Ethics of Invasive Species Management

Oliver Steinglass

For my final class discussion I wanted to choose a topic our class could debate. I decided to explore the issue of ethics in dealing with invasive species. There is a clear connection between invasive species, human nature, technology, and the environment. The majority of so called “invasive species” were originally introduced into their not natural habitats by humans, before becoming invasive species. The term invasive species will be elaborated on later. In order to deal with the invasive species people must use different types of technology. Finally, invasive species are related to the environment in many ways. Invasive species are introduced to a new environment, usually have no natural predators, and will proceed to harm and alter the environment as it was before the introduction of the new species.

There are many examples of invasive species explored in my sources. My first source, a podcast by The Jefferson Exchange, is an interview with Joseph Tuminello, a holder of a MA in Philosophy and a professor of Philosophy at University of Northern Texas. Tuminello discusses the ethics of invasive species in great depth. In his first discussion with the host, Tuminello explains the difference between the term invasive species and non-native species. Invasive species include, but are not limited to, species introduced into new habitats by humans. A non-native species is not introduced by humans and is not considered invasive.

The first example of how to deal with invasive species is the tui chub in Diamond Lake, Oregon. The tui chub has been introduced into Diamond Lake several times, with disastrous consequences. The tui chub pushes out the natural fish and causes toxic algae blooms by disturbing the ecosystem. The last two times the tui chub invaded Diamond Lake state officials were forced to poison the entire lake, the last time being 10 years ago. Recently the tui chub were spotted again. However, this time another non-native species, the tiger trout, are being introduced into the lake to act as a predator for the tui chub. This situation brings up the first ethical dilemma; to what extent should humans be permitted to influence an ecosystem by introducing species? This solution is called biological control, where humans introduce another species to control the species labelled as invasive. Tuminello suggests that when this is the case we should consider all interests, including the moral worth of the animal. This leads to another ethical problem of determining the moral worth of an animal. Is one species more important than another? This question of worth will be revisited later on in another example of an invasive species.

My second source is an article about another invasive species, lionfish. Lionfish are native to the South Pacific Ocean and were accidentally introduced to the Atlantic Ocean by humans. Most invasive species are introduced by humans and threaten almost half of the world’s endangered species. Lionfish have no natural predators and have a birth rate of two million eggs a year per female lionfish. Lionfish will eat nearly anything, a lionfish found in the Western Atlantic was discovered to have eaten over 50 species. Many of those species are already suffering from the effects of overfishing. These are reasons why lionfish are such a detriment to the ecosystem in the Atlantic Ocean. Lionfish not only directly reduce the fish population by eating them, but they also outcompete some of the native predators in the ocean, not leaving them with enough to eat themselves. There are a couple possible solutions to the lionfish problem. Groupers are known to eat Lionfish, so they could be introduced into the ecosystem as a form of biological control, however Groupers are overfished so there aren’t very many of them. Another solution is to eat the Lionfish. Apparently Lionfish are quite tasty and a recent study by the North Carolina Sea Grant outlines their nutritional benefits. Lionfish are claimed to be the “ultimate in guilt-free eating - delicious, nutritious and eco-conscious.”

My final article is from Conservation Magazine about killing for conservation. The invasive species discussed in the article is the barred owl. The barred owl, native to the East Coast, has migrated to the Northwest into the habitat of the northern spotted owl, a species of owl listed under the Endangered Species Act. Barred owls have been linked to the disappearance of spotted owls, either chasing them out of their nests or even eating them. The article examines this situation from several viewpoints. Recently the Fish and Wildlife Service has initiated a six-year experiment to kill barred owls in order to protect the spotted owls. Over 3,600 owls could be killed over the course of the experiment, making it the largest mass-killing of any raptor species. Dave Werntz, the science and conservation director for environmental group Conservation Northwest, supports killing as many barred owls as possible in order to save the endangered spotted owl. Werntz compares killing barred owls to “removing Himalayan blackberry or other domineering species that are impacting our landscape.” This is a very different attitude from that of Marc Bekoff, a University of Colorado Professor. Bekoff believes that it is unacceptable to “[trade] off individuals of one species for the good of individuals of another species.” If humans were responsible for the migration and invasion of barred owls, do we have a responsibility to attempt to reverse the damage and protect the spotted owls?

All of the questions in the sections above were asked in the class discussion. When discussing the tui chub situation in Diamond Lake and biological control one of my classmates compared it to a tech fix. According to her introducing a new species would just exacerbate the issue and it’s better to just let nature run its course. This opinion is similar to that of Kent Livezey, a former Fish and Wildlife biologist. Livezey thinks the best way to deal with the situation is by staying out of it. Later on, when the discussion moved to the barred and spotted owl debate, two other students voiced their own opinions. They both agreed that humans have been changing the landscape of the environment since homo sapiens and that it is our responsibility to try to reverse the damage we’ve done. One of them even quoted Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” This counters the argument of the first student that it is better to stay neutral by saying that there is no such thing as being neutral, to be neutral is to side with the barred owls. The consensus within the class was that if humans caused an invasive species to begin to damage an ecosystem, such as the tui chub, barred owls, and lionfish, whether through global warming or more direct means such as using a tui chub as bait in Diamond Lake, it is our responsibility to try to protect endangered species and return the environment to its previous state.