Kudzu Got Your Goat?
Monday, October 10, 2011
By Brett Swailes
for Journal Register News Service
The pictured goats, “Seamus” and “Duffy” are part of an environmental trial at Crow’s Nest Preserve, near Elverson. As anyone who knows goats will tell you, they tend to be extremely curious creatures and posses a clever temperament. Goats are apt to investigate novel or unknown elements within their environment. as well, they have received such monikers as “consumption contraptions” or “biological regulation agents.”
Donated to Natural Lands Trust, the Elverson goats are being used in an invasive species initiative. As Dan Barringer, Crow’s Nest Preserve Manager showed, there is a need to assess and manage “Multiflora rose,” and the “Mile-a-minute weed,” both of which are visible in proximity to the goat shelter. The Mile-a-minute is described in the Trust’s Stewardship Handbook as an “herbaceous plant aggressively spreading in open areas.” The passage further states that its management is accomplished by “physical removal; herbiciding foliage.” Certainly, this sounds like a labor-intensive human task. For a curious goat or two, on the other hand, it might be akin to lunch. Historically, goats are great for clearing land.
Who is “Natural Lands Trust?” To start, the organization is the region’s largest land conservation group. They preserve and care for thousands of acres of open space each year throughout eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. Presently, “Natural Lands Trust oversees a 21,000-acre network of nature preserves,” according to their website at (www.natlands.org). The Philadelphia Inquirer is quoted there saying, “There are other land trusts, but Natural Lands Trust is the leader.”
This is an unusual story. At the small scale, it is about goats, invasive species, and the way back to the way things were. On the larger stage—in the global arena—it is the much the same story. Paradoxically, the star in both stories is the same. Witness Homo sapiens, or the human being. Some readers may recall the comic strip “Pogo,” by Walt Kelly, and its immortal and satirically mangled quote “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Into otherwise balanced ecosystems, man has created environmental chaos. Unforeseen results of the introduction of invasive plants, and various animals, are almost entirely human-caused. Perhaps “invasive species” is not a very important topic to some readers. It’s kind of like air. You ignore it until it’s gone.
Invasive species, furthermore, are big business. The problem is international in its scope. The “National Invasive Species Information Center” (NISIC) stated, “As per Executive Order 13112 an ‘invasive species’ is defined as a species that is:
1) non-native (or alien) to the ecosystem under consideration and 2) whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health. Invasive species can be plants, animals, and other organisms (e.g., microbes). Human actions are the primary means of invasive species introductions.” (Italics, mine).
In fact, L.E. Panetta, then the chair of Pew Oceans Commission said, “On land and in the sea, invasive species are responsible for about 137 billion dollars in lost revenue and management costs in the U.S. each year.” He wrote “America’s living oceans: charting a course for sea change.” That was 2003.
The “Mile-a-minute weed” has been called the “Kudzu of the North.” Kudzu IS “the plant that ate the South.” (Take it from a Southerner.) Initially from the Far East, it arrived in the States in the middle to late 1800s because of improving human transportation technologies—as did the woeful chestnut blight.
Whether unnoticed in a ship’s ballast, as was the case with the Zebra mussel’s accidental arrival in 1986, or in the misguided intentional introduction of certain Asiatic plants as ornamentals, it is plain that invasive species are real. More importantly, they are here.
Scoffers would do well to take a look at another example. Who knows? Maybe the imported Snakehead makes for a good fish dinner (as long as you don’t have to look at the thing). Don’t take it from me, though. Judge for yourself.