The Transylvania Times -

The Environment Is Collateral Damage In Global Economics


July 30, 2018

The spotted lantern fly causes damage to crops such as peaches, grapes, apples and pine. It reproduces on the tree of heaven, another invasive species – which is already well established across the U.S.

This has been a year of bad news when it comes to invasive species, and, unfortunately, that seems familiar now. After losing most of our hemlocks to hemlock woolly adelgid in the past decade and watching as emerald ash borer eradicates our ash trees – while knowing more new threats are on the way – it is easy to get pessimistic about the future or our forests. In 2018, we have learned that several new pests are knocking at our door, and they have impacts far beyond our forests.

The first of these is the spotted lantern fly (Lycorma delicatula). A native of East Asia, the spotted lantern fly is actually not a fly, but a true bug of family Hemiptera. It reproduces on one of our most problematic invasive trees, Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), which is already well established across the U.S. The spotted lantern fly is a pest of both natural and agricultural environments, and is known to feed on and cause damage to pines, grapes, apples, peaches and more. The spotted lantern fly is bad news for local orchardists, including yours truly.

In June, the longhorned tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis), also native to East Asia, was reported in Polk County in June 2018. The longhorned tick was first reported in the U.S. in New Jersey in 2017. Since then, it has been reported in four states, including North Carolina. These little guys are getting around fast. Longhorned ticks feed on birds and mammals, both wild and domesticated. They have been noted as serious pests to agriculture and wildlife where they are non-native. Most concerning for humans, longhorned ticks are known to carry Lyme disease and several other tick-borne illnesses. In Western North Carolina, deer ticks and lonestar ticks are rare to non-existent, and these are the native ticks that carry Lyme disease. The arrival of a non-native tick that carries Lyme will likely make the disease much more common in the mountains in coming years.

How do these undesirable invaders get here? Whether it is tree of heaven, chestnut blight, hemlock woolly adelgid or the longhorned tick, they all get here through global trade.

I know that economic benefits are touted from global trade, and surely there are plenty of those, but the downsides never seems to get tallied in the same ledger. If you were to add up the losses of American chestnut, hemlocks, ash and other native species, plus the cost of dealing with new diseases like West Nile Virus, new ticks that spread Lyme and new agricultural pests. How would the financial balance look for our part of the world?  

The longhorn tick, like the lantern fly, is also native to East Asia and came to the U.S. by way of global trade. It carries Lyme disease, and local biologists believe that this will increase the risk of contracting Lyme disease in the mountains.

To go along with the local environmental downsides, there are global downsides, as well. Globalism, in the way we practice it, allows companies to outsource production to poor countries that do not have our environmental or labor protections. This allows companies that are based in the U.S. to drive down wages here at home, cut jobs and increase their profits, all while exporting the pollution halfway around the world. We have access to lots of cheap products, and the pollution stays out of sight, out of mind. At the same time, these companies are clearly not taking precautions sufficient to prevent the introduction of the next superbug, either here, or halfway around the world.

A just form of global economics would not allow us to export our pollution to poorer countries, or allow plutocrats to exploit workers and the environment in countries without sufficient protections. A just form of global economics would demand that participating nations provide strong protections for workers, strong protections for the environment and strong defenses against spreading undesirable pests and diseases around the planet. We desperately need a fair global economy. The health or our forests, farms and future generations depend on it.

Kelly is a public lands field biologist for MountainTrue. He love to fly fish, explore the backcountry and is passionate about keeping forests free of invasive species.


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