Global warming is not now and never will be the greatest threat to the health of our nation’s forests, waters and rangelands.
It is ironic that it is even being discussed during the current pandemic affecting our planet, especially since a real problem has been affecting us for more than 400 years in this country alone.
Whether it is European gypsy moth, white nose syndrome, ventetnata, white pine blister rust, pythons, American chestnut blight, earthworms in Michigan, feral hogs, star thistle, wild horses, Asian carp, emerald ash borer, zebra mussels or giant Asian hornets, the real threat is pervasive throughout North America. That threat is invasive species and they have and will continue to cause more permanent and extinction-level damage to our environment in a shorter amount of time than any global warming will cause during the next two or three centuries.
The indigenous peoples of North and South America were decimated by the introduction of viruses from the European continent. Measles and smallpox destroyed entire civilizations and indigenous nations within a couple of decades. The death rate was so high that there were not enough people left to bury the dead.
And while the introduction of the viruses was not deliberate, its effects were profound. The American chestnut blight, which effectively made the American chestnut functionally extinct, wiped out a tree species that stretched from Georgia to Maine. Uncountable numbers of people and animals counted on the chestnut for food, building materials and their livelihoods. But within 30 years of the virus being introduced into New York in 1904, the chestnut was basically wiped out across its entire range. This is considered one of the world’s worst biological disasters.
Yellow star thistle is an invasive non-native weed that covers tens of thousands of acres of our river canyon walls and will become even more prevalent if the Snake River dams are breached. YST is a deep-rooted weed that is highly efficient in water uptake and, according to the University of California-Davis researchers, uses up to 117,000 gallons of groundwater per acre more than the native grasses it displaces.
They estimate that in California, 1 million acre feet — 325 billion gallons — of groundwater per year could be saved if YST was controlled. That’s water that would be available for rivers, fish and irrigation. But controlling YST to generate more water doesn’t serve the climate change agenda.
It is possible to discuss a different invasive species in the U.S. alone every day for the next year or better.
The most extreme example though is the current invasion of the coronavirus, COVID-19, which has already caused more deaths, economic and population disruption during the past 18 months than climate change has or will cause during the next 100 years.
Looking back at history, we see that the Spanish flu in the U.S. and Bubonic plague or “Black Death” in Europe — invasive species both — had similar or even more severe effects on the population, society and environment during a 4- to 25-year period than global warming has had during the entire time frame from then to now.
The biggest threat of the attention paid to human-caused global warming is that it takes attention away from the real threat that is invasive species. Indeed as Boris Leroy, a bio-geographer at the French National Museum of Natural History in Paris, stated in the March 31 issue of Nature magazine: “For decades, researchers have been evaluating the significant impacts of invasive species, but the problem isn’t well known by the public and policy makers.”
That’s an accurate statement when you look at where the research grant money is going these days. As one University of Idaho professor mentioned in a presentation at Kamiah in 2018, “Climate change is a growth industry.”
So while a study and program to reverse the destruction of northern forest duff layers by invasive night crawlers would be far more beneficial to our environment than another paper on a carbon tax, the former goes begging for dollars while the latter takes in money that spawns headlines from pontificating politicians and academics who are far more interested in self-promotion and more government programs than they are in solving a problem.
White pine blister rust dramatically altered our Inland Empire forests forever since it was introduced in the early 1900s.
The emerald ash borer in less than 25 years is considered such an extinction threat to the Fraxinus sp. that the National Seed Repository is collecting ash seed for preservation.
If you take horses into the back country, you’re required to take certified weed-free hay to prevent the spread of invasive weeds.
The introduced wild turkey is such a voracious seed predator that natural regeneration of our forest tree species is virtually impossible.
Every invasive species decreases the resilience and diversity of our environment and does it in such a short time frame that we can’t react fast enough to stop them. Currently we are losing the battles against invasive species since they are no longer just a local problem and they have a cumulative negative affect on the environment.
So cry wolf all you want about global warming. Just be prepared to dine on a meal of Italian rye grass, quagga mussels and European green crab while you do it.
Hassoldt is a field forester who lives in Kendrick.