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Boris Zeide
School of Forestry, University of Arkansas. Monticello

There are many ways to classify species. One of them is paramount. We can live without knowing that sharks originated prior to catfish or their Latin names. But ignorance of the difference between these two species could be fatal. Imperative to the survival of any species, including ours, is to distinguish between: (1) species useful as sources of nutrients, clothing, or fiber; (2) harmful species (these may be divided into competitors, parasites, pathogens, and predators); and (3) harmless species.

This classification is known to and universally used by every creature. A deer is afraid of humans and dogs, is attracted to greenbriar vines and blueberry bushes, and is indifferent to woodpeckers and ants. This behavior is adaptive. A deer possessed by love of all creatures would soon be torn up by coyotes, or killed first in a hunting season. In everyday life environmentalists, as the rest of us, crush mosquitoes, call exterminators to get rid of roaches or fleas, and visit doctors in an attempt to exterminate some bacteria. Yet, there is an eccentric split in their mentality. When they write books, they profess unnatural love to every scrap of biodiversity.

The mistake of the biodiversity movement is in the lumping together of all species. It is morbid to worry about the welfare of spirochetes. Harmful species should not be preserved, conserved, or protected, but killed, destroyed, and eradicated, as we are actually doing all the time. Every minute our immune systems destroy millions of organisms. This loss of biodiversity is our gain. Certainly, the elimination of mosquitoes would disrupt some food chains and spoil a delicate web of complex ecological relations. This is exactly what we need: to destroy the food chain that draws blood out of us. As cultivated fields show, we have to disrupt delicate webs and chains to direct the flow of energy to our advantage. Such a disruption is indispensable for our existence. Every species tries its best to do the same. We differ only in being more successful than all others.

Fortunately, ecosystems are pretty loose and flexible arrangements. The very term "ecosystems" is an exaggeration. A system means a set of coordinated parts that form a whole, such as an animal body. There is no comparison between the precision of a body and that of what would be better called eco-medley. Yet, this forgiveness is limited. But abnormal love of every scrap of biodiversity is not a solution. As with any fiction, it hurts the cause of the environmental preservation.

Certainly, the division of species is not clear-cut and depends on circumstances. Trees are a hindrance in areas we intend for planting corn, but are valuable elsewhere. Even rattlesnakes may be useful, in a terrarium. The division changes with age. The defenseless young of many animals associate the first thing they see around with something infinitely good (imprinting) and every other moving objects with harm. These qualifications should not obscure the main fact: to exist we must heed that classification. Depending on the situation we may reassign a certain species, but always into one of the same three classes. In some cases only ecological and economical research can tell whether a species is useful or harmful. Our extermination efforts should be commensurate with damage. We might be convinced to tolerate a seemingly noxious species, if its less obvious benefits are documented. The division of species as good and bad may be old-fashioned and narrow-minded, but without it there will be nobody to mind this or another fashion.

Boris Zeide
School of Forestry, University of Arkansas. Monticello, AR 71656.
Phone: 501-460-1648. Internet: zeide@uamont.edu