Editorial Introduction to “Invasive”

Readers, 

In this issue we have published an article by Abe Cabrera, “Invasive: Nature in the Anthropocene.” It will undoubtedly spark at least some controversy, so I feel compelled to say a few words on it.

Invasive species are a difficult question for conservation generally, but they are an especially important question for conservation that emphasizes wildness. The typical response to invasives, which are mostly a product of civilized influence, is more human management, which seems at odds with an ethic that advocates erring in the opposite direction. But even the most dedicated of wildness-centered conservationists, the wildists, recognize that management is sometimes a better option than no management at all. Hettinger and Throop’s 1999 article, recently republished in The Wildernist, explains one argument in support of this view, pointing out that the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone was an instance when human management actually decreased the “humanization” of a landscape. Note that reintroduction of wolves is a very different kind of human influence than removing a dam: one outright eradicates artifice and is clearly compatible with efforts to rewild; the other is intensive and lasting, and often involves continued human efforts to make sure the plan goes well. So any wildness-centered argument legitimizing, or attempting to legitimize, the latter is worth paying attention to. Hettinger and Throop, better than any others, have done this in a compelling way.

Nevertheless, a focus on wildness obviously conflicts with many common conservation practices, which tend nowadays to focus on the value of biodiversity. In many cases these conflicts will look like heresy to traditional conservationists, and the problem of invasive species is a primary example. It may not have always been the case, but any radical turn toward a wilder world now will result in a wide-range of invasives and probably an end to many of the scenic aspects of nature so valued by a notable sect of conservation activists. The clash is so violent, in fact, that we should be wary of blindly disregarding the aesthetic and environmental values that will likely be lost because of an undull focus on wildness. This is a problem that requires discussion and thoughtful consideration.

So from now and indefinitely into the future, Hunter/Gatherer welcomes a wide range of views on the invasive species problem, so long as they are coming from a wildness-centered perspective. Cabrera’s article is the first in this series.

Cabrera’s arguments are valuable in many respects. He points out the too-often-neglected fact that invasives are an effect of human artifice long before they are a cause, for instance, and this distinction will be crucial to resolving the issue. He also points out that invasives are frequently a case of nature healing itself in the rough and nasty way that nature does.

Of course, I’ll be the first to point out that the article has its weaknesses. “Invasive” too often mischaracterizes the “received” wilderness idea, repeating the trope that conservationists are concerned with “pristine” and “untouched” nature, when in reality wilderness has much more frequently been about wildness before anything else. Zahniser writes in the infamous Wilderness Act that a wilderness area is a place “untrammeled” by man, not untouched—which means that it is able to operate without being constricted by artifice, not that artifice has no place within it. Nevertheless, perhaps Cabrera has a point that invasives are one instance where the idea of “pristine” nature still holds too much sway: current practices tend to focus less on rewilding such that nature can handle itself and much more on restoring nature in the way a historical preservationist might retouch an old painting. In other words, we must ask ourselves if the main goal in eradicating invasive species is to make the affected ecosystems look like they did at a certain historical time period, or if the goal is to set up naturally functioning guards to artificial intrusion in the area.

Whatever one’s conclusion regarding the article, I encourage readers to comment on our Facebook page, under the article, or in an email to the editor. The more input on the issue, the better. We may even publish your thoughts.

Live wild or die,
John Jacobi

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