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Old 06-29-2009, 07:18 AM   #1
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Default Something to think about: Toby Hemenway on Invasive Plants

Native Plants: Restoring to an Idea

This is from a paper presented by American permaculturists, Toby Hemenway

presented at the Native Plants and Permaculture Conference, Lost Valley Educational Center, Dexter, Oregon, in May 2007.

He speaks to the ecological contexts of native plants.

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The very concept of wild land, for most Americans, is founded on a misunderstanding: a very brief ecological moment during which a once-managed ecosystem was at the height of its degradation due to loss of its keystone species. The dark and tangled primeval forests, written about by Thoreau and Emerson, are simply the declining remnants of open and spacious Eastern food forests, turned to thicket after a century or two of neglect. But this idea of wilderness is deep in our mythology, national imagery, and consciousness.
Please see the link for the rest of this thought provoking paper.
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Old 06-29-2009, 09:06 AM   #2
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We love the local prairies and I firmly believe in the efforts to preserve them. But I want us to be clear that we are restoring to an idea. We are restoring because we want these things here, and not because there is a master blueprint that says they are the right ecosystem for the place. Ecosystems exist because current conditions favor those particular assemblages. Change the conditions, and the ecosystems will, absolutely, change. Both the climate and humans have changed the conditions plenty. Environmental change is the driving force behind shifting species makeup. With plants and most animal species, no evil species showed up and through sheer cussedness, killed off the locals. Instead, the conditions changed
Misguided. "Environmental change is the driving force behind shifting species makeup." Not exactly Mr. Hemenway.

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Unfortunately, dogma is present on all sides. Friends of mine approached the Portland city government with a plan to create some edible plant corridors along Springwater Trail, a 40-mile bicycle and pedestrian loop around the city. Their idea was for bikers and pedestrians to be able to snack on berries and fruit. The city official in charge said, “Nope, we have a natives-only policy on the trail.” The trail is a paved pathway that goes through industrial areas and along backyards, road right-of-ways, and scrubby vacant lots. It probably goes through a dozen or more different environments, based on soil, water, sunlight, and all the other factors that determine what plant communities will grow there. But the policy is natives only. Wouldn’t it make sense for the primary species that will be using that trail to have a habitat that suits that species’ needs for food and comfort, particularly since it’s in a busy urban area? But instead the landscaping is to be driven by an idea, by dogma. I totally support the idea of having natives-only areas on the trail. But let’s allow the new landscaping to serve those that it’s being built for, too.
His ego was evidently bruised. What about humans such as myself who would like to use that trail for an opportunity to see more than other humans while weaving my way through numerous ecosystems? We have shrunk habitat to the extent that animals are forced to eek out an existence on that which we haven't developed or allowed to become polluted. We have them corralled in pockets of convenience so they don't get in our way. Perhaps his friends should consider purchasing some land themselves to develop any way they so desire.

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I began this with corn and soybeans. One of my favorite snarky questions for natives-only people is: “What did you eat for breakfast?” I ask that because it is our choices that determine how much of our landscape is going to be consumed by non-native species. I didn’t eat camas cakes with pink-flowering currant syrup this morning, and I’ll bet you didn’t eat any local plants either. Of course, I’d rather see someone growing indigenous species in their yard rather than having a sterile, resource gobbling lawn. But my Portland yard is not, in my or several other lifetimes, going to be part of a natural ecosystem. I might be able to cultivate some endangered native species in an attempt to pull a rare plant back from extinction. That’s one good reason I can see for growing indigenous plants in my yard. But the most frequent native plants I see grown in yards are salal, Oregon grape, and others that are in no danger of extinction and don’t, to ur knowledge, support specialist species dependent only upon them. And since much of my yard is watered, it is inappropriate for me to grow natives that are adapted to our dry summers. It’s always stuck me as bizarre to see Northwest natives being irrigated.
Throughout his entire article, his agenda becomes crystal clear. He is the George Ball of permaculture.

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But even more than indigenous plants, I’d rather see someone providing for some of their own needs from their yard. When we eat a bowl of cornflakes for breakfast, or oatmeal, or store-bought eggs, we are commissioning with our dollars the conversion of wild land into monoculture farms. I’ll bet that a large percentage people reading this buy local food, shop organic, and so forth. But the farms growing that food are almost all moncultures, and out of the urban matrix. In other words, it is farmland that, if consumption decreased, has a far better chance of being restored to a functioning ecosystem than a home lot. If I grow some of my own food, that means that somewhere out in the country, a farmer won’t have to plow so close to the riverbank, or could let some of that back field go wild. That land has a far better chance of functioning as an ecosystem than my yard will.
While I do not believe there is anyone who would disagree with growing as much of our own food as is humanly possible on our own properties for many of the reasons cited above, I believe his expectations of the average homeowner are unrealistic while he all but ignored our ability to affect change by setting aside some of our properties to create wildlife corridors. Imagine for a moment, how much land could be restored to habitat if we all began doing away with our lawns while putting forth a reasonable effort providing for our own needs sustainably by incorporating more than the commonest of locally native species into our landscapes?
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Old 06-29-2009, 01:23 PM   #3
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I don't get this objection. That species adapt to environmental changes is a pretty basic tenet of ecology.

Also, I don't think he is ruling out building wildlife corridors on your property. He is just saying when you are trying to "reconstruct" an environment you are still designing it, not putting something there because it somehow is reconstructing true history/prehistory. It still is a design - an invention. You are not restoring anything.

As to the nature of that design - food forest or wild life corridor - it still is a human invention not a natural one.
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Old 06-29-2009, 02:20 PM   #4
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Thank you for the link, Hazel.

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Friends of mine approached the Portland city government with a plan to create some edible plant corridors along Springwater Trail. . .


Unfortunately when I got to this bit of the article, it made the whole thing sound like a pouty rant in response to his friends’ project being shot down.

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For example, the poster child of invasion biologists is the brown tree snake, blamed for invading Guam and killing off several species of birds. . .


I think he assumes too much that imported flora and fauna never cause trouble within undisturbed areas. However, I think he is very right about disturbed areas providing prime habitat for invasives, and thus right that controlling the habitat is likely the most effective way to control an invasive plant or animal. I hate to see this message get thrown out among the garbage. In my corner of suburbia, undisturbed land is rare, and if folks like my lawn-loving neighbors understood that habitat determines what grows, then they might be more inclined to find smarter ways than poisons to kill off their dandelions.


Quote:
I applaud and encourage efforts to preserve native prairie in the region—they are valuable as endangered species habitat, examples of cultural heritage, and a way of preserving planetary biological wisdom. . .
Quote:
. . . We love the local prairies and I firmly believe in the efforts to preserve them.. . .
. . . This suggests that we need to take care of naturally disturbed areas like riverbanks. . .
. . . I’d rather see someone growing indigenous species in their yard rather than having a sterile, resource gobbling lawn.


Ultimately, I think Hemenway’s stance on environmental issues are admirable. From any distance away, his stance doesn’t look much different from anyone else’s here.
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Old 06-29-2009, 07:54 PM   #5
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The author clearly attempts to validate practices where only pseudo-science currently exists. This is the equivalent of arguing that astrology is valid (scientifically valid) on an astronomer forum. Wildlife Gardeners exists to promote scientifically sound advocacy for scientifically sound practices. While debating may be fun and entertaining to some, it can be frustrating for others struggling to define sustainable when attempting to separate that which is conjectural from that which is not.

While many non-technical permaculture contexts regarding sustainable home landscapes have a place at Wildlife Gardeners, we must always bear in mind they are only untested ideas and opinions. How we apply them can be sustainable or unsustainable. We must also bear in mind that mainstream permaculture in the United States is enjoying a following not so dissimilar to that enjoyed by astrologists.

Based on our collective experiences with permaculture, when the environment gets in the way, permaculturists attempt to redefine “environmentally sound” to suit their own purposes as has been very well illustrated by Mr. Henengway’s most recent attempt to garner support for this very popular, albeit misguided, “grass roots” movement. Arguing the validity of permaculture on our forum is akin to arguing the validity of astrology on an astronomy forum. It isn't appropriate. Debating the theories of permaculture applied sustainably would be very appropriate.
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Old 06-30-2009, 09:12 AM   #6
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While many non-technical permaculture contexts regarding sustainable home landscapes have a place at Wildlife Gardeners, we must always bear in mind they are only untested ideas and opinions. How we apply them can be sustainable or unsustainable. We must also bear in mind that mainstream permaculture in the United States is enjoying a following not so dissimilar to that enjoyed by astrologists.
Oh, thanks, I wasn't aware of this.

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Originally Posted by Fearless Weeder View Post
The author clearly attempts to validate practices where only pseudo-science currently exists.
Which practices, specifically?

Thanks!
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Old 06-30-2009, 09:17 AM   #7
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Toby Hemengway is from Oregon. I found his reference to Oregon's local prairies beyond disappointing. Willamette Valley prairies are some of the most endangered ecosystems in the United States.

Their 9th annual Wilamette Valley Permaculture Design Course Certification has passed, the 10th is being anxiously awaited.
Permaculture & Regenerative Design News: February 2008
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Now generally speaking, radical change is enacted one of two ways. The first is by revolution of one sort or another – a violent (not always warlike, but always violent), and deeply disruptive overthrow of what has gone before. In a very short time – the casting off of what has always seemed inviolable – slavery, colonialism, the divine of kings – transforms the landscape.

The problem with revolutions is that the costs are extremely high. Even a non-violent revolution means that large chunks of the existing population in power are simply cast out, and often come back to haunt you (think Cuba’s wealthy landowners, for example). Revolutions are vastly destructive, and anyone who simply isn’t ready, either adapts, or is overrun.

The other option is culture change – the gradual transition of a society from old values to new ones. It starts as a small movement, growing gradually, until ideas permeate the culture. Most of those who resist are given the chance to acclimate, and eventually come to accept, if not like, the dominant culture view. Eventually, cultural norms make it impossible even for those who espoused previous views to acknowledge them or to express them
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In the meantime, we grow our victory gardens and build our movement and educate our neighbors and plan and wait. It won’t be too long in coming. And then it will be time – to pass the word, and make our move – to try and take control of the narrative and say “This is what is needed as a response, to make us better.” And everything we do in the meantime, everything we start, every working model we create, every program we start, every change we make in our homes and neighborhoods, gets us that much more ready to seize the day.
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Old 06-30-2009, 09:48 AM   #8
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In the meantime, we grow our victory gardens and build our movement and educate our neighbors and plan and wait. It won’t be too long in coming. And then it will be time – to pass the word, and make our move – to try and take control of the narrative and say “This is what is needed as a response, to make us better.” And everything we do in the meantime, everything we start, every working model we create, every program we start, every change we make in our homes and neighborhoods, gets us that much more ready to seize the day.
This is downright scary. It has all the feeling of a cult movement. No science or objective evaluation of alternatives, just opinions and dogma. Get in line with his thinking or get crushed. I really don't know why we are providing this guy with a soapbox on a science based environmental advocacy site.
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Old 06-30-2009, 10:33 AM   #9
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We could pretend groups out there claiming to be “grass roots” organizations don’t exist but they do.

Many people assume anything they read anywhere on the internet is true. Wildlife Gardeners doesn’t make the assumption our members or guests believe everything they read on the internet to be true. Threads such as this encourage members to point out what’s right or wrong while additionally providing an opportunity for more information on the given topic to be discussed. Which is exactly what has occurred.
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Old 06-30-2009, 10:55 AM   #10
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In central Illinois, we are striving to open the woodland canopy to not necessarily to get back to what was once here, but in order to stop soil eroding.

The previous ecosystems, managed my Native Americans were a more stable soil regime than the overgrown woodlands that have taken over areas that were once savannah's and prairies on steep slopes.

His quote "We are restoring because we want these things here, and not because there is a master blueprint that says they are the right ecosystem for the place." Doesn't apply to why we are doing restoration in our area.

It may or may not be the "right" ecosystem, but the restored ecosystems have considerably more stable soils and less run off, than the habitats that evolved post-settlement with no management. In our area, We are doing habitat restoration for storm water management, erosion control, improved water quality to stop the sedimentation in the Illinois River and ultimately help prevent the problems that occur in New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.

His reasons are short sighted.
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