Martha note: It's Civic Soapbox Friday . . .
A caution-yellow, Scorpion brand sprayer squats in a dark corner of our barn, waiting for another dose of poison.
It will be a long cease fire until unwanted aliens -- ivies, trees, and grasses, even roses – attack again next spring. Then, I’ll reload the plastic backpack with herbicides. Their names read like fragments from John Wayne western titles: Round Up, Milestone, Cimarron, Grazon, Sidekick, Crossbow, Rodeo, and Plateau.
Marketers know how to hit their target. They got me.
Spraying deadly liquid labeled with macho names is a guilty pleasure for some conservationists, myself included. Deep-green purists argue that chemical users should be run out of town. This feud between environmentalists, to spray or not to spray, can get as sticky as the dog days of summer. The division stretches back to a dark history -- think Silent Spring, and the chemical industry’s fall from grace.
Herbicide use raises prickly questions: can we restore balance to ecosystems using unnatural means to fight unwanted invaders? And there’s a larger quandary: whether or not to increase ag yields by employing synthetic mean to kill “weeds.” "How else can you feed the world?" ask the mainstream producers.
Thorny questions, indeed.
Which brings us back to my sidekick sprayer, “The Green Scorpion.”
Traditional tools of farming and land management -- the plow, fire, and axe -- fall short in the battle against alien species. In these parts, as in much of rural America, middle class landowners have little choice. We must resort to chemical warfare.
We combat aggressive invaders imported during the past centuries by immigrants from Mother England, the Old Countries, the Far East, as well as south and north of the border. Bureaucrats brought in exotics, too….good intentions with disastrous consequences.
Left alone, native plants wouldn't have let invasives in. But homo sapiens gave exotics free reign over a continent, opened by the plow and dozer, as well as a lack of mindfulness….
Today, the spread of alien species has become a global problem that threatens plant and animal diversity, and, ultimately, ecosystem sustainability. Including on our 33 acres in Augusta County.
The truth stings…. My posse of corporate-labeled sidekicks -- a.k.a.:
Arsenal, Ally, Oust, Outrider, Path Finder, Razor Pro, Reward, and…Redeem…are, my best allies against invasives. These herbicides can, when used correctly, help beat back the exotics – those aggressive interlopers just itching to take over a country mile when given an inch.
Invaders are stampeding across the land, but we can still restore a semblance of balance to nature -- with skillfully applied chemical help.
-- Bruce Dorries teaches at Mary Baldwin College. He was named 2010 Conservation Educator of the Year for Headwaters Soil and Water Conservation District.