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Monday, March 30, 2015

Kudzu in Paradise

I've been teaching a Forest Policy class this semester at Penn State, and the students and I have spent much of the semester looking not only at various policies, but the eventual, and sometimes unexpected, outcomes of those policies. One of those policies was the depression-era policy of recommending the kudzu plant, Puereria spp., to farmers for stopping the relentless soil erosion that led to the great dust bowl era of the 1930's. The kudzu is a fast-growing vine whose root systems stabilize the soil even while the numerous leaves shade the soil and slow desiccation that leads to erosion.

Well, it worked a little too well. And generations of folks in the US south have grown up used to the sight of kudzu monsters engulfing stands of pines and other species along the roadways where they were planted and continue to spread. And now, because of global warming, kudzu has spread as far north as southern Ontario, Canada.




Now, as a forestry student in East Texas, I learned intimately that kudzu was the enemy. Ever have to fight your way through a mountain of it on a timber cruise, and you'll think the same. But that last bit in the video above about goats and biofuels got me thinking that even to this scourge of the forest, there might be another side to the story.

And whaddya know...




Invasive species are rightly concerning. But I've come to consider the big picture that perhaps the native forests of today were just the invasive species of five hundred or a thousand years ago. Who knows...the filet mignon of tomorrow may very well come from a rotund, kudzu-fed goat with a kudzu jelly garnish...and you'll wash it down with a cold glass of kudzu-fed cow's milk.

And even more significantly, perhaps the Saharan desert will be reclaimed with kudzu or some other low-moisture invasive cousin. Never discount the value of the unexpected consequence.

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