4/18/08

Excellent article about native plant restoration

The SF Weekly has an excellent article about native plant conservation and restoration.

Good job, Joe Eskenazi. Read the whole thing here.

Via Two Gardens.

***

I just want to pull out one point.
"I find the nativism movement particularly disturbing, in large part because of its origins in Nazi Germany," wrote local native plant movement critic Steve Sayad in an e-mail. In a recent online debate with a plant aficionado, Sayad referred to native plant restoration as a "racist and sexist cult" befitting a "Green Nazi." Several other public critics of tree removal in the Presidio agreed that local native plant enthusiasts' ethos was derived from Nazism.

"Nazis, yeah. That's a term I've heard since day one," says Peter Brastow, a genial, red-bearded man who looks as if he strolled off a container of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Now the executive director of the nonprofit Nature in the City, he was Chassé's predecessor at the Presidio, maintaining the Raven's manzanita site for more than a decade. "Nazi and fascist — yeah, I hear those terms a lot."

For the record, the Nazis were indeed enthusiasts of native plant gardens, and did extol the superiority of German plants. However, they actively sought to "Germanize" the landscapes of neighboring countries — the very opposite of the native plant movement's goal. Also, they killed people.
Comparing people you disagree with with Nazis must be debate's cheapest and most exhausted strategy. As soon as I hear it put forth, I think "This is a lame an unserious position; I'm tuning it out."

You know, unless the discussion is about actual genocide.

10 comments:

The County Clerk said...

As soon as I hear it put forth, I think "This is a lame an unserious position; I'm tuning it out."

You know, unless the discussion is about actual genocide.


Ha! Good "qualifier."

Benjamin Vogt said...

This is crap--and I can't believe folks aren't more grown up / aware about what's coming about out of their mouths and what the historical implications and images are that come to mind. Can't use the "n" word, either of them, so liberally.

mmw said...

You're totally right, of course, but I think this is an interesting case. Because people who make the nativist comparison are at least historically accurate. But it is still a bankrupt rhetorical strategy, for the reason you pointed out.

Gardener of La Mancha said...

Yes, but Chuck, did you look closely at at the author's name? I don't know who to trust... :)

Nicole said...

That's so funny-people can come up with some bizarre things. This man told me in the Yerba Buena theater that my perfume was "overpowering him" and that he had to move away. I wasn't even wearing any perfume!
BTW my trip to SF was great and I got some great drought tolerant plants, including unusual ones from the Flora Grubb garden.

The County Clerk said...

You know... beyond the PRACTICALITY of the nativist thing (grows well, suitable for climate, balanced and not invasive, etc) this whole native plant thing doesn't resonate with me. Native as of when i wonder? The story of "civilization" is the story of what happened AFTER the "neolithic revolution" - an agricultural revolution just after the ice recently most recently.

The Durant's wrote that "The first form of culture is agriculture." [The Story of Civilization Volume I: Our Oriental Heritage by Will and Ariel Durant, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1954 page 2]

They go on... same page... "Culture suggests agriculture, but civilization suggests the city. [sic] ...in the city are gathered, rightly or wrongly, the wealth and brains produced in the countryside; in the city invention and industry multiply comforts, luxuries and leisure; in the city traders meet, and barter goods and ideas; [sic] Civilization begins in the peasant's hut, but it comes to flower only in the towns."

So... all of this a long way of stating... well... one more little bit of qualifier:

I have Matthew Hedman's book on my desk at the moment (The Age of Everything: How Science Explores the Past) and on page 5 there are some "rules of thumb." One of them is that "Humans have been around about forty times as long as recorded history." If the Neolithic period began about 10,000 BC and recorded history at about 5,000 BC, then that is one long Paleolithic period.

There is a cool bar graph here which shows it well.

OK... another book: Daniel Lord Smail's On Deep History and the Brain. This is what Smail wrote on page 2:

"Nosce te ipsum. If humanity is the proper subject of history, as Linnæus might well have counseled, then it stands to reason that the Paleolithic era, that long stretch of the Stone Age before the turn to agriculture, is part of our history."

And it was a LONG stretch. LOOOOONG. The Paleolithic - that long part of our history before we farmed - was really most of our history. All of it really.

So, here's my question? Are we concerned about native plants THEN? Before 10,000 years ago?

Because ANYTIME AFTER THAT the story of man is the story of domesticating, altering, experimenting with, traveling with (intentionally or otherwise) and trading with plants. And altering geography. And interrupting life-cycles (harvesting berries/seeds). And "selecting" this tree (a viburnum for example) for arrows and that tree for fuel, ultimately AFFECTS what grows and doesn't. Or what becomes dominant and what doesn't.

Native Americans altered their landscape, like ALL humans. They just kept it respectful.

Anywhere in the world that man has been, the flora is altered.

Truly "native" (i.e. what grows "here" without the influence of man) is unknowable. Plants come from EVERYWHERE. And so, theoretically anyway, the notion is empty.

But "practicality" speaking... the notion of golf courses in deserts and such... yeah... seems like a good idea to approach our gardens "reasonably."

As for cutting down thousands of trees to restore a dune... and an environment... to what it was 200 years ago, that is tougher. Lots of gray area. (Not a good year in California for trees apparently.)

As for preventing the extinction of a species, that is EASY. The species SHOULD BE saved.

The real question is: will this project save it? A city exists there now. Air is different. Wildlife is different. I have to believe that the notion "recreating an environment destroyed 200 years ago" (rebuilding a dune or ten and so forth) is about the craziest example of human hubris I've read about in a long time. Pandora's box has been opened.

The question seem to me, not so much "how do we get everything back in the box" (we can't) but "what should we do now that the box is opened."

What Forbes is doing sounds smart. The IMMEDIATE issue isn't so much habitat (the habitat is GONE), the issue is bringing endangered species back from the precipice. This will be done by devising NEW strategies, not recreating old topography.

But a dune in the Presidio would be cool, no?

Maybe the project is a good one. Maybe it isn't.

Sorry for the long comment.

Brent said...

County Clerk wrote, "...beyond the PRACTICALITY of the nativist thing (grows well, suitable for climate, balanced and not invasive, etc) this whole native plant thing doesn't resonate with me. Native as of when i wonder? "

Aside from practical reasons to use native plants, which it looks like we're agreed are abundant, I think that the point of native plants is to do an ecological job: habitat for insects and small animals, support for different phases of animal growth, food for migratory birds, etc. In most cases this requires an evolutionary relationship between wildlife and plants.

To find plant candidates to do that ecological job, one only needs to look about 200 years into the past anywhere in North America. Farther into history doesn't gain you much more. Yes, native Americans in the time before 200 years ago modified their environment, but they did so using mostly native plants (or at least respectfully, as you note). Corn, I believe, was not a food staple here in California until the advent of the California mission system, but the native inhabitants are known to have coppiced, set fires, and otherwise managed their environment to their advantage.

So it's an easy choice to pick a native to do the ecological job that it was meant to do and much harder to pick the correct alien plant to do the same job.

That's my understanding of the best answer to the "when" question as it relates to native plants.

Charlie said...

I personally think it is important to distinguish between 'non-native' and invasive. I love planting native plants from all over California, but I also have plenty of non-natives... for instance, in my vegetable garden. On the other hand, invasive plants are a real ecologic and economic problem, and I don't think people should be planting those. There is also an issue with plants that guzzle water (true for many non natives and also quite a few native plants that grow in wet areas).

This all relates to landscaping. As I see it, the advantages of native plants are many - wildlife habitat, continuity with the surroundings, water conservation (if the correct plants are selected), a greater appreciation for the land, and aesthetic reasons (lots of people like them). There are also appropriate non-native plants that can fulfill some of these goals. As for wildland or restoration areas, I don't see ANY reason to plant non-native plants in these areas. As for which non-native plants are removed, this again depends on how invasive they are.

And getting back to the hitler thing, it is a well known internet phenomenon and when you hear it (when not discussing history), it's usually time to discount whoever is saying it. Also, the argument would be stronger (though still stupid) if applied to people planting European plants in California, unless you're a Native American.

Charlie said...

I personally think it is important to distinguish between 'non-native' and invasive. I love planting native plants from all over California, but I also have plenty of non-natives... for instance, in my vegetable garden. On the other hand, invasive plants are a real ecologic and economic problem, and I don't think people should be planting those. There is also an issue with plants that guzzle water (true for many non natives and also quite a few native plants that grow in wet areas).

This all relates to landscaping. As I see it, the advantages of native plants are many - wildlife habitat, continuity with the surroundings, water conservation (if the correct plants are selected), a greater appreciation for the land, and aesthetic reasons (lots of people like them). There are also appropriate non-native plants that can fulfill some of these goals. As for wildland or restoration areas, I don't see ANY reason to plant non-native plants in these areas. As for which non-native plants are removed, this again depends on how invasive they are.

And getting back to the hitler thing, it is a well known internet phenomenon and when you hear it (when not discussing history), it's usually time to discount whoever is saying it.

The County Clerk said...

Good answers.

Good insight. Yes.

Thank you.