This invasive grey squirrel was spotted in Kelowna City Park last weekend. With no funding allocated to deal with the species, the population will continue to grow, says a TRU researcher. - Credit: Carli Berry/Capital News

Learn to live with or get rid of these guys?

University professor says don’t let your emotions dictate which invasive species we react to

To the editor:

The recent letter from Sally Kelly (Creating paranoia around squirrels) captures many of the difficult issues and emotions that play a role in how society manages invasive species. One thing clear is that people react differently depending on the species in question: It would be relatively difficult to find someone who felt attempts to eradicate snakehead fish from Burnaby were an over-reaction, or that Norway rats should be accepted as a new species in the province.

Like Ms. Kelly, I very much appreciate squirrels. The eastern grey squirrel is a sociable and adaptable animal that is outwardly very appealing. However, grey squirrels are not native to Canada west of Manitoba. The eastern fox squirrel is also a new addition to our province. The presence of these two species shows that once more, we are willing to disrupt our ecosystem.

Accepting invasive species as being benign is akin to throwing a monkey wrench under the hood of your car. It may cause problems immediately, or you might be able to drive a long time without any issues. Is that a risk worth accepting? However, we know already that eastern grey squirrels are causing immense problems in other parts of the world where they have gotten introduced. We know they will feed on pretty much all of the fruit types grown in the Okanagan (including wine grapes).

We know they will replace our native red squirrel at least within urban and semi-urban environments while reaching much higher densities. They prey on songbirds that eat insects, and they have made the list of top 100 invasive species on the planet. But, it seems as a society we’re willing to accept the risks.

As Ms. Kelly states, humans need to live more in harmony with nature. If harmony involves proper stewardship, then accepting the transplant (intentionally or by accident) of foreign species into different ecosystems is wrong. Invasive species result in enormous economic costs, and in many cases, they rob of us our ability to enjoy native species.

We must be careful not to let our emotions dictate which invasive species we react to, and which ones we readily accept. Paranoia implies irrational over-reactions; this is markedly different than pro-active, rational management actions that conserve our native species and ecosystems.

Karl Larsen, Thompson Rivers University,

Kamloops, BC

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