The Subversive Side of Colonization & The Emerald Ash Tree Borer

Col-o-ni-zation: 1) the action by a plant or animal of establishing itself in a [new] area; 2) the action of appropriating a place or domain for one’s own use; 3) the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people [or other native species] of an area.

 

AshTree decaying-EastDonRiver

Ash tree decays with help from colonizing blue stain fungus (photo by Nina Munteanu)

In a previous article, I wrote about how escaped Atlantic salmon from farm pens in the Pacific posed a threat to the wild Pacific salmon. Some argue that these interlopers will outcompete their Pacific cousins for habitat and food like many exotics when they are first introduced (think of Purple loosestrife in Canada).

Tree-bore holes close-EDRpark

Insect bore holes in dead tree (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Purple loosestrife spread rapidly across North America’s wetlands, roadsides and disturbed areas after it was introduced in the 1800s when its seeds were included in soil used as ballast in European sailing ships and discarded here; Purple loosestrife is present in nearly every Canadian province and almost every U.S. state. This plant can produce as many as two million seeds in a growing season, causing dense stands of purple loosestrife and outcompeting native plants for habitat. This results in changes to ecosystem functions such as reductions in nesting sites, shelter and food for the native birds, as well as an overall decline in biodiversity (which causes ecosystem fragility).

What we often forget to consider is the indirect impact of the invasive: disease. What something considered innocuous brings with it. When the Atlantic salmon was brought from its native Atlantic habitat to be farmed in the Pacific (because it grew so fast), it brought its toolkit of adaptations—and what it carried—that was unfamiliar to a vulnerable Pacific wild population. The piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) that makes the Atlantic salmon sick, kills the Pacific native (think how the European settlers inadvertently brought in smallpox that killed thousands of indigenous people in Canada).

Ash-bored-RougeJPG

Ash tree succumbs to Agrilus in Rouge Park (photo by Nina Munteanu)

The emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) is a “disease” inadvertently brought in by Chinese or Russian traders to North America that is destroying the native ash tree (e.g. green ash, Fraxinus pennsylvanica; American ash, Fraxinus Americana; Black ash, F.nigra; Blue ash, F. quadrangulata). A native to East Asia, including China and the Russian Far East, the ash borer has no natural predator here. It was likely brought to North America on wood packaging materials in the early 1990s. They were first detected in Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario in 2002; and have since spread to more than 30 states and 5 provinces since. Most species of North American ash trees are vulnerable to the beetle, which has already killed millions of trees in Canada in forested and urban areas. No North American natural predators (e.g., woodpeckers, other insects or parasites) have slowed the spread of the emerald ash borer. Up to 99% of all ash trees are killed within 8-10 years once the beetle arrives in the area.

In a note on the text of his small collection of stories entitled “Trees Hate Us” (Odourless Press, 2019) E. Martin Nolan writes on behalf of the Ash tree:

Dying Ash-Patrick ButlerThe Emerald Ash Borer hasn’t a real predator here. Don’t blame it for doing what it does, for being in the crates humans ship across oceans. Killed 30 million in Michigan, where it was first found. It’ll kill clear to the ocean.

I am a living ash. For my own safety, I cannot disclose my name or location. Call me Last Ash. The humans do not understand why I lived. I believe it to be a curse—one I’m prepared to live out. Perhaps I contain a deformity that kills the beetle. Maybe I don’t attract it. Call that evolution. Your words will always be your words.

I have watched all of my kind die around me. Dying gives them the art of poetry. Foreknowledge of death opens their language so a human can hear it. One human. Immune, I am left alone like a city tree, to converse in prose among strange maples, birches, pines and firs reluctant to share speech with a member of so plagued a species. As I live out my natural days, these poems—at least the middle bit—will bring me some small contentment. And we may yet return. The trees’ story is long and slow, despite this lightning-fast shrapnel from the human timeline.

E. Martin NolanE Martin Nolan is a poet, essayist and editor. He edits interviews at The Puritan, where he’s also published numerous essays, interviews and blog posts. He teaches in the Engineering Communication Program at The University of Toronto, and is a PhD Candidate in Applied Linguistics at York University. Born and raised in Detroit, he received his Bachelor’s Degree in English Writing at Loyola University New Orleans, and received his Master’s in the Field of Creative Writing from the University of Toronto.

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Waterwill be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.

 

When Media Gets the Science Wrong We ALL Suffer

Atlantic salmon farm escape

I was dismayed by a recent news story on CTV on the escape of farm fish into native fish waters. I was dismayed for two reasons: 1) the ecological impacts of this accident; and 2) the failure of CTV in appropriately reporting the seriousness of it.

 

Shoddy Reporting by CTV 

In late December 2019, a fire at the Mowi fish farm in BC waters near Port Hardy resulted in the escape of over twenty thousand Atlantic salmon. The news story by the CTV media proved biased, incomplete and erroneous—and ultimately dangerous—in its reporting.

CTV targeted “environmentalists and indigenous groups” as worried that “it could have devastating impacts on [Pacific] wild salmon…Escape presents ecological and environmental risks to an already fragile wild salmon population.” But CTV failed to include concerns by environmental scientists in this matter: government or academics with real expertise and authority.

CTV talked to some “so-called” experts to counter the position of the environmentalists. This included comments by a vet (Dr. Hugh Mitchell), who works for the fish farm: “[Atlantic salmon] are brought up on prepared fish pellets from since they start feeding …They don’t know how to forage. They don’t know how to find rivers and reproduce. They get eaten by predators or they die of starvation after they escape.” (see below for proof against this). A vet (who will have some expertise in fish physiology and biology) does not have the same expertise as a fish population biologist, oceanographer, ecologist or geneticist—all of who would better understand the potential impact of released exotic species to native species in a region. But CTV didn’t interview any of these experts. Instead, they interviewed a vet who works for the farm. CTV ends its story with a remark by the managing director of Mowi who said, “Data would suggest there’s a very low risk to the [Atlantic] salmon making it to any rivers and an even lower risk of them establishing successful populations within the BC environment.”

But where’s the data to prove this? And who provided it to Mowi? CTV fails to mention that or show any of “the data”.

This is clearly careless reporting that provides no substantiation for the claims made by Mowi; nor does CTV provide a more robust inquiry into potential risks. Risks posed by more than Atlantic salmon just outcompeting native fish; risks posed by disease and other indirect challenges to native fish—not addressed by Mitchell and Mowi.

Log over water forest-DeasPark

BC wetland (photo by Nina Munteanu)

CTV provided no statement by DFO scientists or academia. Where were the UBC or UVic scientists? Why weren’t these unbiased authorities consulted for their expertise instead of a vet who works for the aquaculture industry? This is very sloppy reporting.

 

The Vancouver Sun, which also covered this story, showed a little more balance in its reporting. However, when it came time for the Sun to report on DFO’s response, it was less than clear: “Among the feedback the federal government has received through early consultations on the legislation is a need for a more effective risk management framework and support for Indigenous involvement and rights in the sector, it says.”

The Georgia Straight used the right word—claimed—to describe Mowi’s unsubstantiated statements: “The company claimed that the escaped fish are easy prey because they are ‘unaccustomed to living in the wild, and thus unable to forage for their own food.’” The Straight also balanced that claim with another by Ernest Alfred of the ‘Ngamis First Nation and videographer and wild-salmon advocate Tavis Campbell, who suggested that the presence of Atlantic salmon in ocean water “presents a serious threat to native Pacific salmon through transfer of pathogens and other associated risks”. The Straight then followed up with some relevant historic precedence: “After a large number of Atlantic salmon escaped from a Washington state fish farm near Bellingham in 2017, these species were found as far away as the Saanich Inlet and Harrison River.” Hardly the weaklings described by Mowi and Mitchell…

Global News provides a more in-depth examination of the August 2017 net pens collapse in the waters off northwest Washington—pens owned by Canadian company Cooke Aquaculture Pacific — the largest Atlantic salmon farmer in the U.S.

“Up to 263,000 invasive Atlantic salmon escaped into Puget Sound, raising fears about the impact on native Pacific salmon runs. The incident inspired Washington state to introduce legislation that would phase out marine farming of non-native fish by 2022. Groups like the Pacific Salmon Foundation have called for the B.C. and federal governments to do the same in Canada.”

 

Declining Pacific Wild Salmon 

Stream longshutter-warmed-close01 copy

Westcoast forest stream, BC (photo by Kevin Klassen)

Wild Pacific salmon have been declining for decades off the BC coast and streams. Human interference is primarily responsible, which includes habitat destruction, diversions for agriculture and hydro-power, and climate change. Habitat destruction—both quantity and quality—has occurred mainly from logging, road construction, urban development, mining, agriculture and recreation. Added to that list is the aquaculture industry that uses Atlantic salmon, an exotic to the Pacific Ocean.

A recent study conducted by the Strategic Salmon Health Initiative (SSHI) revealed that the piscine reovirus (PRV) found in farmed Atlantic salmon is linked to disease in Pacific Chinook salmon. The SSHI is an initiative made up of scientists from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Genome B.C., and the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF).

The findings show that the same strain of PRV, known to cause heart and skeletal muscle inflammation (HSMI) in farmed Atlantic salmon, is causing Chinook salmon to develop jaundice – anemia, a condition that ruptures red blood cells, and causes organ failure in the fish. The disease could cause a serious threat to wild salmon migrating past open-net fish farms in coastal waters in B.C.

In B.C., concerns about the decline of Pacific salmon have already risen to peak levels after the Big Bar landslide in the Fraser River near Kamloops; scientists say this could result in the extinction of multiple salmon runs by 2020. The federal Liberal government has pledged to transition BC’s open-net pen salmon farms to closed inland containment systems by 2025.

All this corroborates the serious risk of Atlantic salmon farming. Accidents must be expected to happen. They always do. Risk analysis must include the certainty of this inevitability—just as water engineers must account for 100-year storms, which do happen.

Need for Better Risk Management (Type I and Type II Errors in Risk Assessment) 

The scientific method relies on accurately measuring certainty and therefore reliably predicting risk. This means accounting for all biases and errors within an experiment or exploration. In my work as a field scientist and environmental consultant representing a client, we often based our formal hypotheses in statistics, which considered two types of error: Type I and Type II errors. Type I errors are false positives: a researcher states that a specific relationship exists when in fact it does not. This is akin to an alarm sounding when there’s no fire. Type II errors are false negatives: the researcher states that no relationship occurs when in fact it does. This is akin to no alarm sounding during a fire.

The reason why remarks made by vet Mitchell and Mowi are so dangerous is because they make assumptions that are akin to not sounding an alarm when there is a fire; they are committing a Type II error. And in risk assessment, this is irresponsible. And dangerous.

Instead of targeting “environmentalists” “activists” and certain groups for opinions on issues, I strongly urge CTV and other media to seek out evidence-based science through scientists with relevant knowledge (e.g. an ecologist—NOT an economist or a vet—for an environmental issue). My advice to Media: DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND GET THE FACTS STRAIGHT! You need to talk to academics and scientists with no ties to perpetrators and with relevant knowledge on the topic in question.

The Need for The Precautionary Principle in Environmental Science and Reporting 

FinCreek 4-RockyM

Fin Creek, Rocky Mountains, BC (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Environmental scientists generally pride themselves on the use of the Precautionary Principle when dealing with issues of sustainability and environmental management. According to the Precautionary Principle, “one shall take action to avoid potentially damaging impacts on nature even when there is no scientific evidence to prove a causal link between activities and effects.” The environment should be protected against substances (such as an exotic species) which can be assumed potentially harmful to the current ecosystem, even when full scientific certainty is lacking.

Unfortunately, politicians, engineers and the scientists who work for them tend to focus on avoiding Type I rather than Type II statistical errors. In fact, by traditionally avoiding Type I errors, scientists increase the risk of committing Type II errors, which increases the risk that an effect will not be observed, in turn increasing risk to environment.

In describing the case of the eutrophication of a Skagerrak (a marine inlet), Lene Buhl-Mortensen asks which is worse: risk a Type II error and destroy the soft bottom habitat of Skagerrak and perhaps some benthic species, or risk a Type I error and spend money on cleaning the outfalls to Skagerrak when in fact there is no eutrophication? “Scientists have argued that cleaning up is too expensive and should not be done in vain,” writes Buhl-Mortensen. “But more often the opposite is the case. The increased eutrophication of Skagerrak could end up more costly than reducing the outfalls of nutrients [to the inlet].”

“Because threats to the environment are threats to human welfare, ecologists have a prima facie ethical obligation to minimize Type II errors,” argues Buhl-Mortensen in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin. Use of the precautionary principle will save costs—and lives—in the end.

ferry wake active pass copy

Ferry crossing with wake in foreground, BC coast (photo by Nina Munteanu)

 

nina-2014aaa

Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Waterwill be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in June 2020.