Monday, August 22, 2022

Conscientious Objectors in the Lanternfly War

Since the spotted lanternfly first appeared in North America in 2014, the governments of the US and the affected states have launched a campaign of extermination against it:

To fight back, state and local officials in infested areas have enlisted their constituents in an anti-lanternfly militia. Authorities in battlegrounds such as New York, New Jersey and in particular, Pennsylvania, the insects’ apparent ground zero, have framed the campaign against the creature as an act of civic duty.

Calls to action to civilians to stamp out the invaders— literally — have been enthusiastically met; in New York, Brooklyn summer campers engage in lanternfly hunts and the state park preserve on Staten Island hosted a squishathon in 2021. Last year, a New Jersey woman threw a lanternfly-crushing pub crawl; one Pennsylvania man developed an app that tracks users’ kills called Squishr. . . . The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture runs a hotline to report the bugs at 1-888-4BADFLY, and asks people to “Kill it! Squash it, smash it … just get rid of it,” on its website.

In an intriguing NY Times story, Sarah Maslin Nir describes people who have taken stands against the annihilation:

Mr. Weiss is among an emerging group of conscientious objectors to the open-season on the insect. Their reasons differ: Some are vegans who find killing even pests wrong. Others doubt the threat lanternflies pose or have been repulsed by the glee surrounding lanternfly annihilation. Some people are faced with a flurry of lanternflies, despite years of dedicated squishing, and have just given up.

Still another few think lanternflies are too cute to kill. . . .

Jody Smith, 33, a software developer, so far has declined. Mr. Smith is vegan, yet not an absolutist: he will exterminate cockroaches in his apartment in Manhattan’s Union Square, he said. But the state-endorsed bloodlust when it comes to lanternflies, and the sense that they are disposable, makes him uncomfortable. “If someone was like, ‘Oh, we have to kill all the Pomeranians,’ people might feel a lot differently about it.”

I mention this because a number of people I know have qualms about all our wars against “invasive species.” The language of invasion just feels too militaristic to them, and the campaigns of extermination too violent. Plus, there are deeper qualms: who are we to decide which species should live where? Especially when you consider that when it comes to threatening local ecosystems, the most destructive species by far is us. Some of those I know who worry about this are professional ecologists who understand the changes an alien species can bring, but are skeptical that any effort of ours is really going to make things better.

I think we really have no choice; we are in control of the planet now, and pretending that we are not doesn't help much. It is true that we are unlikely to eradicate the lanternfly or any other insect species, but we can probably manage them for better or worse outcomes. This applies equally well to native species like deer. We have too much power for pretending to “let nature run its course” to really be a neutral act.


Shadow said...

We are awash in invasive species.

G. Verloren said...

“If someone was like, ‘Oh, we have to kill all the Pomeranians,’ people might feel a lot differently about it.”

I'm assuming this fellow doesn't realize the awkwardness of his example, in that I'm assuming he doesn't realize "Pomeranian" can refer to people as well as dogs.

Even putting that aside, along with comparitive human valuation differences between dogs and insects, the comparison is absurd - Pomeranians not only aren't upsetting local ecosystems on a massive scale, they also have their population directly controlled by humans. If feral Pomeranians were breeding out of control and damaging native ecosystems, we'd absolutely be hunting them as well.

szopeno said...

@G. Verloren Hear, hear. One of the few instances where I completely agree with you.