Monday, April 11, 2005

For want of a nail

There has been much I've wanted to write about today, but life has intervened. It looks to be an overly full week at work and elsewhere, so posting may be light.

Nonetheless, I needed to make time for the stand-out article from this weekend's news: Saturday's LA Times' piece on the pig hunt on Santa Cruz Island. Really. I am not even being sarcastic here. It's so Oryx and Crake or something that it's an amazing story.

It seems that a team of 10 hunters from New Zealand are being flown in to Santa Cruz Island this week to kill off the feral pigs. Because the Times requires registration, I'll quote most of the story here. It's worth reproducing:
From 1947 to 1971, DDT manufacturer Montrose Co. dumped large quantities of the chemical into the channel.

That weakened the eggs of the bald eagle, which nested in the Channel Islands, resulting in its disappearance from the chain.

Meanwhile, pigs were being raised on the ranches on the island from about the mid-1800s to the 1980s. Pigs that got loose became wild--and began reproducing.

The sins of the pigs are many.

They root through island vegetation, causing erosion and providing fertile ground for nonnative plants, such as fennel. Fennel has spread uncontrollably, in thick pastures smelling of black licorice, and now endangers nine species of native plants.

Pigs eat acorns, preventing the native oak trees from reproducing.

The pigs, moreover, dig up ancient Chumash Indian settlements and gravesites.

And the young pigs are prey for nonnative golden eagles, which found the pickings especially good on Santa Cruz Island. Well-fed and aggressive, golden eagles forced out the bald eagles.

The golden eagles came for the piglets, but they stayed for the island fox, an animal found nowhere in the world but the islands off Southern California. And because of the golden eagles, the island fox hovers near extinction. Last year, the animal, roughly the size of a small cat, was placed on the federal Endangered Species List.

Fixing the man-made chain of events has required a complicated series of ecological surgeries, according to environmentalists and National Parks Service officials.

And the last of these--eradicating the feral pigs--began this week with MacDonald's hunt.

Island foxes, meanwhile, are being bred and readied for release in the wild once the pigs meet their fate. The numbers of golden eagles have already been reduced, and bald eagles were reintroduced a few years ago.

The restoration costs--totaling $5 million--have come from proceeds from a lawsuit against the Montrose Co. that was settled in 2000.
Can you say "massive cluster fuck"?

I know I'm a crazy geek, but what a potent metaphor for that fatal wrong turn that leads to all of those unanticipated consequences. And I'll go so far as to say stories like this really go to prove my beta test theory I talk about below. "They came for the piglets, but they stayed for the island fox" indeed. I think I'm going to have to start using that as my own personal aphorism for some of the ill-advised choices I've made.

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