THE BORDER IS NOT SECURE AGAINST THESE INVADERS. ITS NOT JUST HUMANS WE HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT: Part 1 of a Series Updated 1/29/2016
EXOTIC INTRUSION THE INVISIBLE INVASION
American Admiralty Books Safety & Privacy Policies (Attention EU Visitors , possible "cookie" encounter ahead)U.S. Navy sailors rig rat guards on the mooring lines of a war ship. Here they rig the chaffing gear over which a metal disk will be fitted that the rat can not climb over. This practice still carried out by the U.S. Navy, and once enforced on all visiting merchant ships in U.S. ports is hardly observable in the U.S. ports today since the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) "Ship Sanitation Officers were eliminated in a budget cut during the Regan Administration. Official U.S. Navy Photo.
|Finished fully deployed rat guard, notice disk around the "chaffing gear' (wrapped canvas to protect the mooring line). Official U.S. Navy Photograph|
A UNIQUE ENCOUNTER ON A NEW ORLEANS WHARF
A few years ago I was descending the gangway to a wharf in New Orleans and was confronted by something I had never seen before. Near my foot was a small lizard under a foot long that looked vaguely like our own native "Carolina Anole" which is common all over Louisiana and can change colors at will from various shades of green to various shades of brown. Generally our native "Carolina Anoles", sometimes sold commercially as pets under the misnomer "Chameleons", are relatively slow and un-aggressive. The creature at my foot was larger , heavier, with coarser scales and an aggressive attitude. Instead of fleeing before me, a creature thousands of times larger than itself, it stood its' ground making threat displays. Obviously the creature was not a native because every native species of everything knows that a Cajun will skin , coat in red pepper, blacken, and eat anything. I merely found it curious, and it didn't look too tasty, but I knew I wasn't looking at a native species. I studied it bit memorizing its features and then stepped forward, and of course the smaller critter then ran away. What happened next in this late 1980s encounter illustrates the way things were in the earlier part of the 20th century relative to guarding our borders from invasive species and how things have changed for the worse and continue unimproved.
I recall when Reagan era budget cuts closed down the marine hospitals run by the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) eliminating free medical services for the U.S. Merchant Marine. Its been nearly 33 years since and many maritime employers in the Jones Act fleet still don't provide health insurance for crew men. But along with the marine hospitals mariners also noticed the daily presence in the ports of the USPHS marine sanitation officers. They were unmistakable in their navy like uniforms and showed the insignia of Warrant Officers. They were seen frequently on the wharf from the 1930s through the 1970s then disappeared with the marine hospitals. Back when New Orleans was a banana port we'd see them sometimes leading groups of civilian workers with butterfly type nets in trying to capture some strange creature or other that had hitched a ride on a bunch of bananas. While these ship sanitation officers were about, woe to the general cargo ship that didn't have properly deployed rat guards on the mooring lines.
USPHS UNIFORMS, THE SHIP SANITATION OFFICERS WERE COMMONLY SEEN ON THE WHARF IN THE KAKI WORKING VERSION AND THEY INDEED WORKED, CLIMBING UP AND DOW ACCOMMODATION LADDERS AND ALL OVER THE SHIPS AND WHARVES LOOKING FOR SIGNS OF INVASIVE PESTS OR VECTORS OF DISEASE AND TAKING FAST REMEDIAL MEASURES. THE USPHS IS STILL AROUND BUT THEY ARE NOT SEEN IN THE PORTS OFTEN ANYMORE. THEY LED THE FIGHT AGAINST INVADING PESTS AND PESTILENCE WITH MILITARY RIGOR.
THEIR LEADERSHIP ROLE WAS SUPERSEDED AND THE PESTS ARE WINNING (Official USPHS PHOTO)
In the days of the USPHS ship sanitation officers it was clear that the USPHS was a partner with the agriculture department, and the very visible and militant leader of the effort to close our border to pests and pestilence. Exotic invasive species weren't unknown in those days but they were relatively few. The Kudzu, the vine that ate Mississippi, didn't slip past the barriers of the USPHS and Agriculture Department inspectors, it was deliberately imported to help control erosion around the time of the Dust Bowl. The fire ant got past the defenses, but an ant can be a hard thing to detect. But all things considered most of the nonnative species in America until the demise of the USPHS sanitation officers were introduced in the earliest days of the Colombian Exchange. By the 1800 the Great Plains were full of wild horses, but there were no native horses when the first Europeans began settlement. The entire population of wild horses, wild boar, wild burros, English sparrows, pigeons and quite a number of plants run wild in North America were early accidents of the Colombian Exchange that frankly is still in progress. However these intrusions happened back in the days when no one understood the long term damage that exotic intrusion into an ecosystem, agricultural system, or urban landscape could do. Today the total global damage caused by invasive species, an uncontrolled continuance of the Colombian Exchange is estimated at $1.4 TRILLION or about 3% of the global economy.
REPORTING THE INTRUDER:
In the old days when we saw something strange running around the wharf we often bumped into the USPHS ship sanitation officer within minutes. We just told him what we saw and answered a few intelligent questions and often if we passed back the same way within the hour the guys with the butterfly nets were out and about.
After my encounter with the aggressive little lizard at the end of the gangway, years after the budget cuts, I of course, didn't bump into any uniformed guardians of our border of any variety. Once home I called the USPHS thinking I should report the sighting in case it was an exotic intruder and maybe a first sighting. I had to go through many rounds of calls and buck passing within the USPHS before finally being referred to agriculture, then another agency, and another. I don't even remember which of the now more than 12 agencies with some piece of the responsibility for preventing invasive species entry finally put me in contact with an actual knowledgeable person who identified my sighting as a Caribbean Anole, a larger more aggressive cousin of our native species. I was told that some had gotten off ships in Gulf Ports and were busy establishing themselves on the Gulf Coast at the expense of native bug eaters. There was apparently no attempt being made at eradication, just as there had been no attempt at prevention of the entry of this species. I was left with the clear impression that exotic intrusion was now everybody's business (as in 12 plus agencies) and so no body's business.
No wonder the Mississippi and Ohio river systems are over run with Zebra mussels and flying carp are damaging recreational boats on the same waters. No wonder Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia are on the look out for the Asian Walking Catfish north bound out of Florida which is over run with iguanas, pythons, and even monkeys. No wonder fire ants require constant eradication efforts on my lawn, and spring brings fear of Formosan termite swarms if we leave the light on. Of course I'm talking about Southeast Louisiana where there is no killing cold in the winter. If you live in North Dakota you don't have as many problems with exotic invaders but if you overstay outside between December and March you could be quick frozen to death. I've thought about it and personally I rather brush the five foot long iguanas aside to get in the door than have to shovel my way out of the house just to get to a frozen wider community. But still these pests aren't just disturbing our lives in paradise , they cause billions of dollars in damages all over the nation including the Great Lakes fisheries.
So lets examine this issue, which is very much maritime in nature because most of the pest plants and animals arrive by ship.
FIRST A LITTLE HISTORY:
We'll be examining this issue most of the week. As we mentioned before the problem while worse in recent years is a continuing issue from the Colombian Exchange. So tomorrow in these spaces we will examine the Colombian Exchange. Then we'll take a trip back in time and see what this type of border protection was like when the paramilitary USPHS led the defenses. Editor's note: In our expanded additional reading suggestions below are a couple of books that suggest that control of invasive species has to be addressed with caution and that some "invasive" species may actually be naturally present and / or actually beneficial. One possible example that we may be witnessing in Louisiana is the "invasion" of the "Monk Parakeet" from Central America. This species superficially resembles the long extinct native "Carolina Parakeet" and seems to be occupying the extinct specie's environmental niche in terms of food sources. Moreover, it is particularly common in the city and suburbs where residents tend to favor a wide variety of decorative palms in the their landscaping. These non native palms produce fruit and nuts not utilized by the native species. On the other hand there is the Brown Snake invasion of Guam, an instance where eradication seems impossible, but severe control absolutely necessary. In any event we are convinced that while all out war on invasive species is sometime not called for, by and large exclusion should be attempted in the first place and eradication when invasive species are detected early enough for that to be a possibility. Invasive species are yet another mostly negative impact from an unsecured border.