Archive for the ‘Invasive species’ Category

arctic fox eating an auklet

Arctic foxes were introduced to the Aleutians where they waged war on the seabird population, such as this poor least auklet.

I am a speciesist. Yep. I accept the title. I do believe some individual animals of certain species do have certain privileges that others don’t.

Owned domestic dogs should be treated as individuals, as should anything else kept as an actual companion animal.

Individual animals that must be culled through hunting seasons, like white-tailed deer, get no individual consideration. What matters about those species is carrying capacity as determined by wildlife managers.

Invasive species anywhere should receive even fewer protections than the game species.

That’s because as a conservationist, I value biodiversity over individual animals.

So I really don’t care that conservationists have trapped and killed introduced arctic foxes in the Aleutians, feral cats in the islands of the Sea of Cortés, or red foxes in Australia.

I don’t care about the individual deer that are shot every year in the United States. I care much more about what they are doing to temperate forest ecosystems.  They exist in a world without predators, predators that will never be reintroduced in significant numbers, and it is vital that humans manage their populations.

I don’t think an absolute moral system can be applied to all animals. Indeed, I have issues with the concept of an absolute morality period.

I know, though, that we are but one chain of biodiversity on the planet. And it is out of this chain that we somehow became the dominant species on the planet. As the dominant species, we like to think we’re above all other species, when we’re just the ones at the top right now.

I don’t think every invasive or introduced species is a negative on the ecosystem. Ring-necked pheasants are mostly banal where they have been introduced. In North America, common carp are generally not an invasive species either.

But many things that have been introduced clearly are.

Especially on islands.

New Zealand had rabbits that were introduced, which ate down much of the good sheep grazing. Then stoats, weasel, and polecat-ferret hybrids were released to control the rabbits, and the mustelids wreaked havoc upon the ground-nesting bird population. New Zealand is a place full of unique ground-nesting birds, and it was once fuller of those species before the weasel horde hit its shores.

Therefore, to protect things like the kakapo, a massive ground-nesting parrot, it is necessary to kill these predators.

Animal rights ideology, which posits an absolute set of rights for individual animals, cannot allow for this killing.

So this ideology would rather have all the kakapo and native New Zealand birds go extinct, just because this ideology doesn’t want to see a guild of invasive predators killed off.

And I must say that I have to reject this ideology, because it clashes with my aesthetic, which requires us to maintain biodiversity as much as possible.

That’s because I know fully well that in a hundred years, that biodiversity will be reduced. Habitat loss, poaching, pollution, climate change, and invasive species will take their toll on a whole host of species.

And the diversity of life from which we descend will be reduced because of us.

Therefore we must kill invasive species to protect as much of life as we can.  It is this paradox that many people cannot understand, but failure to understand this concept is ultimately going to add to the many species that will go extinct.

But in the end, animal rights ideology and conservation are not the same thing. Hunters who oppose animal rights ideology should stop conflating the two systems of thought. Animal rights ideology has no room for hunters, but true conservationists, who want to protect wild places from rampant development, believe hunters are part of the solution.

And virtually everyone is a speciesist. I am one, and it is only a small minority who try to hold absolute values when it comes to animals.

We have these inconsistencies, but they are not without reason. And although most mammals are very much like your own pet dog, they don’t act in the ecosystem in the same way. Transferring one’s feelings about a pet dog onto a mongoose in Hawaii is not wise– that is, if you care about nene. If you don’t care about biodiversity, then go ahead.

But don’t pretend that these two concepts are consistent. They are not.

And they are very much in conflict with each other.


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Blooming invader

Multifora roses are in bloom this week.




This thorny plant spreads out like concertina wire along old roads and overgrown pastures. It was introduced in the 193o’s in attempt to create a naturally growing fence to contain livestock.

It turned out that the birds in North America that had a penchant for eating its hips were also very good at spreading its seeds, and it wasn’t long before multifora rose were everywhere.


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monongahela river caiman

From WBOY:

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources received information that a reptile, possibly a caiman, was in the Mon River between Fairmont and Rivesville.

DNR officials said people were contacting them about an alligator, although based on descriptions the DNR has received, it was believed to be a caiman, which is a member of the alligator family.

DNR Wildlife Resources learned Friday afternoon that the caiman had been captured and killed by two fisherman Friday morning. Marion County Natural Resources Police Officer Jeremiah Clark said the fisherman planned to eat the reptile’s tail.


It seems we have an epidemic of crocodilians being released in this state.

Just a few weeks ago, an alligator was killed in Southern West Virginia.

I know of a pet store in Marion County that used to sell alligators and caimans, which are not regulated in West Virginia at all. I was shocked to see them available for purchase.

I’m amazed the rivers here in summer aren’t full of these inappropriate pets.

Of course, this caiman would have frozen to death in just a few weeks, so it’s almost a good thing that its tail is now on the menu.

Update: I’ve been informed that this animal is most likely an American alligator, not a caiman. It looks more like an alligator to me, too. However, I was trusting the WVDNR’s judgment here.

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cat killing bird

A few years ago, the dog blogland was enamored with a concept:  There is no pet overpopulation problem. There is only a bad animal rescue marketing problem.

In some sense, I think this is true, and as Christopher Landauer at the Border Wars blog has pointed out, the number of dogs being euthanized at shelters has dramatically dropped.

A few years ago, I was only an infant in this land of self-styled “experts” and “working dog” advocates. I believed just about everything the “elders” said until I started finding real flaws in their logic and “religious tenets.”

The concept that pet overpopulation could merely be addressed through marketing alone had a lot of people exciting came from a book called Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America (2007).

There may be some merits to what Winograd has to say about the exact nature of the pet adoption problem in North America, and I have noticed that there are really good moves on the behalf of some rescue organizations to better market dogs. For example, there are organizations that take dogs out of overfilled shelters in the South and take them up into New England, where shelter dogs are often somewhat difficult to come by.

I never read Winograd’s book, though, because I began to read some of his other writings. It turns out that he is in favor of TNR cat management plans, which go as follows:  You catch the cat in a trap. You take it to the vet. It loses its gonads. You release the cat, and it forms a colony that keep other cats from coming in. Allegedly, this keeps cat colonies manageable, but in the reality there is little scientific evidence that this strategy reduces cat populations, though there are some “science through press release” studies out there that do make these claims.

Now, I am a firm believer in biodiversity. I think extinction is a big problem, and it is well-demonstrated that the one of the major causes of extinction is invasive species.

All over the world, man has introduced species after species to places where they wreak havoc upon native animals.

The best example of an invasive predator that destroys populations of native animals is the domestic cat. Now, in the US, we don’t have as severe problem with feral cats as a country like New Zealand does. Our native fauna has evolved with predators like cats, so they have evolved mechanisms to avoid predation. However, study after study has shown that even in a mesopredator filled North America, cats are making a big dent in our wildlife populations.  According to one estimate, cats kill 1 billion birds in the US every year, and they are also taking their toll on reptile and amphibian populations.

Now, this is in North America, where  the fauna evolved with terrestrial predation. In a place like New Zealand, the bird evolved for millions of years without ever seeing a mammalian predator. The birds became terrestrial themselves. Many, such as the giant night parrot known as the kakapo, became slow and inefficient breeders. And when cats, weasels, stoats, and ferret/polecat crosses arrived in their country, the native bird population had no way of dealing with predators. Species after species went extinct. This same story has been repeated on island after island, and it’s only now that we’ve tried to rectify the mistakes. Wildlife agencies all over the world are doing the best they can to control invasive species. In some places, like the islands off the coast of Baja California, the cat population has been extirpated, and native species have been given an opportunity to return.

We may not have a dog overpopulation problem, but we certainly do have a cat overpopulation problem. We are not an island with many unique endemic species, but we do have lots of lovely little animals that are certainly being harmed through predation from cats, both free-roaming and feral.

Now, when I say we have a cat overpopulation problem, I simply mean that cats can breed in the wild. Dogs almost never produce freely breeding populations, though they certainly can. It’s  just that dogs have to learn so much in order to be effective scavengers and predators that are able to be able to raise young without humans caring for them, while cats, as somewhat lower animals, already have the instincts they need to survive on their own and rear their offspring. Further, when cats are born and raised in the wild, they become too wild to become tame. It matters not that their parents may have been pets. Without human contact during their critical periods for socialization, almost all feral cats cannot be tamed.

There are an estimated 82 million cats “owned” cats in the US, and there might be an additional 60 million ferals. These animals aren’t serving any real purpose in the ecosystem, other than they are adding to the mesopredator boom that has occurred in the United States since we’ve extirpated wolves and cougars from much of their native range.

Coyotes certainly are doing some good work on the feral cats in this country, but it’s pretty clear that coyote predation alone won’t control them.

In the Winograd world, TNR has been given near hallowed status. Never mind that these programs actually don’t end feral cat colonies. They manage them, and if this were implemented in an ecologically sensitive area, it would be a disaster. The cats would still be there killing whatever they could find.

The only way to end feral cat colonies is–gasp– to euthanize as many of them as possible.

Now, that might seem extreme, but let’s make one thing clear, we’re talking preserving as much biodiversity as possible. These cats are biological pollution. If a corporate polluter dumped chemicals into a river that killed as much wildlife as a cat colony does, you’d want them fined and forced to clean it up.

This is clean-up.

No one is saying that we should be torturing cats to death, but there is simply no good solution but to kill them.

Winograd has been challenged on this concept quite a bit. His answers actually reveal that he has a values system that is can simply be described as follows:

To hell with biodversity!

This is what Winograd has to say about those of us who think that invasive species ought to be controlled:

The idea that some animals have more value than others comes from a troubling belief that lineage determines the value of an individual animal. This belief is part of a growing and disturbing movement called “Invasion Biology.” The notion that “native” species have more value than “non-native” ones finds its roots historically in Nazi Germany, where the notion of a garden with native plants was founded on nationalistic and racist ideas “cloaked in scientific jargon.” This is not surprising. The types of arguments made for biological purity of people are exactly the same as those made for purity among animals and plants.

So I’m a Nazi because I think it is worthwhile to shoot stoats that might be preying upon New Zealand blue ducks? He can’t even argue his point without resorting to Godwin’s law, which tells you a lot about how much he’s actually carefully considered the concept of “invasive species.

Let me put it this way:

New Zealand blue ducks are native only to fast flowing streams in New Zealand.

Stoats are native to a wide range of the Northern Hemisphere. We North Americans call them short-tailed weasels or ermine, and many of our populations turn white in winter.

They are no way an endangered species.

They were introduced to New Zealand to control another invasive species, the European rabbit, which was destroying sheep grazing lands. The stoats did control rabbit numbers, but they were also able to expand much more rapidly because in addition to rabbits, New Zealand was then full of really predator-naive ground-nesting birds, most of which are now either extinct or endangered as the result of predation from animals like stoats.

Because New Zealand blue ducks are much more endangered than stoats are, it makes sense to control stoat numbers to protect the blue ducks.

It’s not a Nazi concept. It’s simply that conservationists don’t want to see a species disappear because of our stupid introduction of an invasive species.

And yes, in this calculus, the life of a blue duck is much more than that of a stoat.

That’s a reality-based calculus.

Winograd then goes on to make a strawman argument:

Trying to move the world to a mythical state that probably never existed lacks a moral or logical foundation. Nature cannot be frozen in time or returned to a pre-European past, nor is there a compelling reason why it should be. To claim that “native” species are somehow better than “introduced” species equally or better adapted to the environment is to deny the inevitable forces of migration and natural selection. No matter how many so-called “non-native” animals (and plants for that matter) are killed, the goal of total eradication can never be reached. As far as feral cats are concerned, they will always exist. To advocate for their eradication is to propose a massacre with no hope of success and no conceivable end. They exist and have a right to live, regardless of how and when they arrived or were “introduced.” Their rights as individuals supersede our own narrow, human-centric desires, which are often based on arbitrary biases, subjective aesthetics, or commercial interests.

No one is saying we want to return to a “pre-European past,” and it’s not just Europeans who have introduced species. The Polynesians brought pigs, dogs, and rats places like Hawaii and New Zealand, and it was North African traders who brought domestic cats into Sub-Saharan Africa. The goal of conservationists isn’t to return to past, but it is instead to preserve as much as we can.

Man has really waged war on nature in these past few thousand years. We have only now just begun to recognized the consequences of the war we have prosecuted. We cannot turn back time, but we can leave a few pocket behind. It may only be of aesthetic value, but in the long run, preserving biodiversity is the best thing we can do for life on the planet. Species come and species go, but the more diverse lineages we are able to leave relatively intact the better it will be for the forces of evolution to fill niches as extinction goes on.

Further, no one is saying is that we should freeze nature in time. Species have always introduced themselves through simple migration, but this not simple migration. This is man introducing a large number of species at a rate that has never occurred on the planet before.  It took thousands of years for the two species of lynx that now exist in North America to become established here, but in only a few hundred years, we have established a vast breeding population of small wildcats.

Winograd thinks this desire to control invasive species is human-centric. It is not. It is life-centric.

That Winograd would go to such logical flights of fancy about animals really shows a vast weakness in the so-called No Kill Movement.

In another post from last year, Winograd goes into a bizarre reflection about the Audubon Society to cut down some cypress trees near where he walks his dogs:

They were beautiful. A row of Monterey Cypress trees that lined a path to the ocean. They provided respite from the winds, a home for birds, shade, and oxygen in exchange for our CO2. They were part of the walking trails at Fort Funston in San Francisco and every time we reached them, the dogs would get excited. They would start vocalizing and surging ahead. They knew. Because the trees, or at least I liked to believe the trees, foretold of what was to come: The ocean was within reach. There was sand to kick up, balls to chase, water to frolic in. I don’t know if the trees meant anything to the dogs, but I loved those trees. And they exist no more. Each and every one was cut down, leaving a row of stumps, an ugly scar on the beautiful seascape of one of San Francisco’s open space treasures.

They were not cut down by loggers trying to profit from their timber. They were not cut down to make chairs or tables or copy paper or toilet tissue. They were cut down by so-called “environmentalists.” They were killed by those whose mission was supposed to be their protection. According to the local chapter of the Audubon Society, the trees were not “native” and had to be destroyed.

Well, I can tell you that introduced trees are not biologically neutral.

Take my favorite tree that I have only been able to read about:  the American chestnut.

Once a dominant tree in the Eastern forests, it is now extinct as a freely producing species in its native range.

That’s because when Japanese chestnuts were brought over, they brought with them a type of fungus that soon spread to the native chestnuts. The Japanese chestnuts had some immunity to the fungus, but the Americans did not. By 1940, the American chestnut was essentially extinct in the Eastern US.

They only chestnuts I’ve ever seen were Chinese ones that were planted as ornamentals.

Now, Winograd’s cypress trees really can’t be attacked in this way, but the Audubon Society is concerned with biodiversity. “Let’s try to preserve a bit,” is all they are saying.

If Winograd had stopped there, he might have had a point, but then he goes into this strange rant:

Invasion Biologists believe that certain plants or animals should be valued more than others if they were at a particular location “first.” When the species that were there “first” are competing for habitat with a species that came later, they assert that the latter should be eradicated. In championing such views, the movement paradoxically has embraced the use of traps, poisons, fire, and hunting, even when these cause harm, suffering, and environmental degradation. And the destruction of a beautiful tree lined path to the sea.

He has no idea why ecologists (“invasion biologists”) would want invasive species controlled in the first place.

It has nothing to do with “firstness.” It has to do with preserving bits and pieces of biodiversity when we can. Most of these invasive species have a very wide range, and when they wind up killing or supplanting unique endemic species, they create greater homogeneity throughout the world.

In the Ethiopian Highlands, there exists a relict species of canid, which we now call an Ethiopian wolf.  It now found in only two disjointed pieces of the Highlands, and one of its greatest threats is the domestic dog. Domestic dogs do occasionally interbreed with them, but their biggest threat to the wolves is they carry diseases for which the wolves have evolved no immunity.

Domestic dogs are not endangered at all, and as regular readers of this blog know, it’s one of my favorite animals.

But I don’t want to see the Ethiopian wolf go extinct because of dog-born diseases. I want to see this unique lineage of the genus Canis preserved. Not because of its “firstness,” but because I know that there is an ethic that says we should try to preserve what we can. The world that man has created is one of homogeneity and biological depauperacy.  In the long run of progress, our descendants may ask why we didn’t do more to preserve these species.

I ask that question of those people who made the dodo and the great auk disappear.

It’s an ethical question for which Winograd has no answer, and it’s why I cannot adhere to this No Killism.

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The autumn olives (Elaeagnus umbellata) are laden with fruit this year.

The wet summer has been very good for things that produce fruit, and each of these berries has a seed in it.

If a bird eats it, the seed will pass through the bird, and a new autumn olive will grow.

And this wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t such a persistent invasive species.

This plant does very well in West Virginia.  Abandoned pastures that have begun the transition back to forest soon fill with autumn olives and multiflora rose. Within just a few years, the tallest things standing in the pasture are the autumn olives.

The berries feed the birds and provide cover for them to nest and roost.

But the plant itself holds off the new forest from returning. Succession is held off while the invasive species flourishes.

Autumn olives were originally brought into West Virginia to “reafforest” strip mine lands, where they certainly do thrive.

However, they don’t just stay there. The birds carry them all over.

I don’t think anything can be done to stop this plant. It’s just that hardy.

I’ve heard the berries are edible, but I’ve never tried them.

I think all leave them to the birds.

At least for now.






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The problem with cats

cat with hakapik

I do realize that there are problems for someone like me writing about what feral and free-roaming cats do to an ecosystem.

I am not a cat person.

At least, I’m not a domestic cat person.

I have no problem with our native wild cats, be they Canada lynx or jaguars.

But if I start writing about the ecological effects of feral and free-roaming cat predation, I get called a cat hater.

Well, I don’t have a good defense for that. I really don’t like domestic cats.

There, I said it. I don’t like cats. (Maybe I like an emotionally shallow animal. I don’t know).

My reason for disliking cats isn’t why I have issues with free-roaming and feral cats.

There are two very good reasons for my problem with cats:

One is that they are an introduced species that breeds very rapidly.

And two is they are the epitome of what has been termed the mesopredator release hypothesis.

Mesopredators are small “B-list” predators that would normally have their numbers checked by larger predators in the ecosystems.

Of course, if domestic cats were native, their numbers would have been checked by native predators like cougars and wolves.

But now that both cougars and wolves are gone from most of their range, the cats can breed up in pretty large numbers.

Wolves and cougars don’t normally target small prey– why would a 150-pound cougar climb a tree to raid a robin nest? It would be a complete waste of energy for the amount of calories available.

But domestic cats will readily climb trees to raid bird nests.

Contrary to Farley Mowat’s book, wolves really don’t waste time hunting mice and voles, but cats hunt mice and voles for fun.

And what’s more, a recent study has revealed that cats kill billions of birds and small mammals in the United States every year.

That’s as much as 15 percent of the entire bird population in the country!

And feral cats, the animals we’re supposed to trap, neuter, and release, kill more native wildlife than domestic ones.

In the United States, we have as many as 164 million cats, and as many has 80 million of those are ferals, the vast majority of which cannot be tamed and serve no greater purpose other than to kill native wildlife and spread disease.

So what’s the solution?

Cats that are owned should be kept indoors or in enclosures outdoors. That sounds like a common sense solution, but of course, it’s attacked because you’re not allowing your cat “freedom,” which really means you are okay with your cat having the freedom to get FIV, hit by car, or killed by a coyote or fisher.

But fer feral cats, the solution isn’t even that pleasant.

it’s not nice at all.

Hannah Waters at the Culturing Science blog lays out the problem, which the authors of the aforementioned study tactfully avoid:

So the obvious answer then is that, if we value biodiversity and wildlife and can manage to overcome our predilection for cute cat faces over cute bird faces, cat populations should be controlled through humane killing, just like many other invasive species.

But the funny thing is that no one suggests that. In compulsively researching this blog post, I read many papers showing that trap-neuter-release doesn’t work, or studies showing that, in computer models, euthanasia reduces cat populations more effectively than trap-neuter-release. But then in their concluding paragraphs, after providing evidence that current methods aren’t working, the action steps proposed by the authors are: (1) all pets should be neutered and (2) owners should be be better educated so they don’t abandon their cats.

The thing about cats is they do readily breed on their own in the wild.

Considering how little cats are removed from the Libyca wildcat, they having been selectively bred for very long, and indeed, it’s likely for most of the history with us, they have been animals that lived in a sort of semi-domesticated status. Feral cat colonies, as they exist, are likely the source for most of the domestic cats we have in homes today, and these colonies likely existed for thousands of years in the Old World before most people ever thought of keeping them as pets.

But in the US, these colonies are all under 400 years old. No native mesopredator has ever been able to build up in such vast numbers as the domestic cat. I guarantee you that there are not 160 million raccoons or gray foxes in the United States, and though they certainly are taking their toll on native bird and small mammal species, there is no way native mesopredator release issues equal those of the domestic cat.

If this were any other species– say. a raccoon dog, which is a nasty introduced mesopredator in parts of Eastern, Central, and Northern Europe– people would be okay with killing them.

But as soon as you say that the only effective way to deal with the feral cat problem is humanely killing them, you might as well be the reincarnation of Hitler.

Indeed, there are some people, who even call themselves environmentalists, who contend that there are no invasive species and that we shouldn’t killed any animals for any reason.

That’s a recipe for mass extinction, because the only animals that are going to survive are those that have been able to live with human civilization. At its most extreme, we could wind up with a country in which the main predator in the ecosystem is the domestic cat, which feeds on house mice, English sparrows, European starlings, and pigeons.

That’s not what we need.

And that’s not a future we should look forward to.


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american soldier with pet arctic fox 1943

This photo has been making its rounds on the internet as a photo of an American soldier from World War II with his pet wolf pup. The location is given as “Alaska” and the year as “1943.”

Of course, this animal isn’t a pet wolf at all.

It’s an arctic fox.  Arctic foxes are notoriously easy to tame, and it would make sense that a soldier serving during World War II would have tamed one.

My guess is this soldier was serving in the Aleutians. I’ll even go as far as to suggest that he was likely serving in the liberation of either Kiska or Attu in the far western Aleutians, which were actually invaded by Japanese forces in 1942. These islands were retaken in the spring of 1943, and US forces remained there for the remainder of the war.

Both of these islands were home to large numbers of arctic foxes, which were introduced by the Russian.

These foxes have been eradicated on both islands, but at the time, they were quite numerous. Arctic foxes became infamous for destroying colonies of sea birds that used the Aleutians for nest purposes.

For thousands of years the birds nested on the islands because they were free of terrestrial predators.

The Russians then introduced arctic foxes as fur-bearers.

For whatever reason, the Russians have tended to believe that it’s a good management practice to introduce fur-bearers anywhere they please, which is the reason Europeans have to worry about things like North American muskrats and Asian raccoon dogs.

It was not necessarily a Soviet practice.

It’s just been a Russian practice in general.

Of course, we Anglo-Saxons aren’t much better. We’ve introduced foxes to Australia because chasing wombats with hounds was never that great a sport.

At least the Russians introduced animals for fur purposes and not petty sport. Russians actually do use fur. In many parts of Russia, it’s impractical to keep sheep and the lack of good transportation infrastructure meant that cotton and wool textiles could not easily be distributed across the country.  It was a better practice from a human perspective to keep large numbers of fur-bearing animals stocked in many different regions. That way, people would have access to good quality materials from which to make garments in order to keep warm. In Russia, fur was not murder. Fur was survival for many people living in isolated communities in very cold regions.

But although the introduction of fur-bearers makes sense from a human perspective, it can have disastrous ecological consequences.

The only part of the US “home territory” ever to have been invaded and occupied during World War II were these two islands in the Aleutians.

We liberated the islands of the invaders, and this soldier was likely involved in those liberations.

But the great irony is that having been involved in driving out those invaders, he decided to make friends with an invader that wound up nearly destroying the entire Aleutian Island nesting sea bird population.

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