Native vs non-native.... all theory thread DESIGN PRINCIPLES

mangodance bmn at
Tue Aug 29 20:31:08 EDT 2000

Toby Hemenway wrote:
> on 8/29/00 3:18 AM, Judith Hanna at jehanna at wrote:
> > a balance affected by the the degree to which a functioning indigenous
> > ecosystem is either still there, or can be recreated.
> At risk of being repetitive, this is where I can't support the
> native/non-native dichotomy. As I believe I've said before on this list, I
> live on a hillside forested with 80-120 year-old "native" Douglas fir trees,
> but amid these are a few huge, open-form oaks and madrones, 200-400 years
> old. The oaks are remnants of a human-maintained oak savannah, maintained by
> Indian burning for probably 5-10,000 years. When whites exterminated the
> Indians and suppressed fires, the firs crowded out the oaks. So which is the
> native ecosystem? Which do I try to recreate? Or do I go back to the
> pre-human vegetation of 10,000 years ago, which was a post-glacial
> birch/aspen forest, neither species being "native" any more?

This all depends on what your goals are.  If restoration is the
goal, then it depends on what your restoration goals are.  I see
this issue more as a spectrum.  You can find people and projects
at various points along it. I don't know that this speaks to what
camp one supports but more the intent of the individual.  My goal
is to bring back the Wooly Mammoth to this continent!  ;-)

> In Australia, the bush is a human-made artifact created when humans moved in
> 40-80,000 years ago and began setting fires, eliminating the previous tree
> cover. It's a terribly unstable landscape when not burned regularly, hence
> the current species loss.

I'm not sure if you mention this as a positive or a negative.

> "Natives" only exist when we take a human-centered, 5-50 year viewpoint,
> trying to preserve what was present when we arrived. 

This is a narrow view of the issue.  Most US resto/native plant
proponents I know and work with have a primary goal of restoring
(to the extent possible) the communities that existed before we
had a tremendous effect on our various sections of the US. 
Within that camp are folks who also prefer to go back further
when even the most crude "management" methods had large ecosystem
effects.  My personal ability is constrained by the fact that I
work in an urbanized system.  We're playing catch-up trying to 

1) preserve
2) rehab
3) connect through corridors and "natural" areas

Notice I didn't say "restore" because realistically, we can't do
it.  We have 200 years of large budget mistakes made by many
people combatted by a handful of people with little money.  I
often find I'm at odds with my own agency.  The engineers' main
goal is to lay sewer pipe and modfiy drainages to get rid of
stormwater as quickly as possible.   Rehab money is a drop in a
very large bucket.

> I'm not saying we
> should plant whatever we please, but the idea of some archetypal "native"
> flora is a product of our minds, and not of nature.  Native plants are
> simply the species that happen to have arrived in a locale, found it
> suitable, and crowded out the earlier inhabitants. If another adaptable and
> appropriate species is brought by a human rather than by a bird or
> tectonics, why should it be rejected? The more I look at restoration work,
> the more arbitrary its choices appear--which is not a defect, just something
> we should pay attention to. Most of this planet has been manipulated by
> humans, and that needs to be kept in mind when we dream of "restoring" a
> former flora.

While it is true that communities change over time, and that
invasion occurs naturally, I don't think this is at all to be as
arbitrary as you suggest.  Again, it depends on the scale and
intent of a project.  I'm not sure why you think we should keep
in mind human manipulation when thinking about "restoration". 
Why would this be appropriate?
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