Humans interfere with nature’s balance

Consider pythons and poinsettias

One of the things about the balance of nature is that we have interfered with it so much that in places it isn’t there any more.

Take, for an innocent example, the work of a man named Poinsett. A government employee, he was interested in the plant that produced brilliant red flowers during the cold months.

He took samples back to his country with him and, to shorten the story, with the proper care they thrived. We know them at Christmastime as poinsettia. Brilliant and beautiful.

Other importations have not been quite as happy. The Bermuda Python was introduced into this country as a pet. They can grow to a length of eight feet or more.

Difficult to handle as pets, their owners took them out into the wild and turned them loose. They thrived. A female can produce 200 eggs at a time, and soon there were many of them. Some workers estimate their population in Florida at 100,000.

They adapted to their new environment and preyed on the natural wildlife there, with the result that some of it has been sharply reduced and some eliminated entirely.

“It isn’t the fault of the snakes,” say field workers. “They have to eat.”

But this readjustment of the balance of nature is upsetting things thoroughly. And, understandably, the old quotation of “not in my backyard” is active.

How do you deal with a wild population as out of control as this? Both the National Geographic and the magazine of the Nature Conservancy have had stories on this out-of-control situation in recent months. At the last I read, they had not announced a plan for meeting the situation.

Nature has interesting ways of distributing its wild species. For instance, the North Cascades Highway, as it runs down Granite Creek, seems to be a kind of dividing line between snake species.

West of the highway, there are said to be no rattlesnakes. East of it, there are.

Interestingly, I have not read of any attempts to make pets of the buzztails.

And hopefully, no one has tried to make pets of, and import, the African anaconda, said to be the world’s largest, achieving a length of 40 feet. Can you imagine trying to live with one of those?

Another example: Hunters in the American Southwest hunted deer predators to extinction, whereupon the deer population exploded. They out-bred what the area could sustain, and the deer starved by the thousands.

The importation of both plant life and animalia has had an effect on the purity of many strains of wildlife. Such mixing, as indicated, is not scientifically done, and surely must result in some interesting mixtures of the life forms.

Mankind has been mixing itself up for centuries, millennia even, and now is doing it with wild things.

Interesting. But who wants to have a python for a neighbor?

Not me. Not in my backyard.

Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for

The Chronicle. This is the 2,888th column in a series. She can be reached at 509-826-1110


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