Biological and Cultural Camouflage: The Challenges of Seeing the Harmful Invasive Species Problem and Doing Something About it
21 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2003
Date Written: September 2003
This essay introduces a forthcoming volume addressing legal and policy responses to harmful non-indigenous species. Invasive species may be a more difficult problem to perceive than many other types of environmental problems, such as air or water pollution, extinction of species, or changes in land use. Some of the reasons for the difficulties in perception reflect the limits of everyday human observation of the natural environment. In addition, many non-indigenous plant and animal species serve as the cornerstones of modern agriculture and commerce. Drawing a line between welcome (strongly beneficial) and unwelcome (harmful or invasive) non-indigenous species is often difficult, a difficulty magnified when the harms and benefits from a species inure to different groups of people.
Establishing sound law and policy with regard to invasive species would be hard enough if the puzzles were merely biological, psychological, economic and political. However, the ultimate questions about the law and policy with regard to non-indigenous species, and invasive species, reflect deep value preferences, values that reflect more general philosophical tenets that may border on religious beliefs. This morass of human and social dimensions swirling around the issue of invasive species makes the lack of coherent and comprehensive laws easier to understand, even in the face of longstanding recognition that some non-indigenous species could be very harmful indeed.
After reviewing the disjunction between key international instruments and the laws of nation-states, with a focus on the possible meanings of a recommended "precautionary principle" in some of these instuments, the essay suggests three steps should come first: an assessment of the status of alien species in the country, a focus on prevention of new introductions, and the integration of a holistic approach, aware of the social, psychological and commercial aspects of the invasive species problem.
Keywords: invasive species, alien species, harmful nonindigenous species, nonindigenous species, environmental law, environmental policy
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