of people planting unusual and endangered plants, and people acting to protect wilderness, especially unusual or unique wilderness, as is much of Hawaii.

Posted by: DWPittelli | Aug 23, 2007 5:36:29 AM

Isn't Bette Midler an invasive species herself? Please cull her.

Posted by: Paul | Aug 23, 2007 8:45:42 AM

If Bette "Diva" Midler wants to cut down trees on land she owns, so be it. Fortunately, that's the way private property goes. Protecting those things is what public wildernesses are for. Sorry to seem uncaring but I'm with our blogger here. Humans have been around disrupting things for far too long to continue to pretend that anything is pristine (in a state untouched by humans). I doubt there is any place on the planet where humans have entered and had no significant impact. Consider that until relatively recently, no one gave a crap and that's precisely why a bunch of varieties of poisonous and destructive plants from Russia are now living quite nicely as invasive species in Bend, Oregon for example. The same is true of many animals introduced to correct vermin problems, themselves later becoming the vermin.

Posted by: la petite chou chou | Aug 23, 2007 1:45:54 PM

Just to follow up a bit, there is some seriously stupid stuff going on in some of the environmentalist movement. The first is the fetishization of "pure-blood" species.

For example, a Bengal tiger and a Siberian tiger mated, producing "hybrid" offspring, so the zoo was ordered to kill them so that they wouldn't "pollute" the tiger bloodline.

Some guy outside Boise Idaho knew a guy who knew a guy who tipped him off and he brought the tiger cubs to his wild animal refuge for abandoned and mistreated exotics (later closed down by a lawsuit when a stupid woman let her toddler get too close to the cubs and they attacked the "prey").

This guy near Boise also said that if his Sandhill cranes produce eggs, he's supposed to break them to prevent too much inbreeding.

That's crazy.

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