The Native and The Invasive 


(Note from MH: This could apply wherever there's a manmade dam.)


October 11, 2005 


By Jim Beers for Vermont Outdoors [email protected]


There is a beautiful lake in western Virginia near the West Virginia border.

It lies in an ocean of trees and steep mountains cut by plunging rocky streams in every direction. The deep blue water of the lake is full of fish and the surrounding woodlands are a mix of oaks, maples, hickories and pines.

Land ownership is a mix of private lands -- that have been in some families for many generations -- Forest Service and State of Virginia Wildlife Management Areas.

All in all, the deer, turkey and occasional lone sawyer make it a delightful place to visit, whether you are hunting, fishing or just looking for pleasant surroundings.

Last week I camped on the shores of the lake and fished mornings and evenings, while hunting squirrels during the day in the surrounding ridges and ravines.

One night, close to midnight, I awoke in my sleeping bag to what I thought was a dream. A loon was calling nearby out over the lake.

I had not heard that call since the last time I was in northern Minnesota.

As I sat up and looked out to see if I could see the bird, another loon called back from a mile or more off, below me on the lake. The birds called back and forth for about a minute, then silence.

The next morning I glassed the lake but could see no trace of loons. I did notice something else I had not previously noted.

There were lots of lone great blue herons stalking the edges of the lake, making their snake-like stabs at fish in the shallow edges.

Suddenly I realized how yet another environmental fable is shown to be the opposite of true.

You see, the lake is not really a "lake." It is a reservoir in a steep, flooded valley. 

Many years ago the US Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Jackson River and changed a "feast or famine" rocky torrent into a cold-water lake stocked with rainbow and brown trout and largemouth bass -- and to feed them all, perch.

Besides serving as a shock absorber for downpours like we recently experienced in Virginia from tropical storms, the fishing and boating and swimming are greatly appreciated in the otherwise steep woodlands and disappearing streams of the Blue Ridge mountains.

Current politically correct thinking is that dams are bad. Man-made lakes are bad. Invasive (non-native) species are bad. Artificially establishing animals for hunting or fishing is bad.

The only thing bad is such thinking.

A man-made lake, full of Invasive Species -- rainbow trout, brown trout, and largemouth bass that, like the Invasive perch, live in a cold, deep lake, but could not survive in a plunging mountain stream, which a loon could not land or take off in anyway -- was a boon to these birds that are otherwise touted as "keystone" species, or, in the case of the loon, "threatened" by lead fishing tackle (false).

Those loons were migrating from the either the upper Great Lakes regions, eastern Canada or New England to the lower Atlantic or Gulf Coast of the United States.

Like the migrating great blue herons, they were taking advantage of a lake full of tasty perch and a quiet stopover spot as they braved all the challenges of their annual migrations.

Thank you, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Thank you, State of Virginia and all the fishermen who willingly pay the fishing tackle excise taxes (Dingell-Johnson funds) that stocked the lake and maintain a great fishery.

As I thought of how some are calling for the wholesale eradication of such lakes and Invasive species, and how some dwell on only the harm of some species in order to grow Federal powers (Endangered Species, Invasive Species, etc.), I thought of the mirror image of these issues. 

"Native" wolves are now being forced into New England (August 19, 2005, Associated Press article by David Gram [email protected]), and the only things publicly mentioned are how similarly forced reintroductions have been a "success" in the West and the Great Lakes states.

The western ranchers would not agree that wolves are beneficial. 

The former hunters of disappearing western elk herds wouldn't agree, either. 

Great Lakes dairy farmers and cattle growers are increasingly seeing the dark side of wolves as vectors and transmitters of all manner of disease from brucellosis and neosprosis to foot and mouth and BSE.

Dog owners -- from farm dogs to hunting dogs and pets -- likewise either hate or fear the wolves that kill their dogs.

Hundreds of years ago, when wolves still stalked Britain (yes, they were exterminated with good cause) dogs wore collars with big spikes to delay an attacking wolf long enough that a man might hopefully drive off or kill the wolf before the dog's throat was ripped open -- hence, the origin of the "tough-dog-look" in cartoons and comics.

Many Invasive Species are valuable additions to our environment for many sound reasons.

Many Native species have no business in large areas of the U.S. in the 21st century.

The fish in our Virginia lake can be managed for good or bad. The wolf in New England will reduce deer and moose herds (and hunting) -- and even when they kill stock and pets and worse as they do routinely in other parts of the world -- control will be all but impossible.

Land ownership and owners that will protect wolves on their property "no matter what" make the re-establishment of this "native" as nutty as the introduction of a dam and invasive fishes in western Virginia is a wonder for man and bird alike.