A few stories over-shadowed by the big ones ( pandemic and social unrest due to racial issues) have caught my attention in the past month or so. Stories about immigrants, of good and bad sorts. It makes me think the U.S. has the right issue but the wrong targets.
My sweetie loves Youtube videos about decorating and crafting and one favorite of hers is a young guy who makes, well, somewhat over-the-top centerpieces, mantel decorations and wreaths using dollar store goods. He’s called Ramon at Home, and even if I don’t share his enthusiasts delight in all his lavish designs and all things burlap, I must admit the young man is quite charismatic. He has a strong Hispanic accent, and he shared a story of how he grew up poor in Mexico and looked forward to nuns coming around with such simple gifts as new toothbrushes and toothpaste. He came to the U.S., taught himself English and now seems to have a beautiful house and thriving online community following him. Lately he’s been spearheading a campaign to get children’s clothes and hats for low-income kids at Christmas. It’s hard not to be inspired by that or get behind a person like that. Of which there are so many in the land.
So it surprised and pleased me to hear of George W. Bush’s upcoming book. Out of Many, One is going to be a book of portraits painted by the former president; 43 different immigrants accompanied by essays he wrote about them. It’ll be his second book of paintings, coming after Portraits of Courage, pictures of U.S. military personnel he painted. You can take that – a book celebrating immigrants to the country – how you will in terms of the commentary about the current government and its policies. Bush says “there are countless ways in which America has been strengthened by the individuals who have come here in search of a better life,” and adds “it should be (an idea) that unites us.”
Right you are, George… and I wouldn’t have guessed I’d be saying that about Mr. Bush’s writings or beliefs about 15 years back. There are stories in the news though that do suggest America has a real problem with immigrants… just not the kind Washington is worried about. Invasive species.
When environmentalists talk, lately “climate change” gets the attention. The spotlight and the hand-wringing and the sparse money that is to go around to implement change is directed towards what Al Gore referred to earlier this century as “Global warming.” But it seems like a number of unwanted visitors are ruining our environment and country a lot faster than a few added degrees on the thermometer ever will.
To start, more Asian hornets have been found this year in Washington state and nearby B.C. in Canada. The giant wasp dubbed “murder hornet” by the media showed up in a few locations last year, found noticed when beekeepers near Seattle and Vancouver found some hives decimated. The 2” long hornet has one of the most powerful stings of any insect, and is said to kill about 50 people a year on average in Japan.
This is disturbing. I have allergies and am at risk around stinging bugs. So too are an increasing number of people. In fact, an average of 62 people a year die from stings in the country annually, and that number has begun to rise sharply in the past decade, according to the CDC. People worry about sharks when they swim or rattlesnakes when they go walking but bees and wasps kill several times more people than those critters combined. An even bigger, more dangerous wasp isn’t going to help that any!
Experts add that the Asian hornets aren’t aggressive… unless you stumble upon their nest… which people undoubtedly will, since they bury their nest underground rendering them more or less invisible until you step on it. But even if their non-aggression is the case, they are concerned that the hornets have a real taste for eating bee heads like we might snack on popcorn. A single one can eliminate a hive of honeybees within a few hours. The repercussions for agriculture could be monumental should they get a foothold, even if only along the Pacific coast.
One of the reasons the number of people being rushed to hospital, and at times dying, from insect stings is a similar story. Although “yellow jacket” is essentially a rather non-scientific generic term for a number of wasps, the ones we usually mean when we say “yellow jacket” – the ones which menace our picnics and have never met a beer or soda they don’t like – are actually European ones brought into the continent in the 1970s. Maybe they came over on ships or planes accidentally as the Asian hornets likely did; maybe some misguided farmers imported a few to try and control other bugs (when a yellow jacket can’t find some McDonald’s or Miller to share with you, they’ll happily chow down on other bugs including smaller wasps). One way or another they started showing up in the Great Lakes region in the mid-’70s. Now they’re considered a major pest as far afield as the towns of Dixie and the Canadian Rockies.
Stinging insects aren’t the only unwanted six-legged intruders. Spotted Lanternflies have been, well, spotted, in Pennsylvania this year. It’s an Asian moth which actually looks quite attractive. But, says the state, if you see one, “it’s imperative to immediately report it (and) kill it! Squash it! These bugs will lay egg masses of 30-50 eggs each.” The adults will not only enourage poisonous mold to develop on the plants, but also eat the leaves and can destroy fields of plants including grapes, apples and hops.
You won’t confuse the spotty moth with another recent Asian arrival – the Ash Borer. That colorful green beetle from Eastern Asia recently showed up in the northeast around 2002 and has managed to do some $280 billion damage so far. “An ecological catastrophe,” the American Forestry Association calls it. The beetles lay their eggs exclusively under ash tree bark, and when the larvae come out, they feed on the wood, quickly killing off the tree. Entire forests of ash trees from Quebec to Kentucky have been wiped out already. Ash is not only one of the most common types of forest tree in the East, providing homes for many birds and animals, it’s a popular shade tree in gardens and commercial one used for lumber (and baseball bats.) One of the suggestions to control them is – I kid you not – to bring in more, different Eurasian wasps to see if they can, because North American wasps aren’t eating them in any appreciable number. More foreign wasps? What could go wrong there?
Of course, the problems aren’t limited to insects. Florida is having to wage war against … pythons! Someone probably had a few Burmese pythons at one time as pets and perhaps thought they were getting too big. They dumped them in the Everglades. Within the past two decades, they’ve multiplied and spread throughout the southern part of the state, growing precariously close to the 26-feet, 200 pounds they can reach in their native southeast Asia, eating almost anything that gets in their way.
While attacks on people are rare, they’re not unknown (and expected to become more common if the numbers keep growing and they invade places like Miami and Orlando in any significant numbers), they’re doing huge amounts of damage to the ecosystem. The babies eat rabbits and rodents, but the adults can eat animals as large as deer! The state says since they’ve been found in Florida, there are 99% fewer raccoons and opossums in the Everglades and adjacent areas, 87% less Bobcats (probably as much because the pythons are eliminating the cats’ food as much as eating the Bobcats although that can happen as well) and lowering bird populations while rabbit and fox populations have almost disappeared. They spent $142 million last year trying to get rid of them, both by directly trying to catch and euthanize, as well as implant radio devices to track them and hopefully root out nesting sites and colonies of the huge reptile. Even though snakes have no legs or arms, so far, it seems the pythons have the upper hand. Although Wild boars, yet another invasive running wild, do sometimes manage to tear them up… along with anything else in their path, plant or animal.
So yep, seems like there is a problem with some unwanted foreigners coming into the country. Only thing is, they’re generally winged, or scaly or furry, not people.