In terms of serious threats to our environment, most people don't immediately think of plants as something to include. That's because humans don't typically look at plants with their ecosystem functions in mind.
Plants have been collected and imported that have ornamental qualities or other useful traits over the centuries, but we have learned that even though they may appeal to us, some of them grow differently outside of their native range. These plants are classified as being invasive.
Invasive plants are defined as, "A plant that is both non-native and able to establish on many sites, grow quickly, and spread to the point of disrupting plant communities or ecosystems." Not all non-native plants are invasive, in fact most aren't, though they don't provide the same ecosystem services as native plants do. Researchers have found that Carolina chickadees require an area with at least 70% native plants to keep populations steady.
This is where the harm from invasive plants come in - decades of research have shown invasions have the ability to alter ecosystems and displace native plants. They are a major and growing cause of population-level and species-level extinctions. Rigorous evidence demonstrates the ecological harm caused by these plants that humans have moved outside the region they evolved in.
This isn't the plants fault of course, and they aren't inherently bad or evil. All invasive plants are a vital food source for the insects and wildlife that they co-evolved with in their native range. These organisms evolved and adapted over millions of years. Our planet is a complex system made of billions of different organisms - these are not interchangeable like lego blocks. It is not the plant's doing, but the human disruption of this balance that is the source of the problem.
Invasive plants are unquestionably a problem and they do need to be managed. Unfortunately, many are quick to reach for the toxic herbicides as a first line of defense. As pesticide reform campaigners, we want to encourage prioritization of the non-chemical methods that are available.
One way we can do this is by meeting local habitat restoration folks where they are at and focusing on common goals. However, the promotion of myths around invasion biology, or even outright denial of invasion science will definitely not gain more allies in our fight against the cosmetic use of toxic pesticides in our communities. It will absolutely hurt our credibility, and not result in a positive outcome.
In fact, promotion of myths or baseless criticisms can indirectly cause the use of more herbicides. How? As it is not nearly enough people are removing the invasive plants in their landscape simply because they are uninformed about the problems they cause. But by actively engaging in apologetics for invasive plants, we encourage people to become even less likely to remove them from their landscapes. Without removing these plants, they spread to wild areas, increasing herbicide use. This is one of many reasons why we strongly encourage people to plant natives, and remove invasives in their landscapes.
Both camps clearly care about our ecosystems and wildlife, so we need to use this common ground to work together to find non-chemical solutions whenever feasible. A few ideas:
Organize a volunteer effort to pull invasive plants. Not only is this a learning experience, but it can gain a lot of good will from land managers who do employ herbicides and open a channel of communication to help support each others goals and reduce the use of chemicals.
Encourage landowners to remove invasives and provide education to the public about organic management methods.
Turn (invasive) lemons into lemonade. Look for ways to use the invasive plants that are removed from the landscape. They can be made into paper or other goods, many are edible and others can even be made into medicine.
Promote and trial non-chemical methods like goats, and mechanical removal.
By following the science, thinking outside the (chemical) box, and presenting ourselves as allies not adversaries, we can work together to manage invasive plants and restore biodiversity in our communities.
So Why Don’t You Use the Chems, Mike?
Ecological Land Management With Goats
Bringing Nature Home