nature

Pet peeve of mine.

Death of a Million Trees

The public’s mania about “invasive species” often seems new to us.  It’s not.  In Peter Coates’ provocative book, American Perceptions of Immigrant and Invasive Species, we learn about one of the first episodes of public concern about an introduced species in American history, known as the “sparrow wars.”

Like many introductions of non-native species of plants and animals, the English sparrow (AKA house sparrow) was introduced to perform a practical function.  Elm trees on the East Coast were being defoliated by a voracious native caterpillar.  In 1852, The English sparrow was brought to America to rescue the trees from the caterpillars.  The sparrows thrived and were soon reviled by ornithologists who considered them alien invaders.

The debate between ornithologists and those with a more cosmopolitan view of nature is reported at length by Coates.  Long story short, the debate is reminiscent of what we hear today from nativists:

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