Virginia: A Matter of Contradictions - Curtail spread of West Nile virus, but protect the breeding grounds for mosquitos

April 22, 2003

By John Fulton Lewis

Reedville, Virginia

For American Farm Publications

Spanish poet and philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952), who lived for many
years in the U.S.A., once observed: "The world is a perpetual caricature of
itself; at every moment it is the mockery and the contradiction of what it is
intending to be."

Nowhere is this better demonstrated this spring than in Virginia, though it
is also true around the nation, that Americans constantly contradict

The Old Dominion, for example, is campaigning again this year to curtail the
spread of the West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne illness that not only infects
crows and some other bird species but also can be fatal to human beings.

The means of such curtailment, as in earlier decades of Virginia's history to
combat various fevers (malaria, Yellow Fever), is to drain and dry up pools
and puddles of water where mosquitoes breed.

The past winter, and the springtime now in its zenith, have brought Virginia
welcome accumulations of snow, sleet and rain, enough to end several years of
drought and also enough to provide a remarkable renewal of wetlands, which
environmentalists consider to be vital to the survival of wildlife, plants and

Hardly a week goes by that Virginians aren't reminded now to cherish and
protect the State's wetlands and ... in obvious contradiction ... to get rid of
accumulations of water where mosquitoes are apt to multiply and spread their
dangerous viruses.

Of course, there is yet no known way to alert mosquitoes not to lay their
eggs in the most inviting wetlands, when the pools and puddles dry up or are
otherwise absorbed.

On yet another front, environmental activists have spent years successfully
opposing the use of economically helpful sludge on local farmlands, in part
because of the metallic and chemical residues such sludge might retain -- that
could run off the land and contaminate the Chesapeake Bay and its many

Yet, in April the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay hailed as the greatest boon
imaginable to Bay and Atlantic Ocean health -- the dumping of a total of 150
old "steel and aluminum" New York subway cars in three sites off the coast of
the Eastern Shore and 14 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach.

Just consider how the Alliance's monthly "Bay Journal" describes the building
of a new Tower Reef, near the Chesapeake Light Tower that helps guide
shipping to and from the Bay:

"The subway cars join old tanks, Liberty ships, a 100-foot trawler, tons of
concrete structures-even a missile launcher-as the latest reef-building
material. ... Bobbing for [a few] seconds in the 3-5 foot swells, the cars puffed one
last blast of brown dirt as they vanished below the surface. ... Two
shipments of subway cars were placed earlier this year at the Blackfish Bank and
Parramore reef sites off the coast of Chincoteague and Wachapreague, respectively,
on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Should more cars become available, Virginia wants
them. There are no environmental issues."

We would wager that some of those puffs of "brown dirt" from New York City's
underground are as full of contaminants as any ton of sludge that might be
applied to the soils of a farm in Heathsville, VA.

Yet sludge, used on farmland and as fill dirt elsewhere throughout the
nation, would be a costly risk to the Bay's environment, say environmental activists
in Northumberland, Richmond and Lancaster counties -- BECAUSE, even purified
and EPA-approved sludge may contain remaining traces of metals, that might
leak into tidal streams and Bay waters!

Shortly after mid-April, a Congressional committee began hearing pro and con
testimony on the Clinton Administration's Executive Order to ban "invasive
species." "Invasive" in this context simply means 'of foreign origin.'

Japanese cherry trees in bloom around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., at
this season of the year, come immediately to mind.

This is the "Mother of all Catch-22's." Nearly everything in America other
than our soils, underground resources, mountains and plains may be described as

Even so-called "Native Americans" came from somewhere else.

In fact, the anthropological consensus is that all of us two-legged
mammalians originated in Africa.

However, in an effort to curtail the further spread of certain noxious weeds,
flowering marsh plants and animals such as the South American muskrat-like
nutria -- and a strange predator fish known as the "northern snakehead," with an
appetite for whatever flourishes in ponds -- House and Senate committees have
several bills on a "fast-track" toward enactment.

Representative Wayne Gilchrist (R-MD) seems especially supportive of one
legislative proposal, The National Aquatic Invasive Species Act of 2003. He says,
"Invasive species cost the country at least $138 billion each year, and it is
a problem that will only expand and grow more costly, both environmentally and
ecologically, if current law is not changed." To some degree, he is
undoubtedly right.

The trouble that both scientists -- and many horticulturists, animal lovers
and nurserymen of a somewhat more cautious bent -- have with the war on
invasive species is that there are so many of them that are considered beneficial and
nice to have around.

If Congress and the environmental lobbyists aren't careful and stick with the
sort of broad-brush ban on everything alien, which Clinton proposed,
dog-owners (most breeds are from foreign strains) may have to turn their pets over to
federal agents, dig up and destroy half the flowers in their gardens, and do
away with just about any living flora or fauna that can be labeled "exotic."

There are "invasive species" that are unquestionably harmful to indigenous
forms of animal, bird or plant life. But there are many -- which are much
admired and quite acceptable, even much needed, for instance -- in the human food

What would help eliminate contradictions of this magnitude would be master
lists of harmful "invaders" -- and harmless ones.

Then, take it from there, so the vast number of species -- including all of
us -- could get one with our lives without fear of a Draconian expulsion from
American soil.

By the way, we're reasonably sure that Congressman Gilchrist and his
environmental supporters are quite aware of the current Chesapeake seafood industry
eagerness to distribute a million sterile Asian oysters (Crassostrea ariakensis)
to see if they can resist the diseases that have decimated the native
Chesapeake oyster population.

Discerning the good invaders from the bad ones is a way to make sense of


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