Beyond the War on Invasive Species

Joan Bailey | Friday, 27th May 2016
An important book on why we shouldn't be killing invasive species, but utilising them. Includes Asian carp, zebra mussels, mangrove trees and smooth cordgrass.
Author: Tao Orion
Publisher: Chelsea Green
Publication year: 2015
RRP: £14.95

This is one of the most important books to appear in some time.

Tao Orion looks at the current practice of habitat restoration and then steps back to view these efforts in the context of history, geology, anthropology and science. The result is a book that is by turns chilling, heartbreaking, inspiring, and finally, tentatively hopeful.

Orion begins by tracing the history of various invasive species, the chemicals and techniques used to control or eradicate them, and the results. The negative effects of these chemicals aren’t news, but their widespread use in pristine and preserved areas is. Referencing multiple academic and industry studies along with observa-tions from professionals in the field, Orion makes it impossible to ignore that the chemicals and methods used do more damage than the invasives themselves. The first chapter is not for the faint of heart.

A plant is neither good nor bad, but instead is fulfilling a role in an ever-evolving ecosystem. Invasives arrive only by invitation, and it is usually one issued by heavy industry, chemical-intensive farming, overgrazing, or benign neglect. It may not be the plant or animal that humans prefer, but Orion argues that we need to think holistically rather than subjectively for real restoration to begin.

Orion suggests viewing these species as possible solutions. What if we ate Asian carp or used them as an organic fertilizer? What if we harnessed the pollution-filtering effects of zebra mussels in the Great Lakes and researched solutions for how to safely compost their toxin laden bodies when they die?

If restoration is truly our goal, then we need to change the systems that oppose it. Orion points to the principles of permaculture as an excellent frame-work for moving forward toward a state of being that benefits the whole planet. Invasive species could revitalize local economies by providing food, natural fertilizers and building materials.

This is not light or easy reading, but it is important for the new perspective it takes on this issue. Orion’s frankness may make her unpopular, but like Marion Nestle, Joan Gussow, Rachel Carson and Michael Pollan, people who researched, thought, spoke, and wrote about chemicals and food long before many were willing to realize the truth of what they were saying, Orion’s work will hold a similar place in the world of restoration ecology.

Joan Bailey writes about food, farming, and farmers’ markets in Japan when she’s not reading or working in her garden.

Further resources

Health benefits of ground ivy

Many benefits of hawthorne

Comfrey: history & benefits

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