Invasive Sheepcies

December 28, 2018
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A lamb invasion sounds like one of the least threatening hordes imaginable. A mass of skittish, timid animals that spook at the slightest sign of danger doesn’t strike fear in my heart the way a pack of feral dogs, a clutch of bed bug eggs, or scramble of kudzu vines does. In fact, it sound like an oxymoron to couple ‘invasion’ with ‘sheep’. But as far as I know there were no sheep in this part of the world between the retreat of glaciers at the end of the last ice age and the arrival of European colonists, which I suppose makes them an “invasive species” by most metrics. Their grazing and browsing certainly can change the florascape (if that’s not a word it should be) of a given place over time. Their indiscriminate eating habits  let them enjoy a wide variety of forbs, grasses, and woody vegetation. And as we all know, grazing and browsing favors some plants over others.

In fact, I want to highlight their gnawing powers with photographic proof. Below is a Amur Honeysuckle bush that volunteered on my fence line. It is also a non-native and has run rampant in central New York over the last few decades. The NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation has nothing nice to say about honeysuckle, but I harbor the shrub no ill-will as it’s clearly beloved by the birds that spread its seeds far and wide. And my sheep eat it. I can’t bring myself to hate any vigorous plant my livestock find palatable. The flock stripped the bark off several stems on this particular plant. Mostly I’m glad to see them attack the volunteers that sprout in my fences and twine their way into the wires because if there’s one farm chore I abhor it’s pulling woody stems out of woven wire.  I won’t be sad to see the sheep knock the honeysuckle back a notch or two even while I acknowledge the many useful “ecosystem services” it provides from bird food, to small mammal cover, to protection for saplings of much larger trees. 

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And I guess that’s as good a place as any to leave it for the moment - though I intend to write about “invasive species” in more depth this winter. I think it is a topic that deserves a more nuanced discussion than it's commonly given, and I plan to lend my boots-on-the-ground perspective to the conversation.

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-Edmund

Photo Credits - Edmund Brown

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