This monster plant is trying to take over. What if we let it?


(electronic music) – [Narrator] So this, believe it or not, is Silicon Valley. That’s Facebook’s headquarters there, like 15 hundred feet away, but a lot of the valley looks like this, marshland and empty wasteland. But there’s actually this
big messy story happening right here in the middle of nowhere. It’s a story about
humans messing up nature then trying to fix it then maybe making things worse then trying to fix that. And in the middle is a big fight about what nature even is. And to see this all firsthand, we’re here at 5:45 AM,
in the middle of a marsh, listening for what everyone agrees is a really ugly bird call. – It’s very mechanical and rattly. – [William] Our guides are
Jen McBroom and Toby Rohmer. They work for a group called
the Invasive Spartina Project, we’ll get to that in a minute. And the bird we’re listening for is called the California Ridgway’s Rail. – It’s a small, smaller than a
chicken, bigger than a robin, but a little bit heavier
and a heavy orange bill. – [William] The Ridgway’s
Rail is endangered, there are maybe one or two thousand left. And they’re all here, in the tidal marshes around San Francisco. Those very few birds are the focus of one
big conservation effort, and they’re completely
screwing up another. – Let’s try to go up
there, a little bit off it there’s a pair kind of over there. – [William] The big conflict here is that Toby and Jen are
trying to save the Rails, but they’re also trying
to wipe out the grass where lots of them live. The grass is called spartina, and it was a product of good intentions. The southern reach of
the San Francisco Bay is wide but shallow and it’s supposed to look like this. Grassy, tidal marshes that
give way to miles of mudflats. It’s a utopia for little
birds like the rail, but over the 20th century, developers began turning the marshes into what’s now Silicon Valley. That meant farmland, housing,
businesses, airports, and notably, massive salt
ponds, that harvest salt by evaporating acres
and acres of bay water. The marsh habitat dwindled, pushing the Ridgway’s Rail onto
the endangered species list. So fast forward to the 70’s, when the Army Corps of
Engineers is hard at work returning some of this
developed land to nature, but, and this is the big mistake, they used an imported
grass from the East Coast. – [Toby] Generally over
about the next decade, that species hybridized
with our native species. And begat what is now the invasive. It grows bigger, faster, taller, than both of the parent species. – [William] The hybrid
grass took over the bay, crowding out native grass
and even eating up mudflats where the native grass doesn’t even grow. That threatened countless
migrating shorebirds who rely on the mudflats, and it began to turn the
marshes into a monoculture, one big sea of invasive grass. Which is terrible news, unless you’re a California Ridgway’s Rail. – Hybrid Spartina provided
brand new novel habitat by converting mudflat that was previously
inaccesible to them into marsh, so it created marsh that they could use. And it also grows so much
taller than the native, that it’s really good cover
for them from predators. – That right there. – [William] Also, we did finally see one. Toby and Jen’s organization, The Invasive Spartina Project, is funded by state and
federal conservation agencies. And since 2005, they’ve
managed to knock out about 95% of the invasive spartina, poisoning it acre by
acre with an herbicide, and planting native grass in its place. But that last five percent is
filled with endangered rails, and they can’t completely
wipe out the spartina, without also wiping out the rails there. – So getting to 100% eradication, is kind of daunting. I think it is feasible, though. – [William] So, they’re at a standstill. Toby and Jen want to wind back the clock to before the invasive
spartina ever existed, but right now they can’t. Also, not everyone is
convinced they should. (radio chatter) – [William] Their stated goal is complete eradication of the hybrid – [Man On Phone] Oh my gosh. – [William] (laughs) Thoughts on that? Mark Davis is a professor of biology at Macalester College. Back in 2011, he and some
colleagues wrote a paper in nature that questioned a
lot of the dominant wisdom of conservation. Namely, they took issue with the idea that native species are
inherently better for an ecosystem than foreign or even invasive species. – [Mark] And that an appropriate response almost an obligatory response is to try to eradicate the
non natives that have come in. – The way Mark sees it, ecosystems shift. Some species take over, some go extinct, scientifically, there’s no harm. There’s just change. So unless a critter is ruining
crops or spreading disease, the species we choose
to preserve or protect, that reflects our human priorities. Not some will of nature. – [Mark] The term “harm” and “damage,” you know that’s always in
the eye of the beholder. Once you declare something as harmful, you kind of oblige society then to step in and try to deal with the harm, which you know costs
money and uses resources. – To be clear, Mark Davis is not saying we should
definitely let spartina take over. He’s just saying that
the decision to fight it isn’t purely objective or scientific. It’s more that we’ve decided that the way this habitat used to be is worth fighting for. And it’s the idea that
nature isn’t a fixed thing. It’s whatever we decide it is. – [Mark] It really is
creating, trying to create a little ecological museum
which cannot be very big simply due to the practical measures of gardening nature, basically. – [William] None of this
is news to Toby or Jen. They’re practical about their mission. They just think that the
scales are tipped way in favor of fighting spartina. – So, hybrid spartina might
be good for one species that’s endangered, the rail. So it would really end
up being hybrid spartina and Ridgway’s Rails at the cost of hundreds of other species. – [William] On our last stop, we see what the current
standstill looks like. 46 acres of marsh, totally
overun with invasive spartina, and with rails. Tell me how you feel
when you look at this. – Uh, I have some frustration, for sure. Yeah, this is pretty much
what we call a monoculture of the invasive spartina. But I like to call these rail farms, because this isn’t really
good for anything else. This epitomizes the
difficulty of the project. Right now we’re just not touching this. We don’t know what to do with this. – [William] On our way back to the car, we stopped by a big expanse of mudflat. This is what all those
shorebirds desperately need and it’s what the hybrid
grass is destroying. Toby peers through his binoculars, and sure enough, finds a
little sprig of hybrid spartina poking up through the mud. He makes a note to come
back and kill it next month. So this salt pond is eventually gonna be
turned back into marsh, they’re gonna break down
one of the levees out there and the bay is gonna come
rushing right back in. And this will probably all
be covered in hybrid spartina unless Toby and Jen can figure that out.

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100 thoughts on “This monster plant is trying to take over. What if we let it?

  1. This is a really tough question, but…how do we decide which species we fight to save (or fight to eradicate)? And which do we just let go?

  2. And the whole "it's evolution let it happen"…i mean I would agree if the invasive species had naturally shown up, but humans literally planted the invasive species, so we are the ones playing mother nature and that's not right

  3. I guess nature can't really be reversed, it can only move forward like time, so maybe just let it be?

  4. No person will understand nature. It is too complicated balance. Stop messing with nature. The earth is trying to repair itself, by balancing things which humans have destroyed. If that gras takes over it will form a good fertile ground for other species to grow an floris on. The only thing how to balance things faster is kill 7 billion of people

  5. 1:08…it's smaller than a Chicken, but bigger than a Robin…just to make you understand…a normal farmyard chicken weighs probably 2 to 3 kg…a Robin weighs probably 28 to 32 GRAMS…found it a bit weird to use these two as a guide…

  6. They've got rid of 95% of it, why not just keep managing it at that level. It gives you the best of both worlds.

  7. what that doctor said kinda worries me a bit. he probably doesn't mean what I got from what he said, but ignorant people could read his statement as "climate change isn't that bad. species of fauna and flora just come and go. it's natural!" and I'm no scientist, but I think that even though change in the environment is normal, the rate at which many habitats are changing drastically and species are going extinct due to human action SHOULD push us towards restoring at least some of these habitats. just because our ancestors made the dodo go extinct and they didn't care too much doesn't mean that we can do the same. we know better than them. we have the technology to handle such a hard task. so let's do it.

  8. they wiped out 95% of the problem, and it's still a god damned crisis for them
    in a few years the poison they used to kill off 95% of the hybrid will be determined to cause 5 other crisis…

  9. Applying toxic synthetic chemicals that both persist in the environment and bioaccumulate upward through the food chain is NEVER a solution.

  10. America, mess this up just to have to fix that….wtf, save the birds but kill the grass they now rely on……I don't get people….

  11. His opening statement is just ignorant, "There is an arguement about what nature is?" Really only California, easy solution Darwinism, leave it alone it will resolve itself.

  12. Sounds like Spartina is good news then, we have messed with nature far too much and we reap what we sow. 5G will probably wipe out humanity by giving us cancer and tumours and making us sterile. The corporate world doesn't give a fekk, just look at what fashion has done for the world, it's the 2nd biggest polluting industry on the planet after oil and gas.

  13. Don't fight it should be propagated and more be planted so those birds have a grater chance to multiply perfect sanctuary city for the endangered birds you know like they did in Oregon stop all logging for the spotted owls. With know mind of how many lumber jacks lost their jobs , lumber mills shut down .

  14. Since the hybrid-species of spartina is initially put their by humans and didn't evolve on its own, the question of perception is not relevant. If the ecosystem that was their in the first place was able to sustain a greater variety of species, then it is worthy of being restored and conserved. Relocate the rail's when the new-old spartina has got an extensive growth and then take care of the rest of the hybrid spartina.

  15. Always letting the technology companies off the hook , if it was a company that provided Blue collar jobs You would be screaming and whining

  16. Again… Human with their own Ego & Ignorant…
    Everything will change regard you thinking is it right or wrong… Economic changed, Social changed, Nation changed, Tech changed, Human changed… and why shouldn't the Mother-nature…

  17. Spartina is clearly native to the North American Temperate Zone. And Spartina is clearly doing no harm!

  18. perhaps stop wasting money on pointless projects and start educating yourselves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBA6fXsJnZc

  19. If they leave the spartina alone, the system will naturally gain diversity. They should read Masanobu Fukuoka. Spraying it wasn't a good decision. Nature IS change. No such thing as native

  20. They rail against the Rails!
    Is he going to poison a plant in water? They are nuts. All the poison will go everywhere!

  21. There is nothing wrong with preserving something USEFUL AND ESSENTIAL. Just because a species exists does not necessarily mean it SHOULD exist. Nature itself routinely wipes things out and puts new things in their place. Why get so upset over extinction? It's perfectly normal.

  22. So spraying herbicide all over everything and killing it dead as a hammer is better? What happens when it becomes resistant to whatever toxic soup they are spraying it with? Can you say fool's errand?

  23. I've asked myself again and again, no matter the initiating event, should we manipulate? My conclusion surprised me: no. Let Gaia handle it. In other words, two rules: 1) really try hard not to mess with the natural world but realise that we are part of that and should whatever we do appear unfortunate, for whatever reason, is part of that natural process, and 2) when you think something you have done is wrong, check rule 1, again. Let it be. We are part of the natural progression and change in the environment.

  24. people always complain about people destroying the earth, meanwhile there wearing clothes that was made by those people. have an education provided by those people, every aspect of life is connected to the destruction of earth. you on your phone right now causing destruction. this has been happening for years, and the human population is growing. i dont even know what im trying to say but words can even be considered destructive. GO OUTSIDE, the air is clean. trust me i breathe it everyday.

  25. Wow I never comment on YouTube, but come on, you are using the same solution that caused the problem : using pesticides to chose the plant that "should" be growing is just like industry causing the endegerment of that specie in the first place

  26. They have a science or a degree in horticulture and got paid very well and still they messed it up, hopefully this will be right now.

  27. Facebook just put up a bold ad campaign sponsored by an unspecified eastern european concern that connects Hillary clinton to the disappearance of the rails, which will now be a question on the next census

  28. If the change is natural maybe… but the change to the tidal flats was not natural.
    oh oh maybe he will tell us that atlantic salmon and lobsters will be great for that pacific??

  29. Conservative conservationists want to send the hybrids back to where they came from. Must be Trumpists.

  30. They are trying to restore the original ecosystem while protecting the rails, but what about the hybrid spartina plant? Isn't it a semi-unique species of plant that deserves the right to grow and live?

  31. Easy solution….pollinate with native every year until its the hybrid is 99 percent native….in the meantime endangered birds can repopulate. Whats the big fuss?

  32. The mudflats of California need all the taxes these companies in Silicon Valley generate. Therefore, the government should find ways to increase the number of companies in Silicon Valley

  33. The whole movement against "invasives" is predicated on their being wrong or evil. When really, this process occurred naturally during the entire time that plant and animal life existed on earth. Now, humans just can't accept this change … if other humans had anything to do with it. And they want to use taxpayer money to further their opinion and interests. They should pay for their efforts all out of their own pocket as it's highly likely that their efforts will be entirely in vain. Taxpayers should not have to fund these futile programs. It's earth. Life changes. Get used to it.

  34. I have a problem with trying to make any species extinct. The hybrid spartina is a living organism. It has a right to survive like anything else. We have no right to favor one species over another. We need to step back, and let this play out naturally.

  35. "Let's just call it a wasteland because we don't know what we're looking at, it'll help make an emotional plea to sell our argument."

    "But it's not a wasteland, we could get in legal trouble."

    "It'll be fine if he just says it like it's a question."

    "Genius."

  36. This video epitomizes why I am skeptical of scientists. They study a problem, and quickly come out with a "fix". Only to find years later, that this "fix" has created other problems.

  37. One problem leads to another & humans accelerate the problem. Grow this grass in dry areas in hopes they make it greener.

  38. I agree with that mark guy, nature isn't static. there is nothing wrong with grasslands growing where once a mudflat sat.

  39. First procure the funds to genetically modify the spartana to grow smaller and smaller and smaller till the birds move on.
    If such a thing could be done that is.🤔

  40. You're worried about a grass yet you don't have money to clean up the SHIT on your streets. If a state needs to be euthanized I can't think of a better one.

  41. What? What kind of 'conservationist' use herbicide as a solution to fix a problem? There is an problem with invasive water hyacinth in a lot of Asian and African countries and you know what they do to manage it? They feed it to livestock or compost and create biogas or turn it into sturdy weaving material to make handcrafted things, which also boosted local economy. There is no quick fix for 'situations' like this and you can only manage it enough to make way for the actual ecosystem to catch up to deal with it. You guys need to stop trying to be 'nature' itself

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