Well, human beings have done it again. You could say this was a banner day in their continued efforts to destroy natural ecosystems, but the news of the day is all too common from an environmental standpoint. Failures to conserve, protect or manage the environment we rely upon to live are met with an awkward apathy. A few voices are stridently calling for change, but perhaps this week’s important prime-time television line-up impeded the message.
Guess what? The Galapagos have a rat. A rat? Yes a rat. Apparently because this ecosystem is so rare and fragile, people are now taking cruise ships to go see it. The government of Ecuador gave in for a modest profit and monthly landings to the islands can be expected in the near future. Along with these scheduled arrivals you can expect foreign bugs, foreign pests, invasive species, litter and graffiti.
Oh, I’m just being a naysayer, you say. I’m just trouncing the enthusiasm of this profitable endeavor. Alright, you’re right, except- foreign swarms of bugs have already arrived with the first shipments of tourists. Litter and graffiti were the results of the last visit, and let’s not forget the rat. Additionally, local tour operators were “forced” to land large boats on fragile shorelines because their passengers could not make it in and out of the smaller rubber dinghy’s.
If you’re not aware of the significance of the Galapagos Archipelago, this is an isolated ecosystem that remained undiscovered and undisturbed by humans until about two hundred years ago. Charles Darwin made the islands famous as they became a focal point for his theory of natural selection. There are strange and exotic species on the Galapagos Islands that exist nowhere else in nature.
Humankind being humankind, there have been more and more people moving to the islands to take advantage of the lucrative opportunities linked to this fragile ecosystem. Tourism has increased and though there has been a concerted effort made by many conservation groups, notably the Galapagos Conservancy, to protect the ecosystem from invasive species, invaders are winning the day. This latest move by the Ecuadorian government to allow cruise ships to the island signals a defeat to the integrity of the isolated ecosystem. From now on, invasive species will increasingly play a role in the balance of this fragile network and some native species will be threatened or pushed out by the intruders.
A similar scenario took place in native Hawaii, where the vulnerable nene goose now flirts with extinction thanks to the mongoose, cats and snakes that immigrants brought with them. Many native flora of Hawaii are now extinct as foreign staples like pineapple and sugarcane moved in, and intrusive species devoured or trampled the delicate plants and flowers underfoot. There are few remnants of native Hawaii left, just a tourist’s tropical dream of invasive species.
In other news today, Idaho’s governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter told the A.P. that he wants hunters to kill 550 gray wolves. Allegedly 100 gray wolves would then be left to sustain the wolf population. Otter’s reasoning behind this move? Well, other than impressing about 300 hunters who were gathered for the speech, Otter also sited failing elk populations as the main reason behind his wolf vendetta. According to the governor, wolf populations are interfering with elk hunting season. Of course, the facts tell another story. Data collected from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game presents a varying picture. As wolf populations increase, so do the number of elk hunter’s take in each year.
In 2005, hunters took more elk than they did in 1993, two years before wolves began to be reintroduced to the area. Like any primary natural predator, wolves ensure the health and balance of populations such as elk and deer. They take the weak and the old from the herds, and this limits overgrazing and allows healthy populations to thrive. When wolves are erased from an area, lesser predators such as coyotes and foxes move in to fill the niche. So why is the governor calling for the extermination of local wolf populations? It looks like a clear cut case of prejudice on behalf of the governor. His thoughts, “I’m prepared to bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf myself,” he said to the raucously applauding hunters at the assembly.
So wolves will once more be hunted down by people set on killing every wolf in sight. But why now? Idaho and Montana will be removing wolves from the endangered species list thanks to the successful reintroduction of gray wolf populations to these areas. This strips them of all protections under the endangered species act. Of course, the governor’s hunt will knock them right back down to threatened status again. What a noble endeavor, and such a proper use of the power and authority entrusted to him as governor of his state.