‘Unnatural Texas’ is testimony to the law of unintended consequences
By MARK LARDAS
Mar 5, 2019
“Unnatural Texas? The Invasive Species Dilemma,” by Robert W. Doughtry and Matt Warnock Turner, Texas A&M University Press, 2019, 272 pages, $32
Texas has many species not native to Texas. Some, like the longhorn, are a positive part of Texas’s heritage. Others? Maybe not so much.
“Unnatural Texas? The Invasive Species Dilemma,” by Robert W. Doughtry and Matt Warnock Turner, examine the impact of some of these less welcome imports.
The book looks at around a dozen widespread nuisance species in Texas. Examples include birds, aquatic plants, mammals, land based plants, and insects, all with negative impacts. Some may surprise you.
There’s a chapter on sparrows and starlings. Non-native birds, they were imported from England to eat urban insects and introduce animals mentioned in Shakespeare. Instead they went after farmers’ crops and are crowding out native species.
Water hyacinth and hydrilla take up another chapter. The authors examine their negative impact on southern waterways and the difficulties of eradicating them. Yet in Florida, water hyacinths provide food for endangered manatee, making eliminating them an issue.
There are separate chapters on Chinese Tallow and Tamarisk, two species introduced to improve the landscape, which ultimately had undesired impact. Chinese tallow are destroying Texas’s coastal prairie.
One chapter is devoted to feral cats, and a second to feral hogs. Each provides a menace to native species; cats in urban areas, hogs in the countryside and suburbs. Cats kill birds, while hogs will hunt people. Fire ants are the focus of another chapter.
The authors examine means of controlling invasive species. It’s tricky. Biological controls work best, but (as with carp to control water hyacinths) could themselves become invasive species.
“Unnatural Texas” is testimony to the law of unintended consequences. These nuisance species were introduced with the best of intentions. Sometimes, as with the concept of importing every species mentioned in Shakespeare to North America the intention was crackpot. The book closes by illustrating the conflicting nature imported species with the monk parakeet. Endangered in its native habitat, it adds color to Texas cities, while posing a nuisance by nesting in transmission towers.
“Unnatural Texas” provides food for thought on a complex topic. The authors show that frequently no simple answers exist for environmental problems.
Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.