invasive species find a home here

Spring has arrived. Crocuses dot the hillsides again. The swans have taken wing for their nesting grounds further north.

Spring has arrived. Crocuses dot the hillsides again.

The swans have taken wing for their nesting grounds further north.

Gulls have replaced the ravens as our emblematic bird at least in downtown Whitehorse.

The rhythm of seasonal change continues as it always has.

Or does it?

This has become the time also to watch out for what is new in the environment.

One notable impact of global warming appears to be the seemingly relentless advance of opportunistic species into our territory.

Less adaptable plants and animals get pushed to the edge while the new ones seem poised to fill any and all available spaces.

The last ice age’s glaciers scoured most of the Yukon’s bioscape clean.

Since their retreat began in earnest some 10,000 years ago, an ecological community evolved here suited to our conditions.

Changing conditions, though, invite invasion.

Alfalfa, toadflax and a host of other plants have moved in along territorial roadways.

Sightings of whitetail deer and their accompanying mountain lion predators have become reliably common signs of change as well.

Canada, as a whole, counts well over 4,000 species of plants in our known flora.

About a third of this total, it is believed, came over from distant lands unintentionally as a seed hidden in the lint of some colonist’s pocket or in bags carefully stowed away in a cargo hold of some sailing ship and destined for a farmer’s field in Upper Canada.

Fewer than 100 of the once ‘foreign’ species are labeled ‘invasive.’

Invasive alien species are defined as “those species whose introduction or spread threatens the environment, the economy or society.”

Purple loosestrife provides the perfect wetlands clogging example of this across southern Canada.

For local examples have a look at www.weedsbc.ca.

Our fauna have their share of invasive species as well. The European green crab, a voracious shellfish predator ,which reportedly had spread to BC by 1999, is among the latest.

At the other end of the survival continuum you have plants like the Yukon Draba, a grass just a step away from being officially declared extinct in 2004.

Last year a researcher found a small colony of these plants holding on near Haines Junction. The grass has won a temporary reprieve from losing out in the global race towards biological homogenization.

Cultural homogenization can be seen at work here in the Yukon as well.

The millennia-old evolution of human communities uniquely suited to survival here developed into rich and varied cultures.

These are under enormous threat.

I regrettably can count myself among the ‘invasive’ factors speeding the demise of First Nations cultures.

My direct paternal ancestors only arrived on this continent 205 years ago.

We have vigorously expanded since that time along with colonizers from all other parts of the globe unintentionally pushing first inhabitants to the margins socially and economically.

Last week, I was saddened to hear of the death of Dickie Dickson, a Kluane First Nation elder.

He had been struggling for some time with cancer but also with the cultural divide between traditional and modern lifestyles.

His life spanned the time from when Southern Tutchone still lived off the land, through the coming of the highway to the present day when the bureaucratization of self-government agreements present new challenges to the maintenance of aboriginal culture and traditional ways of living.

Certainly I, along with many others, share condolences at his loss with his wife Cecilia and members of the Kluane First Nation.

However, we can also celebrate a life that

consciously sought to share his culture with others and through that sharing strengthen the chances of its survival.

Those of us who knew him, heard his stories and shared his jokes just might as well have learned how to be less ‘invasive’ and more supportive of efforts to guarantee the survival of vibrant First Nation’s cultures here in the Yukon. 

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