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The Ethics of Invasive Species 🐦

by Dr. Oakleigh Thorne, II

Eurasian Collard-Dove

When we talk about ethics, we are usually trying to figure out if something we’re doing is either right or wrong. We may say that we have a good moral way of doing things when we believe we are doing something right. So the words ethics and moral have almost the same meaning. You can look up these two words in the dictionary and maybe you can figure out a better way of saying what they mean than I have. Perhaps your parents can help explain these to you.

Now when I tell you about an invasive species, I am talking about a certain kind of plant or animal that is not native to our area. They have been brought here from some other part of the country or world, usually by people. Or in the case of a plant, it might get here by a seed having been blown a long way from someplace else by the wind. Or sometimes a species or kind of animal may just get here on its own. But usually people are to blame!

I hope you understand that when I say species, I mean a particular kind of plant or animal, like a ponderosa pine tree, a lilac bush, an elk, or a coyote. Human beings are a species, also known as Homo sapiens in science. Do you know the species of bird that pulls worms out of your lawn in the spring? It’s an American Robin! Do you know the species name of our national bird? It’s a Bald Eagle, a big brown bird with a white head and white tail.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the ethics of how we look at invasive species. Is it right or wrong for us to try to get rid of them? If you have a lot of bind weed, an invasive plant, in your back yard, it’s probably easy for you and your parents to decide to pull it out or spray it. You want to kill it in any way possible because it is choking out the native plants that you want to have there. You have no problem making an ethical and moral decision to eliminate bind weed!

But how do we treat invasive species of animals? Centuries ago the Spanish invaders of North America brought horses with them. Now we have all kinds of horses throughout our country. There are still herds of completely wild horses in some parts of the western United States. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) occasionally rounds them up and sells some of them. Is this good ethics?

Many kinds of birds from other continents have been brought here and released. Well over a century ago, some man felt that the birds mentioned by Shakespeare, the great English playwright, should be brought across the Atlantic Ocean and released in New York City’s Central Park. He released several pairs of House (English) Sparrows and European Starlings. They multiplied and spread by the millions all over most of North America and became pests in many areas. They competed with native species of birds. People shot and trapped some of them. Was this good ethics?

Finally, I will talk about the Rock Pigeon and the Eurasian Collard-Dove. We already have hundreds of pigeons in Boulder County, and now we are beginning to get lots of Eurasian Collard-Doves. These certainly are invasive species! Do these doves compete with our native Mourning Doves? Should we try to eliminate them? These are indeed questions involving ethics! I think about them a lot. What do you think?

Dr. Thorne is founder and honorary president of Thorne Ecological Institute in Boulder. They have helped “connect kids to nature” for more than 55 years. For more information about Thorne Natural Science School classes for children, check or e-mail or call (303) 499-3647.

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