Rethinking 'Invasive Species': Environmentalism Gone Awry?

The ever expanding war on 'invasive species' is giving 'green cover' to the widespread use of inadequately tested pesticides that threaten the health of the very soil and water that sustain all life.

It is time to reexamine the underlying assumptions and motivations for this campaign and explore creative rather than destructive responses to changes in our environment.

The war on "invasive species" has been founded more on ideology than science...examining the question is much needed and long overdue. 

---Michael Pollan

Author of The Botany of Desire and The Omnivore's Dilemma

Knight Professor of Science and Environmental Journalism at UC Berkeley.



Historically, wherever man migrated, he brought plants prized for food, fiber, medicine, and ornament. With world exploration and trade, the exchange of flora and fauna became ever wider, and after 1492, the ecosystems of the continents were transformed.

Importation was encouraged by presidents and agencies such as the US Office of Plant Introduction. In fact, the US Department of Agriculture planted the now vilified kudzu for erosion control and other purposes. Today, 98% of our crops and many plants we think of as American as apple pie are actually from somewhere else-including the apples in that pie.

At the start of the 20th century, however, laws were passed to ‘protect crops and livestock from the wilds of Nature.’ By mid-century, in a climate of war and fear of foreign attack, the theory of invasion biology branded alien species as invaders. War was officially declared on invasive species in 1999 with Executive Order 13112 which authorized billion dollar funds and a complex network of agencies to respond to ‘alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.’

Rethinking War

Recently, some ecologists have started to raise objections to this approach. Many of the species initially thought to be inherently harmful have been found to be environmental service providers, or useful medicines or food sources. Further, evolutionary biologists have begun to warn against shortsightedness, noting that ecosystems are constantly changing; species and communities naturally come and go.

Perhaps most significantly, scientists warn about the use of dangerous compounds as a solution to the perceived problems of invasive species. Timothy Scott, author of Invasive Plant Medicine writes: “even if the poisons are carefully applied (and they aren’t most of the time) they eventually contaminate the water, soil and air and enter the food chain, affecting microorganisms up through to our dinner places.”

Furthermore, these costly eradication efforts often fail, affect unintended species, and actually create superweeds that then require more and stronger herbicides leading to a perpetual cycle of pollution.

The good news is that many plants identified as invasive are actually beneficial. For example, edible garlic mustard actually contains more vitamin C than orange juice, more vitamin A than spinach, and shares the medicinal benefits of both garlic and mustard. Japanese knotweed, long planted along riverbanks for stability and shade, is valued by beekeepers as an important nectar source when little else is flowering. This plant has been used for centuries as a gentle laxative, is an excellent source of the potent antioxidant resveratrol, and it is now used in treating Lyme disease. And yet these plants are vilified and eradicated. This exemplifies Tim Scott’s caution that in attacking “invasives,” we may be “destroying potent medicinal remedies.”

To read more go to: 

In Jeopardy : The Future of  Organic, Biodynamic, Transitional Agriculture 


Rethinking 'Invasive Species': Environmentalism Gone Awry?

2012 Conference

Due to lack of adequate funding, our conference has been moved forward to a future time but our work continues with a one day symposium on October 8 in Washington DC.

This select gathering will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and will be held-most appropriately-on Columbus Day when, in 1492, the pathway of exchange between 'old' and 'new' world ecosytems was opened forever.

We are assembling experts who are aware of how we got into the current predicament regarding 'Invasive Species' and who envision alternative views and approaches to evaluating these species and their roles. The aim will be to develop clear guidelines that can be presented to policy makers and the public.

Participants will discuss the complex issue of 'Invasive Species'-definition, history, current and changing paradigms.
And will question: Is the war against 'invasive species' justified? Are pesticides really safe? Are vast resources being misspent? Are there creative rather than destructive responses to our changing world-ones which work with -not against- Nature?

We will connect the dots between this issue and climate change, globalization, environmental health, and food and water safety.
The results of this most important meeting of the minds will be posted on our site.

Donations would be greatly appreciated. Make checks out to Fearless Fund and mail to:

Fearless Fund
2800 Ontario RD NW
Washington DC 20009








Fearless Fund at PIELC

Rethinking Invasive Species-Panel at U of O Public Interest Environmental Law Conference

Joining the list of exciting subjects discussed at this year’s Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) at the University of Oregon, running March 4-6, 2011 in Eugene, was our panel entitled “Environmentalism Gone Awry: The war on invasive species – the need for a rational assessment of the costs and benefits of invasive species control.” The panel, organized by Nahcotta, WA resident Fritzi Cohen and Fearless Fund, and featuring talks by several prominent scientists in the national debate on invasive species was standing room only!

Sydney Ross Singer, a medical anthropologist and biologist living on the Big Island of Hawaii, director of the Good Shepherd Foundation and the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease, gave examples from Hawaii’s invasive species control programs to show that the cure can be far worse than the problem in his talk entitled “Attack of the killer environmentalists.” Singer is the co-author of “Panic In Paradise: Invasive Species Hysteria and the Hawaiian Coqui Frog War” (ISCD Press, 2005).

Dr. James Morris, director of Belle Baruch Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences, Professor of Biological Sciences, Distinguished Professor of Marine Studies at the University of South Carolina, and an AAAS Fellow, spoke  on “Invasive Spartina grass—ecological disaster or high value ecosystem service provider?” His talk will address the role of science in informing policy as it pertains to invasive species and the predicament that policymakers have when confronted by uncertainty.

Boyce Thorne Miller, Science and Policy Coordinator of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, presented “View from the Looking Glass: the dangers of categorizing species as worthy or unworthy – a contemplation of ethical, biological, and ecological implications of our battles against invasive species.” Miller has authored two books on marine biodiversity – “Ocean” and “The Living Ocean: understanding and protecting marine biodiversity.”

David I. Theodoropoulos directs the Las Sombras Biological Preserve in La Honda, CA and is the author of “Invasion Biology: Critique of a Pseudoscience, the first comprehensive refutation of invasion biology.” His talk was titled “Invasion Biology – Science or Pseudoscience?, a brief overview of invasion biology's scientific failings, and current scientific perspectives on invasive species.”

A poster presentation sponsored by Fearless Fund and prepared by the Rachel Carson Council was also exhibited. Composed of three parts,  it explains the definition of Invasive Species, describe the structure of the National Invasive Species Program as well as the Washington State invasive Species Program.

The presentation was designed to highlight the complexity of the issue and the regulatory structure, as well as to encourage discussion on topics such as conflicts concerning individual property rights and the use of pesticides.

The PIELC is the premier annual gathering for environmentalists worldwide, and is distinguished as the oldest and largest of its kind. The conference historically unites more than 3,000 activists, attorneys, students, scientists, and concerned citizens from over 50 countries around the globe to share their experience and expertise. The Conference is organized solely by the volunteers of Land Air Water (LAW), a student environmental law society, and is sponsored by Friends of Land Air Water (FLAW), a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.

The four-day Conference included over 125 panels, workshops, and multi-media presentations addressing a broad spectrum of environmental law and advocacy. Topics included: forest protection and ecological restoration, grazing and mining reform, labor and human rights, air and water pollution, Native American treaty rights, globalization and “free” trade, environmental justice, corporate responsibility, marine wilderness, international environmental law, water rights and dam removal, oil and gas litigation, genetic engineering, and urban growth.

Each day of the conference culminated with keynote presentations from preeminent activists, scientists, politicians, philosophers, and authors. This year’s lineup included Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Dr. Vandana Shiva.

For more information on the invasive species panel, contact Fritzi Cohen at or Fearless Fund at See video clips of the panel presentations at our new Fearless Fund Channel:


Conference Posters: The Vast Bureaucracy and Public Resources behind the War on "Invasive Species"

What is an 'invasive species'? What is 'harm'?

Federal Invasive Species Control Organization

Washington State Invasive Species Control Organization