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Locals only - A Story of Weeds and Needs

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
October 8, 1998


I have just finished reading an incredible novel by Sherri Tepper. "Family Tree" begins when a weed refuses to retreat from a perfectly manicured lawn. Let's just say that this is the beginning of people looking at plants in a whole new way. If Oprah can have a book club, I figure I can recommend a book every now and then. I love books that wrap fiction around philosophy, and this one is as clever as it is prophetic. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up.

Recently I have been accused of being incoherent because my columns lack "practical solutions." Looking in the Webster's New World Dictionary I sought the definition for the word practical. "that can be used; workable; useful and sensible." Fair enough, I accept the request from my readers to start including workable solutions to the grave injustices I am constantly pointing out. So now when I say "I told you so" to our elected officials, I can mean it on several levels. Native plants and animals are something that I have always championed out of a sense of respect and duty. Mixed up in the equation is a great deal of guilt. Yes ladies and gentlemen, I am one of those people who sees "weeding" as you basic form of genocide. Huh? That's right folks this is about selectively killing lifeforms that don't match some human ideal.

Time for a dictionary. Turning to "The Dictionary Of Ecology and Environmental Science" for clarification I find; weed: Any plant growing where it is not wanted, usually a wild plant that grows without much care or cultivation and maybe invasive in cultivated areas." Webster's adds "something useless." My next question is, useless to who? Native plants have evolved to their environment over the past, say, million years, and native animals have evolve along side them. Together they have formed a biotic community depending on their interwoven relationships for survival.

Now don't get me wrong, I realize that man has been a part of this biotic community for a very long time. The only difference is that the recent crop of humans have decided that their wants and desires come first. Please note that I did not say needs. As history has shown, need and want are often confused to the detriment of those making the choices. Cultivation replaced wilderness and sage scrub became lawns. Biodiversity is now threatened on a global scale.

This shouldn't surprise you, precedent was set when European culture decided the New World needed to be civilized though exploitation. From the beginning, settlers felt the need to cut a place for themselves in the wilderness. Slashing and burning, God fearing Christians pushed the forest back until it was gone. They than replanted it more to their liking. America was born. Like the indigenous people of the continent native plants would be replaced with more practical species. Order was restored.

Moving west, people decided to recreate their version of the east, and once again native plants were replaced. That brings us to the present where indigenous species are on the Endangered Species list, and non-natives are not.

A case in point is the plans for the new Encinitas Country Day School proposed for land adjacent to San Elijo Lagoon. While attending the meeting of the Encinitas Planning commission I had a chance to review the landscaping design for the project. Oh sure there was the token native trees, but they were vastly out numbered by ornamentals.

After the Planning Commission approved the project, I approached the landscape architect. When I asked him had they considered planting only indigenous plants, he said "No." When I asked why not, he replied "Natives don't do everything you want them to do." Utility before balance, is not a listen we should be teaching the children of Coastal North County.

It's time we realize that nature exists for purposes other than human comfort and convenience. On the list of plants proposed is Iceplant.

This invasive plant is currently being removed from lagoons elsewhere along the coast. For every non-native species that is planted a local alternative, that is not only drought resistance but also provides for the needs of native animals, is available.

To remedy the current imbalance, I suggest that policy be put in place to require all new landscaping and plantings be restricted to indigenous species. As as non-native need to be replaced they are done so with plants native to the habitat in which they are planted. This is a win/win situation that will also save money while conserving water.

On October 10th the Cottonwood Creek Conservancy is hosting an effort to restore the creek to a more natural state. Not an easy job. For the next 3 months every other Saturday will be dedicated to the removal of exotics. For Christmas the conservancy is giving the creek a iceplant removal. I plan to help.

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