The discouraging thing about invasive species generally , and microscopic ones such as P. ramorum (which causes sudden oak death) in particular, is that controlling them in any kind of elegant, systemic, fool-proof way is essentially impossible.

The dominant trends in the global economy-rising trade, travel, and migration-favor their spread. As throughout human history, when we move around, we bring other species with us. All we can do is inspect shipments of goods, scrub off invaders from the bottom of our boats, and otherwise take precautions.

So today’s New York Timesarticle, which covers new federal restrictions on transport and sales of nursery plants from Oregon, Washington, and California describes a situation that is, if sad, also predictable and inadequate.

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  • As with nuclear nonproliferation, the best you can do with invasive organisms is maintain the status quo. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

    P.S. In case you’re interested in reading up on humanity’s biological fellow travelers, the classic treatment is Alfred Crosby’s Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. It’s a fascinating study, despite the somewhat overblown name.

    In the Northwest, an excellent case study is historian Richard White’s Land Use, Environment, and Social Change: The Shaping of Island County, Washington.