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Bad Ideas

Bayou-Diversity (16 August 2020) When it comes to the natural world, we don't know what we don't know. Trouble jumps up about the time we think we've got it all figured out. There are plenty of examples of well-intentioned human actions that have caused environmental chaos. One pertains to recent attitudes concerning wild fires. For a century fires on natural landscapes were thought to be unmitigated disasters. Tremendous efforts went into fire prevention and suppression across the country. Smoky Bear taught generations of children that fire is bad. This ill-informed position, by failing to recognize that fire is a natural part of many ecosystems, has led to very unnatural conditions in many regions. The consequences are that some plants, with animals that depend on them, have almost disappeared because they can't live without occasional fire in their habitat. Some seeds don't germinate unless released by heat. Prairies turn to shrubby thickets if not kept in check by fire. When fires do occur in areas after long periods of fire suppression they often are so hot as to cause serious environmental damage.

Another example involves predator control. For many years governments had formal programs to eradicate predators that were thought to compete with human interests. By shooting and with the aid of poisons large predators were totally eliminated from much of the country. Only recently and with continuing controversy has the healthy roll of predators in an ecosystem been recognized even by professionals in the field. These predators can range from gray wolves in the American West to alligator gar in Louisiana bayous.

The list of other bad ideas is long and includes the intentional introduction of invasive species such as kudzu and Chinese tallow without thinking of the consequences. Likewise, levees along the Mississippi River in south Louisiana were built for flood protection without ever considering that they would contribute to the loss of our state's critical wetlands. Until we recognize as a society that we don't know what we don't know, and that good science is the path to new knowledge, we will continue to be surprised by our blunders. (Adapted from “Bayou-Diversity 2: Nature & People in the Louisiana Bayou Country” by Kelby Ouchley; LSU Press)


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