Too many scientists and policymakers focus so much on global warming that they’ve given the short shrift to environmental threats that are real and active, destroying our forests and waterways at unprecedented rates.
One could argue that invasive species, not warming temperatures, are the greatest threat posed to natural balance in North America. These animals and plants don’t belong in our country but, through global trade, they have ended up taking root, destroying our resources in perpetuity.
Among them is the emerald ash borer, a beetle that came from Asia in the 1990s and has likely killed more than a billion ash trees – 700 million in Michigan alone. More than 7 billion of these trees are threatened by this unstoppable beast, including 1 billion here in the Empire State.
Then, there’s the woody adelgid which is wiping out hemlocks across the northeast. Once those coniferous trees die off, so will impressive populations of migrant songbirds like warblers that frequent them.
Most noticeably here in Niagara County is the mass die-off of beech trees. The smooth-barked trees well known for their carving graffiti will be totally wiped out by 2025. The loss of those nut-bearing trees will affect every mammal in the forest.
The pestilence doesn’t end in our woodlands. Our waterways are under attack, too. Consider the Asian carp, a large bottom-feeding fish making its way across the Great Lakes where it will be certain to disrupt the system’s $7 billion fishery.
These invaders represent only the tip of the iceberg. Many more are here. More are coming.
It wasn’t always like this. Prior to 2000 our greatest invasive nightmares were limited to the introduction of pests and disease that wiped out elms and chestnuts, trees that once grew large and dominated our forests. Those depressing die-offs slowly took place over decades.
But now, such attacks seem to be effecting so many species and are happening too fast.
You can blame our shrinking world and the global economy. With the vast amount of exports we bring in annually, it’s no wonder that we’ve opened our borders to such invasions. More than 6 million shipping containers come to America every year, filled with unchecked product of questionable integrity from questionable sources. If the products themselves are suspect, imagine the skids upon which they are shipped (what insects do they carry?) or the craft that carry them (what do their ballasts hold?).
That begs the question: Why has the EPA done so little to regulate trade and incoming material? Is it misplaced priorities?
Many have argued that the EPA’s modus operandi is unconstitutional. The federal government is not authorized to legislate environmental issues within the states. Truthfully, there is no agency that better understands the uniqueness of New York and its various habitats and the creatures that inhabit them than the state’s environmental arm, the Department of Conservation. It is that agency and New York’s state and local lawmakers (along with citizen participation) that should decide what are permissible levels of development and non-standard inputs into the environment as well as what may be taken from it.
But, constitutionally, the EPA does have the power to oversee aspects of international trade and protect our environment – and economy – from outside damage. The preamble to the Constitution describes the limited purposes of our federal government and among them is the provision of common defense and regulation of trade. Under that, the EPA would actually have constitutional justification to focus on the external, specifically invasive species at the point of entry.
If the EPA were serious about living out its mission – and the Constitutional responsibilities of the federal government – it would set strict rules and conduct numerous inspections to protect our nation from these outside factors that will compromise our environment and health more than any domestic factors will. Rather than harassing a locally-owned farms and gas stations, the EPA should instead hold accountable the foreign firms and governments that don’t care the least about America’s wild lands and natural resources and the equally-guilty American corporations that don’t have ethical or environmental policies.
It seems like Big Money is winning out here, especially with help from abroad. Corrupt trading partners — like China — would prefer to see our resources expunged because it means more exporting business for them. Our losses are their gains. Invasive species represent a sort of economic warfare. And, it’s war in which the EPA has seemed to throw up the white flag.
From the 26 September 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers