Canadian beavers in Patagonia’s forests: environmental ethics and invasive species management

Andrea Galassi

According to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, beavers, the largest rodents in North America, are “one of the few species that significantly modify their environment.” By erecting of watertight dams of sticks woven with reeds, branches and saplings, which are caulked with mud, they diminish the stream erosion and form slow-moving ponds. As we can imagine, these ponds serve as habitat for a wide range of small aquatic life and also provide water and food for much larger animals. However, in some parts of the world, beavers had generated a decrease in the biomass and the volume of the forests, especially those classified, as “protected forests” because of they are associated with watercourses, an impact that is difficult to overcome in a natural way. Such is the case of Patagonian forests in Argentina and Chile.

beaver overpopulation — Tierra del Fuego

Going back in history, in 1946 10 pairs of beavers (Castor Canadensis) were brought from Manitoba to the Argentinian archipelago of Tierra del Fuego in an attempt to bring the fur industry to the area. But what Argentina´s military government ignored was the fact that beavers had no natural predators— like wolves, lynx, or coyotes— in the area in contrast to North America, which is home to bears and wolves. Thus the population swelled over the last 70 years, causing damage to thousands of old-growth trees –like Nothofagus or southern beeches forests- and peat bogs. In addition, the species has a serious impact on the ecosystem services of the turbines, which also have a specific role in basin regulation, in sustaining biodiversity and for their global contribution to carbon sequestration. Moreover, beaver dams –some of which I´ve actually witnessed myself when a recent visit to “Bahia Lapataia”, Tierra del Fuego- are so dominate that researchers can identify them in satellites images.

It was not until the 1990s that the governments of Argentina and Chile began to realize the magnitude of their beaver problem. Even though they tried to encourage recreational and commercial beaver hunting, trained hundreds of locals to trap encouraged restaurants to serve beaver-meat recipes and put a bounty on each beaver they could not reverse the damage because of low fur prices and hunting difficulties. Moreover, according to Alejandro Valenzuela -conservation coordinator for Argentina’s Southern Patagonia National Parks- the program caused more ecological damage than it saved: since beavers are territorial, the movement of a beaver colony from a pond, will allow new beavers will move in, but they won’t use the old dam. Instead, they will build a new dam, felling more trees and creating a larger pond in the process.

After several discussions, in 2008 Argentinian government –in cooperation with the Republic of Chile – began a 10-year mission to exterminate 100,000 beavers with traps and training hunters to eventually eradicate the species. Through the Secretary of Environment and Sustainable Development, the National Government established a Pilot Program in order to provide governance of invasive alien species. In 2019, preliminary results from a pilot project in Esmeralda-Lasifashaj region, which ran from October 2016 to January 2017 and from March to May 2017, were released. The studies show that “eradication was not achieved using the methods and efforts in the first part of the pilot study” [highlighting] “the need for more effort or the application of different techniques or trapping strategies. For example, daily checking of traps may cause the animals to be cautious so, the next step in the Programme will involve exploring alternative trapping methods to reduce disturbance”.

Consequently, at this moment all the efforts are centralized in the eradication and the fact that Argentina and Chile will also have to figure out how to restore the forests that have already been damaged by the beavers. This will be a next step. However, as an Animal Law student there are ethical questions for and against specific actions about the eradication of beavers as non-native specie from Patagonia that necessarily arise here. For instance, are beavers as individual sentient animals opposite to the value (at the species level) of plants and trees in Patagonia, and its ecosystems as well? Furthermore, is killing for conservation justified in order to eradicate invasive species?

Conservation Biology is “a multidisciplinary science that has developed to address the loss of biological diversity.” Its two central goals are “to evaluate human impacts on biological diversity and to develop practical approaches to prevent the extinction of species”. In other words, there is an inherent idea that CB is conformed by both value judgments and ethical decisions. Moreover, in the last few years Ethics and Animal Welfare have been presented an optional and newly born approach: the Compassionate Conservation Approach which aims to safeguard Earth’s biological diversity while retaining a commitment to treating individuals “with respect and concern for their well-being.” Even though there are currently two sides – those who consider killing to be unacceptable in any situation; and those who think it might be acceptable when there’s no other solution- by embracing animal ethics, the Compassionate Conservation Approach offers an interesting viewpoint by bringing the practices and sciences of animal welfare and conservation biology closer together and by envisioning the application of specific ethical arguments to improve the status quo of beavers versus ecosystem in Patagonia. The application of environmental ethics to political decisions can be crucial for understanding and settling our responsibility towards the multiple problems that currently affect our planet.

After a while, crocodiles

CROCODYLUS NILOTICUS

Seth Victor                                                 

Just in case you were worried that a python outbreak wasn’t enough, there’s another top predator in southern Florida. This past fall there have been sightings of Nile crocodiles south of Miami. This presents a bit of a conundrum for wildlife supervisors. You see the Nile crocodile is on international threatened lists, and is disappearing in its native habitat. Because Florida, however, is not its native habitat, and because the state already has to manage with non-native snakes eliminating the mammal population, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has authorized a state shoot-to-kill order. Though there are native crocodiles in Florida, the Nile crocodile is known to be fiercer and more deadly, and is one of the few animals left on the planet that still hunts humans.

While Nile crocodiles haven’t reached the infestation levels of the python, they are potentially more problematic in smaller numbers. FWC officers suspect that the crocodiles may have originated from an illegal captive breeding facility, but it is still unknown exactly from where they are coming, or how many there are.

Again we are faced with the same unresolved questions on how to handle non-native species that can drastically alter a habitat. Do we preserve a threatened species, one of the greatest and most resilient in history, or do we hunt down the crocodiles before they make other animals endangered or extinct? Or do we simply pit the pythons and crocs against each other in a winner-take-all showdown on prime time? Either way, it’s hardly an enviable decision for the FWC.

Banning Invasive Species — A Congressional Failure to Lead

Sarah Markham

Congress has been consistently asked to ban the importation of pythons into the United States, which Congress has failed to do.  This is an error on Congress part; as recently as October 17, 2011 a 16 ft. long Burmese python was discovered in Florida with a 76-lb. adult female deer inside.  This is an example of the long drawn out debate regarding native versus exotic (invasive) species.  Unfortunately this illustration is not rare or unheard of; in 2005, a python burst in the Everglades after attempting to swallow a live 6-ft. alligator.  It was not the fist documented event, and unfortunately not the last.  Both Flora and fauna exotic species can be considered pests.

Attributing the titles of native, non-native or invasive species must be questioned before asserted.  These titles have implications for mankind as well.  Additionally, a species being non-indigenous is not necessarily indicative of environmental harm.  Some species of plants that are not native to the ecosystem where they are found have provided great environmental benefits.  While another significant portion are considered invasive, especially if they: have rapid growth; asexual reproduction; can live off a variety of sustenance sources; have a tolerance of wide range of environmental conditions; or have an association with humansContinue reading

Powerful Final Day at the Second World Conference on Bioethics and Animal Rights

Elizabeth Bennett

The last day of the Second World Conference on Bioethics and Animal Rights began with a heartfelt lecture by conference organizer Heron Santana on climate change and animal rights. Professor Santana spoke about the fact that citizens of Brazil are beginning to eat more meat and the country exports an increasing amount of live animals, as they used to do with slaves.

He also discussed the health risks associated with eating meat and our ability to decrease meat production by decreasing consumption.  He explained that there is a wall of prejudice against other species that we must break down in order to abolish animal slavery.  Professor Santana concluded by stressing the importance of speaking out for animals and making changes in our daily lives to work toward an end to these violations against nonhuman animals.    Continue reading

The Carp Marches Ever Northward

David Cassuto

The Asian Carp continues its long march to the Great Lakes.  An invasive species that can reach 4 feet long and 100 lbs and consume up to 40% of its bodyweight daily, the carp will wreak havoc on the lakes’ ecosystem if and when it reaches there.  Currently, it’s in both the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and travelling northward.

This situation is generating both panic and inertia.  On the one hand are those who advocate severing all access points between the Mississippi basin and the lakes — arguing that the disastrous consequences of the carp’s reaching the lakes merit the drastic measures.  On the other are those who say that doing so would destroy jobs without guaranteeing that the carp will be prevented from reaching the lake.  It bears noting that the most recent carp find was only 6 miles from Lake Michigan.  This means that the fish may well have already reached the lake and that the parties could be arguing about whether to lock the door behind the intruder.   Continue reading